Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snowshoe Loop: Basil Brook Bypass & the Rec Path

Waterfall Trail (Yellow/White) off of Wesley Drive
Everything changes after a big snow. Parking lots are impassible and there's more in the way of gear and logistics to consider before heading out on the trails (especially during the Big Chill of 2018). It's so easy to stay inside the warm house, and a hassle to put on all those layers, but it's loads of fun once you're out there. After a big storm, look for parking on plowed city streets that get little traffic. I parked on Wesley Drive at the upper Rec Path crossing a few days after the big Jan. 2018 nor'easter blizzard, and strapped on my snowshoes.

Snowshoe Loop: Parked on Wesley Drive at the "P" icon,
then took the Falls Trail to Basil Brook Bypass and returned on the Rec Path
Snow conditions were perfect for snowshoeing. I decided to check out the Basil Brook Waterfall. Yellow/White blazes lead from the Rec Path crossing at Wesley Drive down to the falls. That was the beginning of what turned out to be a one-mile loop on Basil Brook Bypass and the Rec Path.

Rabbit trail
No people had been down the trail. But near the big rock face at the falls, some kind of animal had created quite a trail leading to a den at the base of the cliffs. A couple piles of little perfectly round pellets in the tracks meant it was a rabbit.

Rabbit Den
The falls were completely frozen, but I could hear water running under the ice. During the summer, it can be difficult to walk across the swampy area below the falls, but since everything was frozen, it was a piece of cake.

Basil Brook Falls
Our poor ash trees. They're all infected with Emerald Ash Borers and are dying. While hiking, you may notice where woodpeckers have pulled of strips of bark looking for the larvae. It's become very noticeable just this year, and is especially noticeable when the bark strips pile up on the snow.  Borers live under the bark, then exit via little holes. The Emerald Ash Borer holes are "D" shaped, like the ones I saw near the falls (there are other types of native borers that make holes, but these species do not kill the trees).

Perfect "D"-Shaped exit hole from an Emerald Ash Borer.
Also, the bark was stripped by woodpeckers looking for them.
After crossing Basil Brook, I took a left onto Basil Brook Bypass. The trail is not marked, so it's not recommended in the snow unless you're familiar with the trail. Most of the trail was pretty easy to follow in the snow, but I did lose it at one point for a few minutes in the mountain laurel. There were plenty of animal tracks. Deer, maybe coyote. Squirrels. Mice. Birds.

Animal tracks on Basil Brook Bypass

Bridge at Basil Brook Bypass
The intense wind on the back side of the blizzard blew a lot of seeds off the trees. There were so many seeds, the snow looked dirty in places. They blew into little piles in low spots. Mostly they were from birch and tulip trees. Birds and rodents eat the seeds, but prefer the free handouts at bird feeders.

Tulip Tree seeds still attached to the flower head
Tree seeds on the snow, mostly birch and tulip
When the trail joined up with the powerlines, I had to stop for awhile to cool down. It was less than 20° outside, but I was sweating.

Goldenrod seeds 
Basil Brook Bypass curves back to link up with the Rec Path, making a nice snowshoe loop of one mile. No one had been on the Rec Path except the animals, which was surprising.

Rec Path
There were stories in the snow. A squirrel jumped off a tree, dug up a nut, then scampered back to the tree. Hawks or owls struck at mice and squirrels. A coyote loped up the middle of the Rec Path. 

Squirrel Circle

Hawk or owl struck at a small animal here

Coyote tracks?

Bird of Prey miss a mouse
All in all, it was a lot of fun. Special gear included snowshoes, trekking poles with the little snow cups screwed on the ends, layers of very warm clothing, and sunglasses. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Time to Snow Shoe

The blizzard last Thursday left some fresh snow.  Sure it was -5 degrees Sunday morning, but the thermometer is gradually creeping up toward 32 degrees.  Time to crack out the snowshoes and enjoy some winter walks.

The Dog Paw Path over by Nells Rock Road wasn't touched as of Saturday morning.  The parking lot wasn't plowed out yet, so the challenge is to find areas near trailheads that have been plowed and walk in to reach your favorite trail.

The RecPath is a good bet for beginning winter hikers or cross country skiers.  Moderate grades, nice and wide tread, nothing to trip on, and scenic views along the way.  Enjoy the good winter weather while you can.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Wanted: Stairs on the Poet Path

We're looking for an ambitious person, probably a Scout, to build a set of stairs up the steep Paugussett Trail from Princess Wenonah Drive. Work would start hopefully in the spring of 2018 to coincide with other planned improvements along this section. This part of the trail is also known as the "Poet Path."

Area where steps are needed is in orange. Address is 34 Princess Wenonah Drive. 

The section that needs steps is about 100 feet long with a 40 foot rise. That's a 40% grade, and going downhill on autumn oak leaves almost requires hikers to get on their butt and slide down the hill. The path is also eroding into a gully.

