Thursday, February 20, 2020

New Shelton Trails Google Map

If you use Google Maps on your phone, you can track your location along our trails while hiking using a custom Google Map of the trails.  All of the official Shelton Trails are on it, including the parking areas, as well as the Monroe Trails that link up with the Paugussett Trail just across the border. That includes Webb Mtn Park.

Phone screen shot
Blue dot is current location

A link to the Google Map is located on our webpage for trail maps maintained at  We still have all the standard trail maps for printing or viewing online. The Google Map has the advantage of allowing you to see where you are on the trails, and can be used while driving to find the trailheads. 

People using a chrome browser on their phone seem to have the easiest time. You must have a smart phone with the Google Maps app loaded onto it. Try clicking on the map link from your phone browser and see what happens. You must be signed in to your Google account. 

So far, we've had the follow results on various phones when someone clicks on the link for the first time:

1. Map starts up immediately in the Google Maps app and that's it. Super easy. 

2. Map opens up in a web browser. You can see the map, but can't see where you are on the map. If you are using Chrome for your browser, look for a menu on the upper right, open it, and select "View in Maps." You're done. If you're using a different browser and can't see "View in Maps," try to star the map while viewing in a browser (see photo below). That saves it to Google Maps (see below on how to open the saved map). 

3. Some people have multiple Google accounts open on their phone. If that's the case, you'll need to click through an annoying series of screens, but if you're the kind of person that has multiple Google accounts on your phone you'll probably figure it out. You'll be prompted to select which Google account you want to open the Maps app with. 

4. Alternatively, view the trails map on a PC and star it to save it for future use (you must be signed into the Google account that will be used on your phone).  See above screenshot. Then you can access it directly from the Google Maps app (see below). 

While on the PC or using a non-Chrome browser on your phone, try to "star" the map.
That saves it to your Google map account.

Viewing a Saved Map:
If you were able to open the map on your phone, Google automatically saved it for you. Alternatively, you may have starred the map while viewing on a PC, which also saved it.  On your phone, open the Google Maps app and look for the menu on the bottom (touch the screen if necessary to make the menu visible), select "Saved", and then scroll right to "Maps." (See photo below. It may not be obvious that you can scroll right to find a category for maps.) Select "Maps" and you should see the Trails map listed there. 

SCROLL menu to the right to view saved maps

Using the Map:
Your current location will be shown on the trail map with a blue dot and a margin of error around it depending on the strength of your signal.  But wait, there's more!  We've added a few icons with info such as critical trail notices, including the 2020 closure of the bridge at Indian Well. Touch the icon for more info (see screenshot below). 

And if you want more information about a trail, like the blaze color, name, or length, touch the trail and then select "More Info" to find that info. It was automatically generated from the City's GIS system, so it's a bit awkward, but the info is there. Note that the lengths will not be accurate for the Paugussett Trail because that line was entered in multiple sections. In the screenshot below, the trail name is Gristmill Trail, it's blazed white, and it's 0.3 miles long. Note that the line colors on the map are close to the blaze colors where possible. Black lines are used for white-blazed trails. Brown lines signify a trail with no blazes. 

Want to report a trail problem like a fallen tree? Take a screenshot of your current location and send it to us so we know exactly where the problem is.

Dead spots: There are some cell phone dead spots on the trails, including the lower elevations at Indian Well and some areas around Nicholdale Farm. Open up the map while you have a good signal and keep the app open. It will continue to track you even without a cell phone signal. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

"At a Place Called Burritts Rocks"

Google Earth view of Burritts Rocks with the Paugussett Trail (blue)
and the trails of Birchbank Mountain
"Burritts Rocks" is another one of Shelton's old place names that goes back to the time of the first white settlers, in the same vein as Nells Rock and Great Ledge. The name eventually fell out of use and was only recently rediscovered while researching past deeds. The rocky river slope that was once called Burritts Rocks gives the Paugussett Trail much of its rugged character.  The trail here feels like the Appalachian Trail in Northwest Connecticut.

