Monday, January 11, 2021

Indian Well Overlook in All Seasons


Overlooks are important. The overlook at Indian Well has become such a popular destination that it's hard to believe there wasn't any overlook just a few years ago. To be clear, back in the 1930s when the Paugussett Trail was routed along the ridgetop, there was a great view of the river, but the growing trees eventually blocked the view.  The photo below shows what the view looked like back in early 2017:

Early 2017 - No view!

The view was cleared shortly after. This was the same year the Paugussett Trail was rerouted between the falls and the overlook to make it safer (the previous route was a cliff).  With permission from the state park manager, Colin Carroll, a trained sawyer from the Connecticut Forest & Park Association (CFPA), cut a large oak tree (see video below, and turn on the sound). It was impressive! Smaller trees were cut and trimmed back later by CFPA trail manager Terry Gallagher. 

Turn on the sound and listen to the crashing oak

These days, there is a steady stream of visitors stopping to take pictures of the Housatonic River. Often it's families with children taking group selfies, good friends, or romantic couples. Most turn around and go back to the Indian Well parking areas where they started, while a few continue on down the trail to walk the Tahmore Trail loop. 


The overlook changes with the seasons, weather, and time of day, so no matter how many times you walk past, it's always a new and fresh view. 



Saturday, January 9, 2021

Welcome 2021; First Work Party

Saturday was a clear cold morning, but no snow cover, so we got a jump on our Spring brush cutting.  A group of us met at Sinsabaugh Heights off Meadow St. to clear barberry and other brush along the Paugussett Trail.  We were working on the stretch from Mayflower Lane to Rt. 110 by Indian Well State Park.

Everyone was well bundled up and masked as the peaceful morning echoed with the sound of power tools and the smell of 2-cycle fuel.  Graham, Bob, & Mark were paying special attention to spiky barberry, thorny greenbriars, and barbed raspberries along the trail that would explode during the growing season.  Cutting back those briars now will make everyone's life easier in May when we're running around town trying to keep up with all the Spring growth.

Here's Mark using the mowing head to take out barberry near the old barn foundation.  Barberry is an invasive species that forms beds of thorns that are prime habitat for ticks.  Taking out the barberry now not only prevents getting scratched up, but also reduces the odds of Lyme disease, so the clearing is a twofer benefit.

There was one small beech blowdown that we'll have to come back and cut up later.

We finished up down on Rt. 110 by Indian Well.  There's always more to do but we cut the briars back and it was a good morning's work done.  We also did general trail clean up moving logs, pulling out hung up branches and vines, clearing sticks, etc.  Thanks to Bill, Gino, Tony, Bob, Graham, Mark & Terry.  Here's to 2021 being a better year for trail work than 2020.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020 in Review: A Year to Remember

2020 Out & About Challenge
2020 was a big year for our trails, which suddenly became more popular than anyone could ever imagine.  The pandemic forced many work parties to be cancelled even as trail use was through the roof.  Even so, trail volunteers logged 1200 hours this year in Shelton, an average of 100 hours each month, not including several major Eagle Scout projects and the efforts of many trail users who help keep the trails clear by removing fallen branches and reporting blowdowns. Most of those hours were done independently (rather than work parties). Here are some trail volunteer highlights:

Events: While other towns were closing down their trails in response to the pandemic, Shelton created the 2020 Out and About Challenge to encourage people to visit our lesser-known public properties and trails. In November, participants were rewarded with an invitation-only hike and a drawing for carved hiking sticks.

So many people attended the Full Moon Hike held in October (157 people with additional people unable to park and join the hike), the Trails Committee has had to put a hold on public hikes for the time being. 

One of many blowdowns from Storm Isaias

Storm Isaias (hit August 4): From August to October, volunteers recorded 158 hours clearing trees and limbs from the trails, mostly chainsaw work. Staff also assisted, and some blowdowns were cleared by mystery volunteers, probably mountain bikers. 

New section of Tahmore Trail

Trail Relocations & New Trails Completed: The cooler months are for trail relocations, and there were several accomplished in 2020.  

Korey Barber's bridge leading to Webb Mountain
Eagle Scout Projects: 
  • Korey Barber & Troop 27 constructed a large bridge where the Paugussett Trail crosses Round Hill Brook and enters Webb Mountain Park. 

  • Andrew Kluk, Troop 3, constructed and installed mile markers along the Rec Path. 

