Old Mill Park

Old Mill Park

When you visit Old Mill Park (behind the Old Red Mill on Rte. 15 in Jericho), you are greeted by an open meadow with Clay Brook running through the middle. Only a few years ago this meadow was a beaver pond, but now only the beavers’ lodge and broken dam—both covered with dense vegetation—are left as evidence. This meadow is in transition, from pond to shrubby thicket; it will become more and more like the surrounding forest, until beavers return and create a pond once again. If you have lived in the area for a few  years, you have probably seen these changes taking place. But have you noticed that the surrounding forest is undergoing similar changes?

Even-aged white pines make up much of Old Mill Park’s forest canopy. In New England, this is almost always evidence of an abandoned pasture. Unlike other fast-growing trees such as aspens and birches, white pine seeds do not require bare soil to germinate. The saplings also have an advantage over other species because livestock and deer avoid browsing them. You can estimate just how long ago the pasture was abandoned by counting the whorls of branches, because white pines produce one whorl each year. If you take the Beaver Pond Spur at the north end of the park and look to the right from the “Park Ends Here” sign, you can see remains of the barbed wire fence that once kept livestock in this pasture.

But this isn’t the end of the story. As you walk the trails, notice what trees are coming up under the pines. Deciduous, more shade-tolerant trees, such as beech and maple, dominate the hilltop and south-facing slope. On the other slopes, which receive less sunlight, hemlock is abundant. A hundred years from now, the forest will look very different, with perhaps a few remaining large pines protruding from a mostly deciduous canopy—while the slopes may become almost pure hemlock stands, since it is too dark under a hemlock canopy for much else to grow. As you enjoy your walk, try to imagine the sheep- or cow-filled pasture that once occupied this land, and envision the mature forest that will one day develop here.