Deed from the 1800s for what is now the southern tip of
Birchbank Mountain Open Space (click to enlarge)
Back in the day, land deeds gave a description of a "certain piece of land" by specifying the  neighborhood the land was located in, or maybe a nearby landmark.  The deeds from the 1800's for land located on either side of the Birchbank Mtn/Indian Well State Park boundary were described as being "at a place called Burritts Rocks."  The spellings for Burritt varied through the years, but "rocks" was always plural.

Survey area of "Burretts Rocks" (in red)
The Shelton History Center found an old surveyor's page titled "A field book and table of Burritts Rocks, including David H. Booth....and Agur Hubbells land." The survey included multiple properties and may have been commissioned by the Ousatonic Water Company. The above marked-up trail map shows where that land is believed to be located based on the bearings and distances listed in the survey table (see original notes). It's immediately north of the properties mentioned earlier as being part of Burritts Rocks. The "place called Burritts Rocks" seems to have covered, at a minimum, the river slope from the north part of Indian Well State Park up to about the Birchbank Mountain overlook.

Paugussett Trail at "The Caves" near the top of Burritts Rocks
And that area does have a stupendous amount of rock, most of it slick and covered with moss. There's bedrock ledges, giant boulders the size of small buildings, swarms of boulders the size of various kitchen appliances, and hillsides of small rocks jammed together so tightly there is no soil between them, just voids. The rock presents a special challenge for trail designers and hikers alike. The Paugussett Trail doesn't go directly through the worst of the boulder field, but skirts the edges. Going through the middle of the boulder field would be impossible. In addition to the slick, mossy boulders, there are deep crevices and voids, some deep enough to swallow a person.

Hikers must use their hands to get through "The Boulders"
We'll probably never know precisely what Burritts Rocks originally referenced. Was it the ledges, perhaps seen by ships sailing up river? Or the combination of the ledges and the ridiculously rocky slope? No matter. Today we're using it to describe the super rocky area between the Paugussett Trail (up above) and Indian Well Road (down below).

The Paugussett Trail north and downhill from "The Caves."
The hillside is a pile of smaller rocks, with little soil in between.
Where does the name Burritt come from? An old Stratford map shows a very long swath of the Housatonic west bank north of downtown Shelton labeled "Burritts Ground." Indian Well Road was originally called Burritts Road and Birchbank Road was called Burritts Ground Road. The latter road climbed the riverbank to connect to East Village Road. Part of Birchbank Trail follows this Burritts Ground Road as it switchbacks up the slope. This was a way for farmers up in the White Hills to get to the river, which was still tidal and functioned as a primary means of transport. There was a shipyard down by Indian Well.

Burritts Rocks near the Indian Well/Birchbank border,
down the hill from the Paugussett Trail
So who was Burritt? The Burritt family was one of the first to settle Stratford. One of the early descendants, Peleg Burritt, appears to have settled in Shelton when it was still part of Stratford, presumably somewhere along the west banks of the Housatonic River that were called Burritts Ground. Peleg's descendent Blackleach Burritt was born in Shelton and was interesting enough to merit his own Wikipedia entry. Besides having a super cool name,  Blackleach Burritt was a mover and shaker in a religious movement called the "Great Awakening" in the late 1700s.  

Alas, the Burritts all seem to have moved west, leaving behind only their place names. One wonders if "Burritts Rocks" was a name meant to troll the Burritts, an elbow in the ribs so to speak. Also, did people insert an expletive between "Burritts" and "Rocks?" Just asking for a friend.

This is a trail. 
There is some serious geology going on here that explains all the boulders. Underground is a rock formation called  the Straits Schist Basal Member (Stb). This formation contains layers with carbonate, variously called marble or limestone, and at one time there was a marble kiln located nearby. This is unusual for this part of the state, but common in the northwest hills, which is one reason why hiking through Burritts Rocks can feel similar to hiking in Kent.  Carbonate minerals dissolved out of the rock and created weaknesses so that it breaks easily into slabs and chunks. The formation can also contain metals like silver and tungsten. Here's a previous post  about the rock formation, which also outcrops at Old Mine Park in Trumbull and also across the river at Laurel Lime Ridge in Seymour.

