Natural Resources in Oxford

Approximately 800 acres surrounding Oxford High School have been made accessible to the public, thanks to the efforts of the Oxford Land Trust in cooperation with the town, state, and local volunteers.

A view of the Housatonic River from a Rockhouse Hill Sanctuary hiking trail.

In the southern corner of Oxford, an expansive tract of unspoiled woodlands rises along a ridge to an overlook with sweeping views of the Housatonic River Valley. Known as Rockhouse Hill, it remained hidden in plain site for many years, unknown to all but a few hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.

Starting in the 1990s, the Oxford Land Trust began working with the town to acquire the land from the water company to establish the Rockhouse Hill Sanctuary. Combined with adjacent parcels that have since been set aside for conservation, there are now approximately 800 acres surrounding Oxford High School, offering miles of networked trails of varying levels of difficulty for walking, hiking, and running.

"It really is a unique spot," says Oxford Land Trust Director, Jim Severson. "People go in there and say, 'I can't believe we have something like this.' It's a great opportunity to get kids out walking, which is better than them sitting at home playing video games."

The Oxford Land Trust recently improved access to the trails for all ages and abilities with the help of $5,000 grant from the Valley Community Foundation. The grant, in combination with other funding, paid for the installation of crushed stone and drainage near the trail head. Well-marked trails wind past old stone walls and offer stunning views.

Located next to the high school, the preserve is also a natural classroom. Joseph Lanier, an Oxford High School Biology teacher, offers a field biology class that brings students into the preserve to examine the forested areas and different topographies. An elective, the class attracts a diverse group of kids, many of whom would not otherwise take an additional science class beyond their requirements, Lanier said.

"Kids today, even though they live in Oxford, really don't know the woods," Lanier said. "They are more engaged in technology and aren't getting outside as much. This gives them the opportunity to get outside and learn about nature."

Lanier also organizes a Youth Conservation Corps that works with the Inland/Wetlands commission to create trails in the preserve. The students are involved in all phases of the process, from design and layout to cutting and marking the trails. The most dedicated crew members are offered the opportunity to work 4-5 days a week during the summer for pay, a program that has been supported by the Department of Environmental Protection.

"In laying out the trails, we try to have minimal impact on environment overall. We work with terrain, but also try to give access to the highlights, like the scenic overlooks," Lanier said.

Boy scouts also maintain the trails and build bridges for Eagle Scout projects, and some troops use the woods for no-impact camping, which means leaving no trace of their campsite behind.

The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven has also provided grants to the Oxford Land Trust to pay for signage and to support a "Summer Earn and Learn" transition program, which taught job skills to five special education high school students.

For more information about the Oxford Land Trust, visit its website.

Did You Know?

Nature hikes are not only good for your health, they can boost your creativity. Research has shown that higher order thinking is improved after an immersion in natural settings.