Connecticut State Forests - Seedling Letterbox Series Clues for Topsmead State Forest
Topsmead State Forest -
It was Ms. Chase’s wish that the state’s stewardship of her property include permitting “quiet visitation and passive recreation”. Indeed, that wish is realized every year as many visitors come to Topsmead for a quiet walk or simply to sit and relax or reflect. Traditionally, visitors are welcome and encouraged to throw down a blanket most anywhere on the lawns of Chase’s former estate for a picnic or an afternoon nap.
Description: This venture requires more walking than the original series letterbox, but all walking is on fairly flat terrain, and all occurs on forest roads and open fields. Total one-way distance for the walk is estimated to be 3,115 feet (just over a half-mile). Your letterbox is located at an outdoor stone hearth near another prominent landmark, the Wildlife Viewing Blind building.
Ticks can be found in abundance in the fields, so you are advised to stick to the shorter grass in mowed paths in spring through fall, and to wear light-colored clothing and check yourself frequently. Ticks may be very tiny, smaller than a pin-head. Avoid the hike if thunderstorms appear imminent, a good suggestion for any state forest. Topsmead is historically a common place for lightning strikes due to its locally high elevation. In winter, snow cover can be significant, particularly with drifting in the fields, making the walk more work, but this is a great opportunity to snowshoe or cross-country ski on the property. Snow may also mean you need to be prepared for some digging to reach the letterbox!
In the parking area, be sure to read the rules, especially the daily closing time for the property! Closing is approximately at sunset, so in summer, this can be as late as 8:30 pm, while in winter, closing can be as early as 4:00-4:30pm. It is very important that you return from your hike and drive away before the posted closing time. The gate on Chase Road is closed for the night at the time posted!
If you arrive too late in the day to make the mile round-trip walk before closing, do not attempt it.
Note that private residents live across Chase Road from your public parking area, so please do not disturb them or venture into the area of buildings across the road.
Finally, the fields at Topsmead provide valuable habitat for a variety of grassland bird species, many of which are state-listed Species of Special Concern, including the bobolink, meadowlark, and savannah sparrow. These and other ground-nesting grassland birds actively nest throughout the fields from May through mid-July. Please avoid walking off the mowed paths through the tall grasses from May through July. This reduces disturbance to the nesting birds, as well as your chance of picking up ticks. Also do not disturb the birdhouses placed around the fields. It is suggested that you bring a bird guide with you to Topsmead in spring/summer! It may help you enjoy the diversity of native birds that use the area.
Clues: From the East: Take exit 42 off Route 8. Head West on Route 118 (a left off the Route 8 exit ramp if going north; a right off ramp if going south). From Route 8, go 2 miles on 118 West and take a left on Clark Road (at the sign for “Wisdom House”). Go to the “T” and take a right on East Litchfield Road. Go 0.4 miles and take a left on Buell Road.
From the West: From downtown Litchfield, get on 118 East and travel about 1-1/2 miles, taking a right on East Litchfield Road. Go ½-mile, and take a right on Buell Road.
For all: Take your first right off Buell Road, onto the gated road where you see the wooden sign for “Topsmead State Forest”. This is Chase Road. Follow the gravel road and take a right into the public parking lot before the next gate. Park, then note the closing time posted on the big information board.
Go through the opening in the stone wall at the edge of the parking lot, and walk down the paved road behind the gate (Chase Road). Go approximately 575 feet and you will be at a junction with another road on your left and Ms. Chase’s English Tudor house on your right. Keep going on the same road another 170 feet, then go left through the opening in the stone wall.
Follow the signs for "Wildlife Viewing Blind" and "Butterfly Garden" across the field on the mowed pathway toward the south and southeast. Cross this field (825 feet) and you will come to another road. Cross this road and keep going across the next field, still heading south. Can you see a small building across the field that is steeple-topped and has five vertically-elongated windows facing you? This is your next objective! It is 925 feet across this field to the building, which is a Wildlife Viewing Blind.
Along the way, if you are visiting during summer, notice the abundance of life around you! Topsmead has about 100 species of dragonflies and 50 of the similar damselflies, and at least 45 species of butterflies! Although a “State FOREST”, the most critical and significant habitat at Topsmead is the 85 acres of grassy fields, which provide needed diversity in a state that is 60% forested . . . but only less than 12% in grassland/farmland (as of 2002; this figure is probably lower today, as Connecticut is losing such land annually).
Habitat loss is due primarily to farmland abandonment (the grasslands grow into forests if not maintained) and housing development. The amount of grassland habitat usable by nesting birds is much lower than 12%, since that figure includes cropland, grazing pastures and fields that are cut for hay during the nesting period. It is critical for birds that nest in grasslands that the area not be “hayed” between about mid-May and mid-July. Therefore, the larger fields of Topsmead are normally cut after mid-July. The haying is done primarily through agricultural agreements with local farmers.
It is also essential to many grassland birds to have fields for nesting that are large and contiguous (i.e. unbroken, or "unfragmented"). Bobolinks need areas larger than 5 acres, while meadowlarks prefer fields 15-20 acres in size. Some birds, such as grasshopper sparrows, require blocks of grassland greater than 30 acres in size! The bobolink, a state Species of Special Concern, has been especially successful in the Topsmead fields. From grassland bird surveys conducted by the DEEP Wildlife Division, Topsmead has consistently had the highest count of bobolinks of anywhere in the state.
When you arrive at the Viewing Blind, take a look inside at the information available, and make comments in the notebook provided for visitors. Also, take a look around the small butterfly garden outside the building, if visiting at the right time of year for a variety of flowers and plants.
Now you have a few hundred feet to go!Continue following the mowed path South, past the Viewing Blind and along the edge of the field another 250 feet (or maybe 100 adult steps) to a 4-way intersection of mowed paths. Take the left, to the East, and go just over 300 feet toward a stone wall gapway and look right (or Southeast) toward the stone hearth built on a stone wall. Walk the remaining 70 feet to the hearth. (Note: In snow cover, when it is hard to discern the mowed paths, you can shoot a compass bearing from the Viewing Blind of S53E and walk in a straight line for 500 feet to reach the hearth. You will not be able to see it from the Viewing Blind because a knoll blocks the view until you begin walking.)
This hearth was used by Ms. Chase for cookouts and picnics with her friends. A picnic table and 3-sided shed once stood nearby to accommodate guests for these festive afternoons!
Your letterbox is in the fireplace - reach up into the flue, just out of sight! Be sure to hide and replace the box in the proper spot when done.
Learn More, Earn a Patch: DEEP hopes you enjoyed your visit to Topsmead State Forest, a truly precious piece of Connecticut’s past, a prime getaway of the Litchfield Hills, and a treasured source of wildlife habitat diversity. If you would like more information on grassland bird species and how you might contribute to habitat conservation, contact the DEEP Wildlife Division’s Habitat Program at 860-295-9523 in the eastern half of the state, or 860-424-3011 in western Connecticut.
This is one of 32 letterbox hikes in the new second series of boxes, called the “Seedling Series”, sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Division of Forestry. This letterbox replaces the original series box located by the pond in the pine plantation close to Buell Road. Take 4 additional sponsored letterbox hikes to earn a commemorative Connecticut Forestry Centennial patch. When you have completed five of these hikes, please contact us and let us know what sites you have visited, what your stamp looks like, and how we may send you your patch. We will verify your visits and send the patch along to you. Contact DEEP Forestry
Content last reviewed June 2020