The Housatonic River, meanwhile, has been undermining the slope for thousands of years and washing away everything that isn't a rock. The steepest part of the slope is at the outer bend of the river, which has the strongest current.

"Blowdown Brook" marks the southern end of Burritts Rocks
If you are hiking northbound from the Indian Well beach area, you would walk for half a mile through easy terrain, mid-slope, until you arrived at a scenic stream that what we call "Blowdown Brook." That's an outlier of Burritts Rocks, and you may notice how many of the rocks are broken into flat slabs. That's typical of these rocks. You would use the stepping stones to carefully cross the brook. The trail then starts heading up the river slope because a wall of rock is just ahead and the trail can't go through it. So up and up and up the trail goes, arriving at the crest of the steepest, rockiest part of the river bank. Down below is a stretch of Indian Well Road where boulders occasionally roll down onto the road. 

Bedrock near the top of the hill, just below the trail.  
The trail here is squeezed between the rocky slope and the houses that are at the very top. We try to bring the trail down away from the houses wherever possible, but mostly it's impossible. It's not just the steepness, or the rock surfaces. It's the deep crevices. The photo above is maybe 50 feet downhill from the Paugussett Trail where it's close to some houses. The rock is bad enough, but take a closer look at the crevices. They're quite deep.

Crevice is 6-8 feet deep. 
At some point in time, the hillside suddenly pulled away from the lower sides of rocks, and the rocks themselves were fractured and pulled apart, leaving a series of deep parallel crevices. Possibly this was the top of a landslide, or the beginning of a landslide that never quite happen (but still could). The point being that it doesn't seem entirely stable. 

New trail section near the park border
This is why the Paugussett Trail unfortunately needs to stay up near the houses, although the very worst section was recently rerouted near the park border, where the trail now descends into a valley and crosses "Border Brook" to enter Birchbank Mountain. It's a nice spot. From here, you would follow the trail back up the hill and then the trail is surprisingly easy and rock-free for a short spell until you are confronted with "The Boulders." These are the boulders you need to use your hands to climb over. This is the start of the really rocky part for hikers, and is not recommended in wet weather. Shortly after that are "The Caves." Not real caves, just a bunch of rocks big enough to have overhangs that form small shelters. Then you descend steeply on lots of smaller flat rock. Take it slow. Over the years, trail managers have positioned some of these rocks to form steps, but it's not consistent and you may need to pause and think about where to step next. The trail then cuts across the rockfall slope, a reroute down a few years ago. Still very rocky, but easier. The rockiest section for the hiker ends soon after that, although there is plenty of rock on either side of the trail all the way to the overlook.

Walking Fern, an unusual plant growing on a boulder
The plant community at Burritts Rocks is distinctive. The calcareous rock has basically limed the soil, so it's not as acidic as we usually find in Shelton. And water seeps out of the cool, dark, northeast-facing slope. That's created very different growing conditions, and the lower parts of Birchbank Mountain are known for the spring wildflowers and plants like Maidenhair Fern that only grow in these sweeter soils.  Mostly what seems to grow on the rocks is moss and Marginal Woodfern, but you never know what you might find if you were willing to risk breaking a leg and take a look. Walking Fern was discovered growing out of some boulders, anchored in boulder crevices where carbonate rock has dissolved. Walking Fern is uncommon and said to grow in exactly this type of habitat. This tiny plant doesn't look like a fern. It gets its name because the leaf tips form new plants, which take root, allow the plant to "walk" across the rock. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Balmy February Morning at Pine Lake

It was 65 degrees Fahrenheit in Antarctica today, and nowhere's near that in Shelton, CT.  A few brave and intrepid trails volunteers ventured out to take advantage of the snowless (so far) winter and cut briars along the RecPath behind Pine Lake today.  The wind was still kicking up from last night's storm.  The wind speeds hit records (80 MPH on Cape Cod) last night.