The steps would curve up the hill instead of going straight up. 
The property is owned by the Shelton Land Trust, and what we want to do is give the ascending trail a couple of spirals within the 20-foot wide property corridor instead of going straight up the hill. This decreases the overall grade of the trail so the steps can be further apart (possibly with some straight stretches) and also helps avoid erosion issues.

Steps at the foot of the hill
The steps at the bottom of the hill next to Princess Wenonah Drive were recently rebuilt. They consist simply of pressure treated wood risers held by 18" rebar. The address is #34 Princess Wenonah Drive, directly opposite a connector street called Boulder Path. (See on Google Maps).

An example of sturdier stairs are at #180 Thoreau Drive, where the trail drops steeply between two houses. Those steps have a similar design but with heavier timbers and rebar, with the rebar pounded in at an angle and clamped to the board to prevent movement. Rebuilding steps is a lot of work, so we hope the new steps are built to last as long as possible.

Work parties are planned for April 7 and 10 for high school students to dig the trail into the side of the hill up above, so it would be ideal for this project to be under construction in the spring.

If you are interested in this project, please contact Teresa at conservation@cityofshelton.org. Funding for supplies is available.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The "Poet Path"

There's a section of the Paugussett Trail we've nicknamed the "Poet Path" because it's up in the so-called "Poet Section" of the White Hills, where the streets are named after famous poets. A trail as long as the Paugussett needs a lot of place names, whether they are real or invented, so we maintainers can communicate exactly where that new blowdown is that needs a chainsaw.

Click to enlarge
This part of the trail runs through a narrow piece of property held by the Shelton Land Conservation Trust. As a reminder, the Land Trust is a private, non-profit group, and not the City of Shelton. Many people get confused about that. Once upon a time, developers had to donate their open space to the Land Trust because the City didn't have an open space program, and I believe this property is one of those. The property was preserved specifically for the Paugussett Trail. To the north of the Land Trust property, there is a pedestrian easement for the trail (be sure to stay on the trail and respect the property owners if you are hiking there).

The Land Trust references the property as LT#21, but we've been calling it the Lost Poets. Why are the poets lost? Not sure, but it seems like a lot of people driving around that neighborhood are lost. While repairing the steps near Princess Wenonah Drive, cars kept slowing down and stopping. Admiring the work? Nope. Turning around, lost.

The Poet Path skirts the slopes of Round Hill
This trail needs some love. For the most part, it's been a rather ignored connector, used only by people hiking the Paugussett Trail between Webb Mountain and Birchbank Mountain. There are short road walks on either side of it, and it's sandwiched between houses, so people tend to skip this entire section. The lack of foot traffic actually makes the trail harder to follow and maintain, which in turn discourages hikers, so it's a vicious cycle.

The trail has potential though. It can be a nice walk, with seasonal views of the Housatonic River Valley, and during the summer, the houses are barely visible. One of the biggest drawbacks for this section is the footing. There is a long stretch with a pretty good ankle-twisting side-slope because the trail was never benched into the hillside. And then there is the steep climb straight up the hill from Princess Wenonah.  That's a pretty good workout if you're going up. Going down in the fall is something else.  One part has steps, but the rest is so slick with fall leaves you may be tempted to get on your butt and just slide down the trail (the leaves were just removed, so it's OK now).

The trail needs side-hilling
This past year, the blazes were freshened, graffiti removed, steps repaired, and a few very short sections were benched into the hillside. It's a start. This fall, the leaves were blown, which is normally not necessary for a trail, but it really does help with the footing here. Next spring we hope to have some work parties during spring vacation when high school students are available. Stay tuned, because we're going to need a lot of volunteers to get the job done!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wicked Windy Weather this Weekend

Sunday was wild on the trails.  The sky was clearing from the storm, the wind was whipping the trees about, the leaves were wet and slippery, and the temperature was dropping as the front came thru.  Occasionally branches were heard crashing down.  Not ideal hiking weather you would say.

Then you would be wrong.

Shelton's trails were almost mobbed Sunday and residents were out taking advantage of the weather.  I started at Buddington Road to finish up Hike #12 of the Lollipop Series to earn my hiking tag, and thought I would be the only one in the woods.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

The "stick" of this lollipop hike started at the kiosk on Buddington Road at the powerlines.  The trail then crossed on of our many bridges built by scouts and volunteers.

This was Josh's bridge.  And the vernal pool was full today so the bridge was really appreciated.  The trees were thrashing about as I continued thru the trails.  Care to guess how many bridges you'll cross if you do Lollipop Hike #12?

There were several residents and neighbors out using the trails.  Despite the wind's best efforts the oaks hadn't dropped all their leaves yet and some of the beeches were still holding onto the bright golden color of early Fall.

The hike contained scenic views of some of the rock ridges and stone walls that were now clearly visible without leafy shrubs blocking them.