  • Marc Santacapita, Troop 19, relocated a bridge and installed bog walks for a Paugussett Trail relocation off of Independence Drive. 
Dozens of hand-routered signs were installed in 2020

Other Projects: 
  • The Rec Path at Wesley Drive & Lane Street was resurfaced after being used as a temporary road during construction of the Lane Street bridge
  • 188 tires were removed from the Little Pond Trail off of Beech Tree Hill Road.
  • About 30 hand-routered signs were created and installed along the trail system.
  • The Birchbank trails were all reblazed. 
  • Access for the trails gator & DR mower was improved
  • Plans for a replacement trails building were finalized (the existing structure is near collapse). 

188 tires were removed from Little Pond Trail

Monday, December 21, 2020

Tahmore Trail Adjustments

Reroutes along the east half of Tahmore Trail (click map to enlarge)

Three sections of Tahmore Trail were shifted a bit this fall in the continuing effort to address problems with footing, erosion, trail alignment, and scenic value. Most of the western half of the loop was completely rerouted this past spring up to the top of so-called "Big Tahmore," and has proved popular with local hikers.  The latest trail changes occurred on the east half of the loop and were relatively minor. Here were the changes and why they were done:

Reroute #1 (see map above): This stretch had a short steep section that was eroding badly into a gully and was treacherous when covered with fresh oak leaves. The existing route went straight down the hill, so there was no way to redirect stormwater off of the trail, meaning the erosion would only get worse. It was also very close to a house, which only become a problem this year after the homeowners cut down a nice screening of hemlocks and dumped the branches over the stone wall onto the Land Trust property alongside the trail. So the trail was steep, eroding, and now a bit of an eyesore.  

View from the old route

Same view from the new route, further from the house

So the trail was pulled away from the home and now hugs the hillside, where there are some interesting rock features to catch the eye. The trail is still relatively steep, but not quite as bad. Two rock steps were installed in the steepest spot. And the trail cuts across the slope and bends around the hillside in such a way that stormwater can be directed off of the trail in several locations, preventing the trail from become a big gully. This reroute required a lot of 'side-hilling' (digging the trail into the side of the hill). 

The reroute allows stormwater to escape from the trail

Reroute #2: This was an easy reroute that simply straightened out the trail. It was always a curious curve ("why are you taking me to the right when the trail ends up to the left?"). The new route takes hikers more directly along their way, and away from the other part of the loop so that hikers on different parts of the trail are less likely to see each other. 

Reroute #2 was a simple straightening

Reroute #3: This reroute addressed two problems. First, if you were following the trail clockwise, the section heading west down to the red trail had a steep section that was slick when covered with leaves or snow. Second, people not familiar with the trail kept accidentally turning right onto the red trail because that was the more obvious tread. To follow Tahmore Trail, you actually would turn left immediately after a big tree on your left that blocked your view. People not used to following blazes kept missing it.

Reroute #3: Less steep, and prevents
people from accidentally turning right on red

So instead of going straight down the hill, the new route first jogs to the right and cuts gradually across the slope, then bends back to the left and drops more steeply. The new alignment directs hikers straight through the red junction (no more left turn). And the remaining steep section is shorter and not quite as steep as before. Some drainage work was also done that may help, since after a storm a river of water flows down Tahmore Trail at the bottom of the notch. 

What's left for Tahmore? The steep hillside above the cattle pasture isn't horrible, but it still needs the leaves to be removed in the fall. Some additional improvements may be warranted there. 

Our Favorite Walks Bonus: Nicholdale Expanded Loop

Here's an easy two-mile loop through forest and meadows in the White Hills on Nichols Trail and the Pearmain Path, but be prepared for seasonal issues like mud, hunting, overgrowth, or snowed-in parking lot. 

by Teresa Gallagher (Natural Resource Manager)

This post is part of a continuing series describing the Trails Committee members favorite jaunts along Shelton's thirty miles of trails. There are many types of trails located across the city, from the handicapped-accessible Rec Path to the rugged Paugussett Trail. 

Click map to enlarge

The outer loop at Nicholdale Farm keeps getting better and it seems like it all came together in 2020 for a high quality 2-mile loop. Click HERE for a printable map showing the full trail system. In the past year we've had improved blazing (including signs and arrows), new bogwalks over wet areas, and half of the yellow-blazed Pearmain loop was substantially relocated and is now much more interesting and scenic. 

Seasonal considerations.  Most of the time this hike has no issues, but before setting out be aware of the following. Winter: The parking lot may not be plowed. Spring: Wear water-proof shoes during mud season. Trail improvements are addressing the mud situation and it's getting better, but be prepared. Early Summer: In late May-June the vegetation may get away from us for a few weeks, especially near the cattle underpass.  Fall: There is firearm hunting late November - December on the Pearmain Path, which crosses private property.  The best times to hike the trail during hunting season are Sundays when firearm hunting is prohibited, and the middle of the day. Morning hunters have typically cleared out by 10:30 am or so, but may return in late afternoon. Wear bright colors, preferably blaze orange. 