 It was very pretty, but the wind across Pine Lake along Rt. 108 was pretty ear-chilling this morning, so we decided to get into the pine trees and start cutting right away.

With a variety of saws, loppers, hedgetrimmers, weedwhackers, chainsaws, bow saws, and other instruments of destruction we attacked the briars, poison ivy, Japanese knotweed, burning bush, barberry, and other invasive species growing into the RecPath.  We wanted to do a pre-emptive strike before everything bloomed out and started growing this spring.

Once we got out of the wind, into the trees and started working it warmed right up.  The sun came up and the pines looked great in the early morning sunlight.

We split up into teams and worked our way up to Constitution Blvd.  (and Val went to Hope Lake), cutting briars and invasive species growing into the RecPath.  A lot of people were out using the trails; dogwalkers, joggers, mountain bikers, and one really hard core biker wearing shorts.  He must have a robust circulation system.

We got a lot done, but there's more to do.  We have another work party coming up in two weeks on Oak Valley Trail if people would like to enjoy a brisk outing in the morning.  Thanks to Graham, Luis, Bill, Val, Mike, Mark, Jim & Terry for helping out today.

We didn't get a lot of good action shots of people working.  For some reason everyone just kept moving.  Val did get a picture of putting stuff away after the work party.  Thanks to everybody who came out. See you in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Paugussett Reroute at Birchbank/Indian Well Border

Reroute location at "Burritt's Rocks"
Our latest reroute of the Paugussett Trail consists of an 800-ft section that straddles the borderland between Indian Well State Park and Birchbank Mountain. Old deeds referred to this area as "Burritts Rocks." Mr. Burritt had a lot of rocks. This is near the top of the insanely steep river bank above Indian Well Road where southbound cars have to pull over so that northbound cars can pass, there are telephone poles in the road, and every so often boulders tumble down the hill and land on the pavement. Just below the trail there are giant slabs of rock jutting out of the slope at odd angles, twenty or thirty feet across, with crevices or voids a person could fall into that can be over ten feet deep.  It's very tough terrain.

Abandoned route is a brown dashed line
The Paugussett Trail has traveled just above that mess for many years. When houses were built at the top of the hill along Hickory Lane, the old trail had nowhere to go, and as a result hikers following the blue dots walked close to several homes. Many were worried that they might be trespassing. And over the past few years, with GPS and GIS mapping, it became apparent that part of the trail was actually on private property. This was a surprise, since there was yellow paint on trees marking the northern border of Indian Well all the way up the slope to the trail. Whoever marked that border went too far up the hill.

Existing route: The trail was overlooked by houses and recent clearing

Further down the valley, away from the houses.

Connecticut Blue Trails do often cross over private property, but it's not ideal, and over the past few years we've had massive clearing along the trail (some of it extending into state land), creating an eyesore. And this year we had bowhunting just a few feet from the trail. Bowhunting really isn't a big deal along trails, except that this was the only spot where bowhunting was allowed along the trail, so hikers would not be prepared for it and dress in bright colors.

So, was a reroute possible? It seemed unlikely at first. The reason the trail veered onto private property here was the presence of a broad valley going down the slope. The existing trail was following the contours, staying nice and level, and easily crossing a small stream we've been calling "Border Brook." In order to follow the property line, the trail would need to go down the hill through rough terrain into the valley, cross the brook, then climb back out of the valley. 
The reroute. Not to scale and north is to the right.
(click photo to enlarge)