Eklund Garden had been mowed and put to bed for the season awaiting next seasons wildflowers.

Some residents were out using the RecPath along Oak Valley Road.  The RecPath is going to get a lot more sunlight here following UI's clearing of all the trees along the overhead wires.  The City might have to rename Oak Valley Road something else, like Cordwood Road.

And as I said, a number of Shelton residents were out enjoying the trails.  Here's Crash taking his human out for a walk on the RecPath.  Crash was a little shy, but a nice hiker, and was probably the 5th four legged resident that I passed.  They were all making sure their 2 footed friends got out for some fresh air.  That was in addition to all the joggers, bikers, strollers, and others who were out using the trails.

Even with the wild weather there were a lot of great scenes along the trails; like this wetland pocket with the red Winterberry's growing around the edges.  It's surprising what you can see, even on a blustery Fall day, once you start walking about on Shelton's trails.

Visit the Event's page for the upcoming Thanksgiving Hike on the Turkey Trot Trail, and see some of the trails for yourself.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Paugussett's Unlikely "Chalk Hill Road"

The Paugussett Trail runs down the length of the never-completed Chalk Hill Road
The Paugussett runs through an interesting wooded peninsula that intrudes far into a large meadow along Meadow Street, opposite Mayflower Lane.  A wide mowed path extends up the length of the peninsula, and if hikers look close they can see overgrown dirt ridges up to 8 feet tall on either side of the wooded corridor. Pioneering trees like gray birch and white pine are growing up through heavy brush, promising a future forest. What is this place? Why does it look like this?
End of the brushy peninsula that would have been the cul-de-sac
A filed subdivision map dated 2003 provides part of the answer. The brushy peninsula follows the outline of what is identified as "Chalk Hill Road" on the map. The 21-lot approved subdivision plan was called Wiacek Farm Estates.

Part of the approved subdivision plan, filed in 2003
Although the City had been attempting to purchase the property, the developer had the proper approvals and began construction by stripping the topsoil from what would be Chalk Hill Road, and stockpiling the dirt next to the future cul-de-sac. Road grading then began, but before it could be completed, the City stopped the project and seized the property through eminent domain. The land is located next to the high school, affording room for future ballfields or other facilities if needed, and the property was also highly rated for open space acquisition for the City's greenway program.

After the City purchased the property, the excavated areas were left untouched. The ground could no longer be hayed, and the disturbed areas filled in with weeds. There was talk of having city crews restore the land, but there were more pressing matters to attend to. In the meantime, the abandoned roadway seemed like a good spot to route the Paugussett Trail across the hayfield, and the Trails Committee began mowing a pathway down the length of the peninsula.
2012 - The stockpile of topsoil was just removed. 
The pile of topsoil disappeared a few years later, used on the newly expanded Long Hill School ballfields. And the weedy corridor evolved into brush and then small trees.

So that's the story. Today we have a nice wooded corridor that seems almost as if it were created specifically for the Paugussett Trail.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Full Moon Hike at Nicholdale

In our never-ending quest to lose people in the woods we held a Full Moon Hike last night at the Shelton Land Trust's Nicholdale Farm.  The weather was a little iffy, but 31 hikers and a number of seeing-eye dogs showed up.  I think that people felt if we lost them in the woods the dogs would help lead them back to civilization.

We had a great hike helper who distributed lollipops to the participants (everyone earned credit for the Lollipop Hikes on this event.  And, as a bonus, bulbs of garlic from one of the Shelton Community Gardens were handed out to ward off vampires.  The noises from Fairview Farms last night of Trails of Fear could be heard in the distance. So the hike was a bit spooky as we headed through the trees.

As we wandered thought the fields we could see stars and planes though the bands of clouds.  

As we approached the Scout Camp there was a fire in the distance.  Jim & Bill from the Trails Committee had built a nice warm camp fire, and Joe Welsh from the Land Trust brought ingredients for S'mores.  The hikers circled around the campfire.

The night photography was not the best but everyone had a good time.

 It was cool jacket weather, but no wind, so it made for pleasant hiking.  The fire and toasted S'mores were a good treat.
There was no moon on the way in, but on the way back to the cars the moon was big and glowing through the clouds in the sky.  It was a great night for a Full Moon Hike, and we didn't even lose anyone (that we know of).   So a moonlit hike in mid-Fall with lollipops, S'Mores, and garlic (german hardneck garlic to be specific), and no vampires.  What more could your ask for?

Thanks to the Land Trust for hosting this hike.  They often get confused with the City of Shelton, but they are a well-run private charity that owns their open space properties.  Consider joining them if you're interested in local open spaces.  And thanks to Bill and Jim for setting up and dousing the fire for everyone.

Our next Trails work party is 11/11, and the last Lollipop Hike is Thanksgiving Weekend.  There's still time to earn your custom medal.  See the events and work parties pages for additional information & thanks for coming out to enjoy the hike.