Great Hill Conservation Land
Great Hill access from School Street
Great Hill Conservation and Recreation Land, located in a busy section of South Acton, is a large tract, diverse in topography, vegetation, natural features, and uses available to the public. This 184-acre conservation area, bounded on its southerly side by School Street, where there is a major access behind the S. Acton Fire Station. Piper Road on the east, with a minor access across from Oakwood Road, Mass. Avenue on the north, and Main Street on the west, provide the property’s other boundaries. The Main Street access, located across from the intersection of Prospect Street and Main Street, is a major access and provides parking. A second minor access is from Kelly Road with limited parking. The conservation area has two kiosks, one positioned at the top of the meadow beyond the School Street soccer fields and the other at the Main Street entrance.
The town acquired the land with state and federal assistance in two phases between 1971 and 1975 with the purchase of seven contiguous parcels that had no existing structures on them other than the common New England stone walls. Since then, the field just beyond the fire station entrance has been developed for youth soccer. A former marshy area was dredged and made into a skating pond. A large open meadow beyond the playing fields creates a feeling of spaciousness, and slopes up to the wooded areas where the trail system begins.
The trail system now consists of a main loop trail (yellow-blazed), 2.0 miles in length, and two secondary trails (blue-blazed). The main loop trail makes a circuit of the property and may be accessed not only from the entrances mentioned above, but also from several informal access points. One of the secondary trails traverses the region around the summit of the hill—at an elevation of 350 ft., the highest point in Acton—from which good views of the surrounding area may be had in the winter. The other secondary trail leaves and returns to the main trail on the westerly side so as to give access to the back of the Children’s Discovery Museum parking area.
An interesting feature near the Piper Road wetlands area is a bowl-shaped depression in a natural outcrop of bedrock. This stone artifact is thought to have been an Indian grinding stone, a theory that is supported by the presence nearby of an intermittent stream that would have been useful in the preparation of grain for the grinding process.
Screech Owl (Otus asio)
Drawing by Tom Tidman
In the uplands, particularly at the top of the hill, one can see what is nearly a climax forest with its mix of ash, hickory, beech, sugar maple, and red and white oak. This portion of Great Hill provides habitat for nesting bird species such as scarlet tanagers, red-eyed vireos, redstarts, ovenbirds and several species of owls.