The hike: Park at the main entrance to Nicholdale Farm (gps #324 Leavenworth Road and look for the "trailhead parking" sign on Rt 110). Note that Nicholdale has a secondary signed entrance that is more visible, so be sure to pull in at the "trailhead parking" sign. 

Pay attention for the dark blue markings of Nichols Trail

Head down the steps alongside a gate and pass the big sign kiosk. You'll be doing the loop clockwise. Nichols Trail is marked with dark blue blazes and arrows. This property used to be a dairy farm, and the old farm paths and meadows are maintained by the Shelton Land Trust. Go left off the old farm road where the signs and arrows tell you, crossing a bridge with a memorial bench on either side of the brook, and continue through the forest. There's a long stretch heading south with an old stone wall to your left and some bog walks through seasonally muddy areas. 

Eventually the path bends to the right and you'll come to a large boulder abutting the path and the junction of the Pearmain Path ("Boulder Junction"). Take a left and follow the yellow blazes south along an old woods road. There is firearm hunting (with landowner permission) in this section late November-December, so wear bright colors and stay on the trail or hike on Sunday. This is private property covered by a limited conservation easement. You'll cross a small stream dubbed "Abner Brook", and then the new "Pearmain Preserve" property owned by the City is just off to the left. 

Just before you get to Pearmain Road, there is a 3-way intersection, with the main trail heading right and a yellow-square access trail continuing straight to Pearmain Road (the road there is unimproved and not recommended unless you have a big truck). Go right and keep following the rectangular yellow blazes. After crossing the gas pipeline, the trail enters a scenic forest with permission from the Jones Family. Please respect this private property and stay on the blazed trail. 

Looking down through hemlocks at Beardsley Brook

This is a pretty section, built in 2020. The trail, now trending north, comes to a little overlook of a stream dubbed "Beardsley Brook", then winds through some hemlocks to come back to Beardsley Brook for a bit. Right after that is Abner Brook. There is a seasonal waterfall just below the trail here. Cross the plank bridge and notice how Abner Brook is on the both the right (flowing south) and also down below on the left (flowing north). The long piece of ledge on which you are are walking has acted like a dam and blocked the flow of the brook. 

After crossing Abner Brook, you are entering a new Land Trust property known as "Little Knoll." You'll know why after hiking the trail. It's not a big property, but the land down below is all water company forest, so it seems bigger.  Very peaceful. Continue following the yellow blazes back across the gas pipeline and rejoin the blue-blazed Nichols Trail at the Scout Camp. Go north straight through the camp, then watch for a sharp left turn at the edge of a meadow. 

Cattle underpass below Rt 110

The rest of Nichols Trail goes in and out of meadows and along old farm roads, with some sharps turns, so pay close attention to the blue trail markings. After awhile the trail will cross a wooden bridge over a brook and then a stone bridge over a seasonal wet spot, and cross a large meadow bringing you near Rt 110 and an access trail leading across the highway to Willis Woods and Stockmal Trail. Ignore that and head right (east) to parallel Rt 110 for the remainder of the loop. The first section is on the old Leavenworth Road before it was upgraded to a state highway. The trail then winds around the woods a bit before coming out onto a meadow that can be a bit wet in the spring, and overgrown in early summer before the crews can get to it. Just before you arrive back at the parking lot is a square tunnel under the highway. This was built as a cattle underpass when the state constructed the highway across the farm. Sometimes in early summer the tunnel is obscured by vegetation, but it does get cleared out eventually. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Snowy hike on Nells Loop Trail

 It was a good day to hike Nell's Loop Trail.  Sunday, peaceful, snow falling.  The temperature was near freezing so the snow had a little give to it.  I parked at John Dominick Drive, which had been plowed, and walked in toward the powerlines.

The view looking north along the powerlines was very stark, yet striking, at the same time.  What stuck me what how very quiet and muffled it was with the snow.  Not much traffic noise.  You could've been up in the Northeast Kingdom, as well as Fairfield County, for all the noise that you didn't hear in the falling snow.  This is one of the easiest hikes to get away from all the racket at the right time of the year.

After crossing the powerlines you can see where Eversource and Iroquois were out cutting brush along the powerlines earlier in the year.  The new snow covered up a lot of the recent cutting.

