Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Birchbank Mountain Kiosk Sign


Installed kiosk sign

A lot of people pull into the Birchbank traihead parking area thinking they're at Indian Well. There's a blurb in the kiosk asking people if they're looking for the falls at Indian Well, and tells them how to get there, but a lot of people don't stop to read.  Groups clad in swimsuits and carrying beach towels head down the trail, possibly wandering about the trails for hours in utter confusion. Who knows. Do they get to the little cascades of Upper White Hills Brook and think that's the "well" of Indian Well? 


..inspired by the Eklund Garden sign

A header sign for the well-built kiosk is something that always made sense. A gorgeous sign crafted for Eklund Garden by Tim Bonney several years ago set a very high bar for what might be possible. The sign has raised-relief lettering, with the wood around the letters having been carved or routered away. I've always admired it. 

As always, these things are typically harder and more time-consuming than you expect. The first hurdle was getting some lettering penciled onto the boards, which sounds simple, but it isn't. What font? How do you transfer that onto the wood? I printed out "BIRCHBANK MOUNTAIN" in what I hoped was a workable font, then tried using a small projector we had stashed in the basement. Sadly, the projector cannot project from very far away, meaning the project image must be small. Too small.  I pulled the project back farther from the board to try an enlarge the lettering, but then it was out of focus. So I did my best to trace the fuzzy letters, then turned the lights back on and repaired the font by eye. Not a very efficient system, but eventually the lettering looked OK. 


Outlining the letters with a narrow router bit

The next step was to carefully outline the lettering using a 1/16th" router bit. This was done freehand and was a little nerve wracking. All it takes is one slip up...


Progress

Then a 1/4" router bit was put on and the remainder of the wood around the lettering was removed. This was boring and took longer than expected. And then it was all sanded.


All painted

There was a lot of back and forth about the colors. The Eklund Garden sign looks superb with the dark green background and natural stained border. For a trailhead sign, a different set of colors seemed appropriate. The other issues to consider were maintenance (polyurethane tends not to last very long), and what supplies were already on hand. In the end, the colors were (for future reference): 
  • Lettering - White paint used for trail blazes (Behr premium plus)
  • Background - the Gallagher's leftover deck stain. 
  • Border - Concealer paint used to cover obsolete blazes and graffiti on trees. Behr Premium Plus "Landmark Brown" (ultra flat). 
In the end, it looks pretty good, but not as nice as the Eklund Garden sign, which was expected. I certainly gained an appreciation for how hard these signs are to make. And when people pull into the parking area, or even just drive past on the road, they should see that the kiosk is for BIRCHBANK MOUNTAIN. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Storm Isaías Recap

Phew! Storm Isaías made a real mess of the trails, but that's mostly been cleaned up. How big of a mess was it? Along the 10-mile Paugussett Trail system in Shelton (which includes Tahmore Trail), there were about thirty-five blowdowns large enough to require a saw. That's an average of almost one every quarter mile, although the blowdowns were cluster on exposed hilltops.  And that doesn't include the other 20 miles of trails in Shelton. 

These obstructions ranged in size from large branches too heavy to drag off the trail without being cut first, to the unstable "monster hickory" over the Paugussett Trail that took three guys with two chainsaws and a peavey all morning to clear.  

Terry, Mark and Luis cut up this big hickory

The "monster hickory" across the Paugussett Trail

Many of the obstructions consisted of tree crowns that had fallen across the trail as the storm tore off the upper limbs and threw them to the ground, and sometimes it was several tree crowns piled up together. These can really block a trail. Immediately after the storm, hikers started creating a tunnel through one particularly bad crown-fall complex at Indian Well, crawling twenty or thirty feet and breaking some smaller branches with their hands. The terrain was too steep on either side to go around, and it was the only way through. This blowdown took almost an hour to clear because much of it was overhead and not entirely stable, so a lot of time was spent studying the mass and proceeding slowly. 

People were tunneling through this mess 

Same spot, all clear!

In between all the big stuff were zillions of leaves, sticks, and smaller branches. Some trails weren't too bad, while others were covered in a thick blanket of this stuff. 

Confounding early cleanup efforts was the inability for the volunteers to communicate with each other since most were without power or Internet service for several days. Over 60% of Shelton was without power and a number of roads were blocked with fallen trees. Cell phone signals were terrible throughout much of Shelton and people couldn't even get their email or check the Facebook comments about the trails. Trails Committee volunteers also had to first deal with tree damage at home before worrying about the hiking trails. 

The Nicholdale parking lot was a mess

Bruce Nichols with Shelley and Nick Sheriden show off the cleared parking lot

But eventually the forces were marshaled to get the trails clear. Some of the Trail Monitors had begun clearing their trails almost immediately (Trails Monitors don't have to do any actual work other than report trail conditions to us, but we LOVE it when they really adopt their trail and work to keep it clear). Ellen Cramp was hard at work on Oak Valley Trail and giving us reports of blowdowns.  Shelley and Nick Sheriden started working on one end of Nichols Trail while Graham Bisset started working on the other end. The parking lot at Nicholdale was covered with fallen trees which Shelley and Nick were working on when Bruce Nichols and an anonymous volunteer happened upon the scene and cut up the mess with chainsaws. 

