Saturday, October 14, 2017

Paugussett Bypass at Wiacek

We met on a surprisingly muggy Saturday to finish clearing along the Paugussett Bypass at the Wiacek Open Space.  The Bypass had been cleared as earlier work parties and an Eagle Scout project earlier in the year, but like everywhere else had grown back, especially at the powerline crossing.  One of the goals was to clear enough to see if we could get the DR Mower thru for maintenance mowing.

Starting at Constitution Blvd. N. we dove into the barberry thickets cleared by the scouts.  Val, Jim, and Paul cut, whittled, and dug out various saplings, shoots and clumps to make the trail and tread more passable.

One of the challenges is the thick barberry grows in clumps, and the sections that stuck up were tripping hazards.  So we tried using the Pullerbear weed wrench to remove the clumps.

The weed wrench is a heavy steel bar with a jaw and fulcrum welded at the bottom.  In theory, you clamp the jaws on the stem of what you want to pull out and then push down on the handle.  In this case, because the barberry was cut low it was tough to get a good bite with the jaws without tearing the root ball up.  Progress was slow.

After pulling most of the roots out we tried burning the rest with a weed torch.

Careful not to let the fire spread to the leaves, the torch seemed to work well.  Most invasive species require multiple treatments, and barberry is susceptible to burning.  Should bring a fire extinguisher or water bucket next time, don't want to start any California-scale brush fires.

Above is a section of the trail after pulling and burning.  It's slow progress.  Need to have teams of 2-3 people digging, pulling and burning next time.  If we can get one person to loosen the root clump with a mattock, the another to rip it out with the Pullerbear, then somebody to burn the remaining roots, I think it would be more productive.

But we got out and made some progress.  Thanks to Paul, Val, Jim & Terry for helping out.  And thanks to Royal Bakery for the great doughnuts; a weekend special.

The next work party is at Lane Street in a week or so - check the work party page for further details.  Come out and enjoy the Hawley Meadow along Means Brook in Huntington Center.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Dog Paw Path Blowdown is Down

Saturday morning was a good time to clear up that large oak tree that had recently blown down across the Dog Paw Path.  The clearing near the Dog Park was a little tricky due to some large branches hung up overhead.  Potentially a bad thing if they fell on you while cutting below them.

A couple of us had looked at that earlier and said "Yup, that's a job for more than one person", and walked away.  Where's Rich when you need him.

So today Jim & I attacked it by whittling away the smaller sections across the trail.  That still left some hung up branches.  But with a rope, climbing up onto some of the trees, a handsaw, an axe, wedges, a lot of tugging and leverage, we encouraged the biggest pieces to come down and rest on earth where they couldn't hurt anyone.  Then we finished clearing the worst parts of blowdown.

Near the end I nicked the chainsaw on some rocks which reduced it's cutting efficiency greatly.  We may go back to clear up the rest of it after sharpening the saw.  In the meantime enjoy using the Dog Paw Path.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

We Gotta Up Our Game (Mapboxes and Kiosks)

On a recent vacation in New Hampshire we saw some interesting examples of map boxes and kiosks.

Here's the Fox Map Box at Gap Mountain in New Hampshire with the beautiful painted fox pictures decorating portions of the kiosk.  Interestingly, this Live Free or Die State wants money to walk in the park, which our City does not.  Maybe we should set up some easy system where people could donate to trails and open space if they choose to, but for now everyone is welcome to enjoy our open space for free in Shelton.
Here's the kiosk at the Gap Mtn. N. Access Trail with the cool map box.  One interesting aspect of the kiosks is that they assign a street address to the kiosks for 911 Emergency Address purposes.  This allows someone in the woods to call in a situation to 911 with a defined street address for quick emergency response.

Here's a detailed note at another kiosk.  So that if you broke your leg and had to call for help you could let the Fire Department know where you were.

This is the sign out by the road to assist the public with the street address for the kiosk and trailhead parking.  Many of the trail parking areas are set back off the road a short ways and may be away from nearby house mailboxes, so giving the trailhead a distinct street address helps first responders.

Here's a very basic map box at one trailhead kiosk.

Nothing too fancy, but durable and practical.

Here's the trailhead kiosk; maps, rules, contact us info.

Here's another really cool map box at Rhododendron State Park.  Someone up there has a lot of artistic talent.  We thought that we had some interesting folk art along our trails, but we may need to up our game.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Great Paugussett Reroute of 2017 at Indian Well

Junction of the Well Trail and Paugussett reroute
The Great Paugussett Reroute of 2017 at Indian Well State Park is mostly complete and open for hiking. Come along on a hike up to the overlook and check out CFPA's work (click photos to enlarge). If you are heading northbound, the new section starts at Indian Well Road near the intersection with the side street leading to a neighborhood called The Maples. The big parking lot is usually closed these days, but there's a small off-season hiker lot further down the road to the Maples.