Scouting for this reroute was like being a rat in a maze. The first challenge was finding an acceptable crossing of Border Brook, because the stream was much larger down the hill, with steep banks in places, and lots of rounded mossy boulders. But one good crossing point was found with lots of big flat rocks, and a bright orange survey flag was tied to a tree. This was a lovely spot. No houses. Even with a bad GPS signal, this crossing was clearly on City property. Heading south from this point, the land was pretty level, and again, no houses. There was one tricky spot with low boulders.  Skipped over that and paralleled the property line south towards a steepening hillside. Up above, the blue blazes of the existing trail were visible, but the drop-off screened the trail from the houses above. Nice. Ahead was a lot of rock. Boulders and probably ledge. There did seem to be one possibly plausible way up. More orange survey tape was tied to a tree. Maybe it would work, maybe not. Depended on kind of rock what was below the soil. You don't really know until you start digging. 

A wall of boulders stood in the way

Then it was back to the brook to scout a route north along the property line, only to discover a giant boulder field blocking the way. There did not seem to be a way through it. It was disheartening. Returned a few days later to take another look at the boulder field, examining the ground more closely near a couple of massive oak trees. Large trees can indicate more soil and less rock below. Fallen tree tops obscured the rocks, so those were cleared out to reveal a passage through the boulder field. Yes! More orange survey tape was tied to the trees. The rest of the routing was easier, just connecting the dots. It was flagged and partly cleared. 

Digging out the trail up the Hump, the hardest part
It being January, that would seem to be the end of it for the season, but we had a freak warm spell for a week with temps getting over 60°, and the ground thawed out. Digging started on the rock hump at the south end, because this was the most difficult section with the greatest unknowns. The tread needed to be dug into the side of the hillside, but there was rock underneath. Small rocks? Boulders? Ledge? Hard to say until you start digging. In fact there were two false starts, where the route had to be abandoned after digging revealed bedrock at a hopeless angle. Fortunately, another way was found each time. Phew. 

"BEFORE: Southern reroute terminus looking north
(top of the Hump - old trail heads to the left)

"AFTER": Southern reroute terminus looking north

At one spot near the bottom of the hump, newly exposed bedrock began seeping water across the tread, which by the next day had turned the new tread into a treacherous morass. Directly up the hill, the existing Paugussett Trail also was a messy mudhole that a passing trail runner mentioned. It was the same bedrock. One big long seep. This was a serious problem. How does the trail get past that seeping ledge? Good thing trail conditions were at their worst and the problem was revealed immediately. 

Getting down off  "the hump" was tricky with a seep
The next day that tread was shifted over several feet (lots more digging) in hopes of better conditions. This would make the trail steeper, but hopefully avoid the seep. But the seeping bedrock was hit once again. This time it was better, though, because the bedrock was stepped horizontally and vertically, making it less hazardous. A drainage channel was created by digging out at the base of the bedrock and placing a thin flat stone vertically against it, then installing two stone steps. Hopefully the water would drain into the void behind the steps and not out onto the tread. So far, so good. 

Passage cleared through the boulder field
Once the trail tread was roughed in along the hump, the rest was easier. There was still a lot of digging into the side of the hill, but the entire project now seemed more realistic. The hump had been solved. The rest was just a lot of digging and moving rocks, still taking advantage of the unfrozen ground. By the time the deep freeze had returned, the trail tread was good enough to open up the new section. It does still need some tread work, but that can wait until the spring. This section of trail has more up and down than the old route, but hopefully the improved views will make up for that. Since the tread will suffer from New Trail Syndrome for awhile, and a few more sections need to be dug in, the old section remains open for those who might prefer it. 