There were some nice trail junction signs to let you know where you were in the snowy afternoon.  There are a lot of nice neighborhood hikes that link up with Nell's Loop, and it was obvious that a number of folks had been out snowshoeing along the trails.  Even if you know the trails pretty well it's a comfortable sight to have some of the signs in the snow saying "Yup, this is where I am".

Even though the parking lots were not yet plowed out there was a lot of footprints along the Paugussett Trail and Nell's Loop at 4 Corners.  A number of snowshoe'rs were going up and down the Paugussett Trail.

There were also a lot of wildlife tracks - in this case coyote tracks along Nell's Loop.  A little further on the deer tracks were bounding ahead about 10 feet apart for some reason.  Could the coyotes have motivated a deer to move along up the trail?  There were also lots of deer tracks, squirrel tracks, some possibly fox tracks, and other animals.  It's a great time of the year to work on your animal tracking skills.

There were some friendly, little trail signs guiding you back to the parking spot and the end of John Dominick Drive.  It makes for a very peaceful hike in the falling snow.  

Helpful Trail Tip:  Just remember to allow some extra time when hiking in the snow.  "You'll take twice as long to go half the distance" as regular hiking, or so I've heard tell.  But it can be well worth it.



Monday, December 14, 2020

Our Favorite Walks Bonus: Tahmore & Indian Well

Indian Well and Tahmore Loop: a great exercise routine

by Teresa Gallagher (Natural Resource Manager)
This post is part of a continuing series describing the Trails Committee members favorite jaunts along Shelton's thirty miles of trails. There are many types of trails located across the city, from the handicapped-accessible Rec Path to the rugged Paugussett Trail. 

Blue arrows to the top then red arrows back down in a figure-8
(Click to enlarge)

This two-mile loop has a scenic overlook of the Housatonic River, decent footing, and lots of hills, making it a great exercise routine that doesn't take too much time. But it's also just a really nice hike. You can also take a spur to the falls at Indian Well. The loop didn't exist when I wrote up my original favorite hike, but has since become my favorite. Note that a ton of reroutes, improvements, and new trails have happened here recently. This is not the old trail system, so if you tried these trails a few years ago, try them again. 

You start at the off-season beach lot across the street from the main Indian Well parking area and head past the sign kiosk and up the Big Stairs (about 50 steps). Phew! Then there's another short but steep hill taking you up to the junction with the blue-blazed Paugussett Trail. That was the hardest part. Take a hard left onto the blue trail (pay attention for this junction, some people who aren't go the wrong way on blue and end up at Birchbank). There is more uphill, but less steep, until you arrive at Tahmore Junction (the intersection with the blue/yellow Tahmore loop trail). You'll jog to the left and then to the right to get on Tahmore Trail going clockwise, following signs for the overlook. This part of Tahmore Trail used to be the Paugussett Trail until a few years ago, so it's well-worn. 

Overlook on Tahmore Trail

This is a great overlook of Lake Housatonic about 200 feet below. Off in the distance is the Derby-Shelton dam, and past that is the Route 8 bridge with teeny-tiny cars crossing it. You might also see Route 34 on the other side of the river. I enjoy seeing this overlook change with the seasons and the time of day. 

Continue following the blue/yellow blazes up and down and around, but mostly up. You'll gain about 150 feet in elevation. Like I said, it's a great workout. The "Top of Tahmore" offers a 360° view through the trees during the offseason, including the river far below. You can't see any of that during the summer, though. 

Sunset at the "Top of Tahmore"

I like the different feel of the hilltop. It's rocky and open and dry, and there are different plants than down below. Blueberries and wild pink, for example. Lots of oak. 

From the Top of Tahmore it's all downhill. Follow the blue/yellow blazes back to Tahmore junction and go straight through the intersection and down the hill on blue, following the signs for the falls (do not take the first blue option, which is the way you came). The trail quickly bends left for a bit, which can feel wrong,  but will switchback back to the south. 

The new Beach Cutoff Trail is still being improved

You'll come to big rock face on the right and the blue/red Beach Cutoff Trail  on your left. The blue/red trail is new and is basically an express trail from the beach to the falls. At this point you have a choice: Turn left onto blue/red and head back to the parking lot, which is what I usually do when I'm in a hurry, or continue on for a slightly larger loop or to see the falls. The blue/red trail is co-aligned with the blue trail for a short ways and then the two split again before coming back together before the blue trail goes down to the river. If you want to see the falls, continue on blue, crossing Indian Hole Brook carefully, then taking a right onto the big wide path that leads a short ways to the falls. There are a lot of signs and maps on the trees to help you find your way here because most people in this area are not hikers and seem to be a little lost. Note that if the water is high, you might not be able to cross the brook. 

Happy Hiking!