Heath Hen Meadow Conservation Land
Bridge spanning Heath Hen Meadow Brook
Heath Hen Meadow Conservation Land in southwest Acton comprises 99 acres of streams, meadows, upland forest, and large tracts of wetlands. Only one-third of this conservation area is upland. This property was purchased using both town and state funds in 1974 and is crisscrossed by several stone walls, which serve as reminders of its use as farmland during the 17th and 18th centuries. The conservation area is named for the Heath Hen Meadow Brook that rises in Stow and meanders through the property picking up the Muddy Brook tributary and eventually merging with Fort Pond Brook just beyond its border.
There are four access points to the Heath Hen trail system, which consists of a 0.5 mile straight-through main trail (yellow-blazed) with two secondary trails (blue-blazed). The primary entrance, at the end of the Robbins Street cul-de-sac, is marked by an information kiosk situated on the main trail midway along its length. Two other entrances are at either end of this main trail: one at Billings Street at the trail’s southerly terminus and the other at the Heath Hen Meadow Brook, which forms the property’s border to the north. The bridge that spans the Heath Hen Meadow Brook, built by LSCom volunteers, provides access into the Mt. Hope Cemetery woodland beyond, also owned by the town. There, a 1.1 mile loop trail through the woods also provides views of the wetlands. The fourth access is on the westerly side of Prescott Street, just beyond its intersection with Robbins Street.
One of the secondary trails leaves the main trail at a large vernal pool on the westerly side midway between the kiosk and the Billings Street entrance. This secondary trail winds through moist woodlands to the end of an esker where the trail seasonally ends at wide wetlands. During the winter, however, when frozen, this wetlands can be crossed to a small island, probably originally an extension of the esker, where an unblazed loop trail traverses the island’s perimeter. This secondary trail provides a connector to Stow Conservation Land just across the towns’ boundary in the winter when the swamp is frozen. When accessible, this island is a wonderful place for viewing wildlife, particularly the marsh birds that inhabit the extensive wetlands surrounding the island and the Heath Hen Meadow Brook.
The other secondary trail leaves the main trail on the high ground at the first meadow north of the kiosk and rejoins the main trail just below the second, or lower, meadow, close to the bridge over the Heath Hen Meadow Brook. One meadow is the remains of what was formerly a Community Gardens area; the lower meadow seems to be a more natural opening, now covered with grasses and wildflowers. The short secondary trail (only 0.25 mile long) circumnavigates the two meadows and passes both through remains of earlier orchards and along portions of an old cart path. The Prescott Road access intersects this secondary trail.
Another trail, the Overlook Trail, is associated with the Heath Hen Meadow conservation area and trail system. A narrow conservation corridor totaling 14.5 acres that runs between the rear of the Meadow View house lots and the extensive wetlands beyond them is connected at both ends to the Heath Hen Meadow Brook conservation area. The trail that runs through this corridor overlooks the marsh and the extensive wetlands formed by the confluence of Heath Hen Meadow Brook and Fort Pond Brook, and offers beautiful views and fine opportunities for marsh-bird viewing. The trail is unblazed because it is not formally finished according to LSCom standards; the surface is very rough throughout its length and in some areas has unstable stones from the stonewall that separates it from the house lots behind. However, it is passable for the hardy. 0.65 mile in length, it connects to the blue trail surrounding the meadows, via the Prescott Street connector, and to the cart path, also on the blue trail, from its other end.
Heath Hen Meadow is home to a variety of wildlife including beaver, skunk, raccoon, opossum, deer, ducks, partridge, and an occasional blue heron. A stable beaver dam, in place for several years, just above the bridge, keeps the marshland level constant and is a wonderful scenic attraction from the bridge. The meadows and surrounding woods provide habitat for numerous species of songbirds, as well as insects and amphibians.