Middle of the new section, away from the houses
A final note on the property line between Indian Well and Birchbank. No one knows where this line is. The City Engineering Department never entered a property line into their master CAD maps for this reason, which in turn has created inaccuracies in the GIS mapping systems, which show Birchbank and Indian Well as one giant property owned by the City of Shelton. The filed land deeds were searched for the properties on both sides of this line, but it was little help. Going back to the 1800's, the deeds simply referred to neighboring properties without any other descriptions, not even a reference to a pile or rocks or a chestnut tree. For example, the 1927 deed for the purchase of Indian Well from the Ousatonic Water Company described the line this way: "thence running northwesterly along said land to land of John H. Hill and Bertha Wakelee Rogers; thence running northeasterly along said land to the northeasterly corner thereof."  John Hill and Bertha Rogers owned the southern part of what is now Birchbank Mtn. Deeds for their property, in turn,  just referenced the owners to their south. The only helpful deed was one from 1889 when the Housatonic Railroad Company purchased a 15-ft wide strip of land from what is now Birchbank Mtn. That 15-foot notch in the line is still there and should mark one end of the line. Meanwhile, the state has been contacted but so far has not been able to shed any light on the subject. We do know that the line is close to what we call "Border Brook." Which is good enough for trail work.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Shelton Winter Hike at Nells Loop Trail

We finally had snow yesterday just in time for our Winter Hike.  We schedule these events far in the future and hope that the weather will play along.  This year's hike was at Nells Loop Trail on Nell's Rock Road across from L'Hermitage Condominiums.

Thanks to Emma Gallagher for re-painting our snowman sign for the event.  It came out looking great.

After the snow the sun came out and it warmed up to around 40.  The snow wasn't quite enough to snowshoe in, but we did get in a good walk.  We had a great turn out of about 2 dozen hikers and 3 happy dogs.

We did the loop counterclockwise out to the powerlines, stopping at various trail junctions along the way.  The snow was soft but slippery in some of the steep sections.  It pays to have a trekking pole, walking stick, or micro spikes for differing snow conditions.

We didn't see any coyotes, but we did see a lot of coyote tracks along the trails.  We looped back crossing the Paugussett Trail (blue), and turned left (north) just before John Dominic Drive.

Winter Hiking Tip:  You can park in the cul-de-sac at John Dominic Drive off Buddington Road to access the trails in this area if the parking lot at the trailhead isn't plowed out.

The hike actually went quicker than anticipated (about 1 hr. for 2 miles), and everybody had a good time, fresh air, and seeing friends.  Thanks for coming out.  Now off to the football and hockey games on TV.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Before the Storm

Saturday morning, cold, mixed sky; some clear blue with wispy crescent clouds ahead of sheet clouds from the storm rolling in.  We're getting snow, but how much?  Will it stick?  There'll be rain, but will there be ice?  Gil Simmons where are you when we need you?  Or even Hilton Kaderli.   

People, and dogs, were not hedging their bets.  They were out hiking, dog walking, running, and biking before the storm hit.

 At Lane Street in Huntington Center, the bridge reconstruction project was quiet, but residents and trail users could still use the temporary pedestrian bridge to bypass the construction and reach the RecPath trailhead.

The pedestrian path wraps around the construction site and you can walk down Lane Street to the trailhead kiosk for the RecPath.

You can also enjoy an up-close-and-personnel view of bridge reconstruction that you seldom see while driving past a typical construction site.

 Hey look, the bridge foundations are finally getting completed.  Means Brook flows under and thru the bridges.

There was a lonely Mallard drake hanging out in some open, unfrozen water upstream of the bridge.  It was a reminder that wildlife has to cope with the upcoming cold weather just as humans do after an unseasonably warm December and January.

Further downstream, the Far Mill River was flowing along at Gristmill Trail on Mill Street.  Water levels were low following flooding last month along the trail.

Typically more of a summer destination, Gristmill Trail is still very striking in mid-winter.

The RecPath along Silent Waters had a number of hikers and runners along it.

The RecPath going downhill to Meadow Street had a lot of leaves and debris on the paved portion, but was being used by a number of runners and dog walkers.  This will be the site of a future trail work party to clean up The Path, but it was open and used by a lot of people on Saturday.

Kylo was taking his family out for a walk on the Turkey Trot Trail & RecPath Saturday too.  Dogs have to make sure everybody gets out for an invigorating walk in the winter.  It was good to see everyone out enjoying Shelton's Trails & Greenways before the storm hit.