There were undoubtedly plenty of hikers and mountain bikers out there moving sticks and small branches off the trails. That was a huge help. 

Hard to tell, but this is the Rec Path near the Dog Park


The Rec Path behind Pine Lake, already partly cleared

The storm hit on Tuesday, August 4. The next morning, the weekly "Weeding Wednesdays" session at Eklund Garden was converted to storm cleanup. Staff Teresa Gallagher started working on repairing 150 feet of deer fencing at the garden that had been crushed by two large trees (in between was a wasp nest, but that's another story), and directed volunteer Dan Persico to forget about the garden and start clearing the Rec Path behind Pine Lake with his handsaw. Dan got quite a bit cleared that first morning, and Teresa followed up in the afternoon with a battery-powered chainsaw from Pine Lake to Silent Waters, leaving just one larger log for the big chainsaws. 

"Before" - Paugussett below Sinsabaugh

"After" - cleared with a small battery-powered chainsaw

At this point, there wasn't much communication going on. Teresa set a goal of checking the entire Shelton Paugussett and Tahmore Trails while carrying a battery-chainsaw in a pack, which took several days. The small chainsaw was fine for 80 or 90% of the blowdowns, and much lighter to carry down the trail. She also set up a storm status post on this blog as a clearinghouse of information. Which trails were clear? Where was a chainsaw needed? Which trails were still a mystery and needed to be walked? It was all recorded there and updated continuously. 

By Thursday or Friday, committee members started getting their Internet back like everyone else in Shelton, and we started getting better feedback about the trails. Someone reported that Basil Brook Bypass had been cleared. We still don't know by who, probably some mountain bikers. Shelton Lakes clearly needed a lot of work, so the Trails Committee decided to have a work party there on Saturday for storm cleanup. There was a surprisingly good turnout, and most of the trails at Shelton Lakes were cleared by the end of the day. There were so many sticks and leaves on the Rec Path that the guys used the Gator mowing deck over the Rec Path, which worked fine. 

The volunteers get ready to clear Shelton Lakes

The volunteers then began chipping away at other trails in town. Terry Gallagher cut up a large "limbo log" at Indian Well. Boehm Pond had several large blowdowns identified by Val and cut up by Mark and Luis, with Teresa following up with a backpack leafblower because the trail was so messy (she blew off Tahmore Trail as well, which was just covered with leaves and sticks). Mark and Luis were a critical duo, cutting up a large proportion of the major blowdowns all over the trail system. 

As of this writing, three and a half weeks after the storm, there are still a few minor blowdowns to attend to, but nothing significant. Three or four blowdowns occurred after trails had been cleared as broken limbs and trees hanging in the canopy finally completed their fall. There are in fact a number of spots where trees and limbs are still hung up overhead, so hikers should be alert for that. 


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Storm Status of Shelton's Trails

Updated 8/30/2020
Storm Isaías Damage Status
At Shelton Lakes:
Rec Path: The entire 4-mile Rec Path has been cleared and most of the sticks and leaves removed.
Paugussett at Shelton Lakes: Cleared from Buddington Rd to Shelton Ave.
Nells Rock Trail: Cleared
Oak Valley Trail: Cleared and raked.
Turkey Trot Trail: Cleared. Note: Broken boards on small bridge from blowdown. 
Dog Paw Path: Cleared
Basil Brook Bypass: Cleared
Basil Brook Falls Trail: Large blowdown that predated the storm. Hikers can duck under it. 
SIS path (yellow square): This trail needs maintenance work. 

At Indian Well: 
All the blazed trails at Indian Well, including Tahmore Trail, have been cleared of major blowdowns. Tahmore Trail was tidied up with a leaf blower. 

Paugussett Trail ("blue dot"): 
All cleared except for a large step-over log just north of the chimney at Birchbank (low priority).  Trail sections to the north of the Shelton/Monroe border are maintained by a different trail manager and are mostly unknown, but it is clear from the Webb Mtn park road north to the Lake Zoar overlook. 

Nicholdale Farm/Willis Woods:
Nichols Trail: Cleared
Pearmain Path: Good.
Stockmal & Willis Trails: Cleared except for a tree trunk that needs more work near the entrance. 


Other trails: 
Boehm Pond Trails: All trails cleared and hit with a leaf blower.
Gristmill Trail: Good. 
Little Pond Trail: Cleared
Bluff Walk at Riverview Park: Unknown
Birchbank Trail (white): Cleared. There are a number of "step-over" logs across this trail that were left intentionally to discourge wheeled traffic.  One 3-ft diameter tulip tree log near the trailhead needs to be cut, and a more recent smaller step-over log just before you get to it. There is also a large blowdown next to the lower bridge, but this primarily impacts the unmarked neighborhood access trail, not the main trail. The Little Fox Access trail is reportedly blocked with some limbs.
Birchbank Connector (blue/white): good

How to help: If you know the condition of a section of trail we have listed as "unknown," send your status to conservation@cityofshelton.org. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

More Storm Clean-Up: The Maybeck Hickory

The clean-up from Tropical Storm Isaias continues.  One large blow down blocking the Paugussett Trail was a large twin hickory on the Maybeck Open Space between Constitution Blvd. and Meadow Street.

