There are no official trails at the French's Hill open space. This property is located in the White Hills across the street from . The potential has always been there, though, because the property is over 110 acres, plenty of space for a trail. Parking was an obstacle until a few years ago when an adjacent property was acquired that included a large existing parking lot directly off of East Village Road.
The front part of French's Hill, along East Village Road, consists of a geologic drumlin that is currently farmed under license to the City, but the majority of the property is heavily wood and was free from any kind of trails. Until now.
After receiving an anonymous tip, Conservation Agent Teresa (that's me) mapped out 1.25 miles of illegal ATV trails that averaged six feet in width. Multiply the width times length and that's a total of 0.9 acres of trail tread. The aerial above (photo #2) shows the illegal trails in red. A smaller magenta line is a potential route from the existing parking area to these trails. Why? Because if we can stop the ATVs so that the trails can begin to heal, some of the tracks might be converted to hiking trails some day. It would take several years, but it's a possibility.
Sadly, the damage to the conservation lands doesn't stop at the creation of trails. Well over one hundred trees have been spray painted. Tree after tree after tree.
There is no point even trying to cover all the spray paint. It's everywhere. At this point, it is best just to let it fade. Fortunately, most spray paint doesn't last long.
The French's Hill open space was purchased for conservation purposes in 2003 for $3.3 million with the help of a State open space grant of over half a million dollars. The conditions of the State grant clearly stated that the land could be used for passive recreation only and that motorized vehicles shall not be allowed.
There are also a couple of camps on the property complete with fire rings, "private property" signs, tarps, and a table. A campfire during a real dry spell poses a danger to nearby homes.
The photo above (photo #8) shows one reason why the ATV trails would not make good hiking trails at this point in time. Only if we can keep ALL the ATVs off of the trails for a few years might these ATV tracks be converted to hiking trails. Besides, the spray paint is very sad to look at.
These trails were not something kids built. There was clearly a lot of chainsaw work involved. Many smaller trees were cut down, and some larger trees that had fallen were also cut for ATV passage.
An interesting feature of this open space is the registered "Big Tree." It's the state's 4th largest registered Tulip Tree. See this blog entry from 2007 for more info.
At this point we are asking for help in stopping the ATVs.
Parents: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not buy your kid an ATV and let them go ride "in the woods out back." BE A PARENT. This is not Maine. Unless you own those woods, that is completely illegal. It doesn't matter if there are signs prohibiting ATVs or not (kids rip the signs down immediately and then use the lack of signs as a defense); ATV riders are required by state law to carry written permission from the property owner with them.
Neighbors: Be our eyes and ears. If you see or hear ATVs head down the street into the open space, call the Police, but also let us know. If you know where the ATVers live, let us know. If you are on the trails and can take a picture of ATVs that would be fantastic. You can leave a message with the Conservation Department (anonymous messages are OK if you are afraid of retaliation). Call 203 924-1555 x315 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.