It was a big sucker.  Heavy too.  With multiple tops.  Here's Mark & Luis for scale. 

It was a big tree.  Wonder if it made a noise when it came down?


 This is the view at the tops and branches.

We were going to cut out a limb in front and one in the back so you could wiggle under and the over the blowdown.  The twin trees were splintered at the base from the storm and one log was balanced on the other.  Relocating the trail around the blow down entirely wasn't practical due to briars and the stone wall.  The walk along the stone wall has nice views of the adjoining meadow that we wanted to keep.

So we started cutting and taking turns.  We gradually whittled the tops down, taking weight off the rest of the tree.

As one section was cut other sections shifted and moved.  Spotters kept an eye of the tree as Mark was cutting.  It was definitely a sporty blowdown.


Gradually, enough of the tree was cleared that we decided to open up the trail more.

 Lots of cutting to open up the trail.

Luis used the Peavie to roll some of the heavy logs out of the way.  I hope his back is feeling ok tonight. We also used crow bars and wedges a lot to move the logs and keep the saws from getting stuck.

At the end we had success.  It was hot, and sweaty, but the trail is open and nobody was injured.

Further down the trail an oak tree had fallen across a small hickory and was lodged over the trail.  It didn't seem to be going anywhere, so we decided this could be left for another day.  Remember to walk briskly when you're hiking under trees or branches lodged up in the air.

On a related note; Eversource has crews working along the powerlines cutting trees and brush.  They were making a mess earlier in the week blocking several trails with tree tops and limbs where they cross the powerlines.  They are going around today cleaning some of that up with a brushhog.  Be aware of this utility construction when hiking trails near the powerlines.

One of the areas cut by Eversource along the powerlines.        

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Covid Hikers Leave Mark at Birchbank Trail Register

The Birchbank Overlook

The Paugussett Trail register at the Birchbank overlook has become a bit of a time capsule as the Covid pandemic continues.  Even though many people likely are not touching it (because it could be contaminated by other hikers), there are still many more entries than in the past. 


Trail Register near the overlook

The register box is getting more attention from trail users as well. There's been some graffiti scratched into the boards. And someone left a hand-carved mini-totem pole from Alaska. The style goes with the coyote wood burning on the box, so it was temporarily removed with the idea of replacing it later with improvements to keep it safer from the elements and hikers. 

A page in the trail register from March 2020

The register book starts out with sporadic entries from winter and early March, and then suddenly there is a surge in entries as the state shutdown began and the only way to get out of the house was to go for a walk. The trails were mobbed. Here are some select entries from March to August. Click on the photos to enlarge if necessary. 


Future generations might not understand

42 miles! Why not?

 

And it's only April 7. 


Our family starting watching the The Walking Dead, too.

And then painted rocks became a thing in Shelton

This spot was one of the pandemic
"Out and About" challenge sites in Shelton

The Paugussett can be backpacked, with camping at Webb Mtn.

Some people still get lost without even trying.

Young, but wise. 

That pretty much sums up summer hiking.

The summer of our discontent... 

Must have come in via Indian Well over Burritt's Rocks

That's some serious mushrooming


And then Storm Isaias struck...

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Busy Weekend on the RecPath

It was another busy weekend on the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path.   2020 is turning into a record year for use by hikers, joggers, bikers, strollers, dog walkers, and families out in search of some fresh air and exercise in Shelton's open spaces.

This family was enjoying a stroll over near Basil Brook.

Butterflies were feeding on some of the Sweetpepperbush along Oak Valley Road.  There were many dense stands of the shrub with the distinctive white flowers lining the edges of wetlands along the RecPath.

Maggie and Bailey were some of the many 4-legged customers taking their families out for a walk this weekend.

 People were out fishing by Silent Waters on Saturday.

Woodland sunflowers in bloom near Silent Waters are a pleasant surprise.

There are a number of new trail signs along the RecPath to help the public.  A number of the side trails that join with the RecPath have new signs to assist trail users and give them a chance to explore trails that they may not be familiar with.

Portions of the RecPath near the Lane Street meadow have gotten overgrown this summer.  The Trails Committee is trying to play catch up after months of no large organized work parties due to the Corona pandemic.

This adventurous hiker was having a great time running down the RecPath right before the picture was snapped.  Even though it was pretty tropical out she was having a good time with her family.

One of the other family members was having a little nap on the way home.  The RecPath, and the many trails that tie into it, are great places to explore and get outside.   Fun for the whole family.  Enjoy Shelton's open spaces.