The blue blazes now head down the gravel path known as the "Well Trail" but quickly take a right turn and drop down to Indian Hole Brook to cross on stepping stones. The old route used to follow Indian Well Road to cross the brook via the bridge, and that is still an option if the stepping stones are flooded.
Crossing Indian Hole Brook on stepping stones
The large stepping stones were artfully placed by the CFPA "Rock Stars" using ropes and pulleys. Amazing work. The stepping stones blend in so well with the river that you have to stop and look for a moment to see them.  Once you see them, however, crossing is a delight. The old cobblestone bridge, a WPA project from the Great Depression era, provides a nice backdrop.

Stepping stone crossing
The terrain rises steeply from this point, but the new trail curves along the slope contours to switchbacks, gaining elevation much more slowly that the old route, which went straight up the hill. Volunteers put in a tremendous amount of work benching the trail into the side of the slope.

The new trail levels out briefly at a hemlock graveyard shelf, then rejoins the old trail briefly about half way up the slope before turning right to another new section. This part levels out for the next 0.2 mile mid-slope, following the contours as the trail heads north to get around a big rock formation. The old trail went straight up the rock formation, but it was hazardous and eroded.  There didn't seem to be any better way up the rock, so CFPA decided to outflank it.

Walking along the side of the slope.

The forest is beautiful and there are some very large trees. Lake Housatonic can get pretty noisy at times, and I was treated to live music by a band covering mostly 80's tunes for this entire hike. I believe the band was actually across the river in Derby. It was a bit annoying but eventually I just started singing along because why not? If you want a peaceful hike, I recommend mornings or going off-season.

The rock ledge rises steeply to the left, while the slope drops off towards the river on the right. The overlook is up at the top of the ledge.

Can't go that way
Finally the rock formation comes to an end and the trail starts heading uphill towards another switchback.

End of the rock

If you're hiking in the evening, as I was, you may notice the woods lighten up quite a bit as you come out from the shadow of the hill.

At the top of the rise the new trail will cross the old trail, which followed the top of the cliff. Now you have an option of following the blue blazes straight ahead to continue along the trail northbound, or taking a left turn onto the old trail, which is now a spur to the overlook.

Escaping the hillshade.
We'll take that spur to the overlook, which was cleared out this year so you can see the Housatonic. 

Housatonic Overlook
If you zoom in, you can see downtown Shelton. There's the dam and gatehouse on the river, with Riverview Park in shadow overhead. Beyond that are the buildings of Canal Street, and beyond that the Route 8 bridge. 

Zooming in

Friday, July 28, 2017

Rec Path Mileage

By popular demand, here is mileage along the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path starting at Lane Street.

0.0 Lane Street trailhead
0.2 Boardwalk
0.4 JCT unblazed path to Sycamore Drive
0.6 Lane Street Fire Road
0.7 Wesley Drive (lower crossing)
0.9 JCT Basil Brook Bypass
1.0 North (2nd) Bridge
1.2 Wesley Drive (upper crossing)
1.4 Basil Brook crossing (culvert)
1.5 JCT Basil Brook Bypass
1.6 Powerlines, JCT Nells Rock Trail
1.9 South Gate (near Oak Valley Road Extension)
2.1 North Gate; JCT Oak Valley Trail, Flower Path
2.2 Powerlines
2.4 JCT Oak Valley Trail
2.6 JCT Dog Paw Path
2.6 JCT Paugussett Trail (blue)
3.0 JCT Paugussett/Turkey Trot Trails; Silent Waters Overlook
3.1 Canoe Launch
3.3 JCT Paugussett/Turkey Trot Trails
3.4 Turkey Trot trailhead parking at Constitution Blvd North
3.6 JCT paved walk at Intermediate School; ballfields
3.9 Meadow Street
4.0 JCT Senior Center access path
4.2 Pine Lake Dam/trailhead at Shelton Ave

(Note: Distances were digitized from a GIS map and there is some rounding. Our records shown the Rec Path to be 4.1 miles long, not 4.2).

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

On the Beaten Path

On a pleasant Saturday, we conducted a two mile hike, utilizing several connected trails and passing through some of Shelton's natural attractions.
 We started at the Dog Park, where Terry outlined our trek while enjoying his ritual coffee
 Val and Terry lead the way
 We visited Eklund Garden, a chance to take a break and enjoy the results of the hard work Teresa and volunteers employed over several years to grow and display a wide variety of native flowers and other plants
 Some of the beauty of mid-summer at Eklund
At least the fur persons got to cool down in Hope Lake

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Paugussett Overlook to Overlook Hike

Here's a fairly challenging hike:  traveling between the two Housatonic River overlooks along the Paugussett Trail in Shelton. The first overlook is in Indian Well and the other is in Birchbank. On paper, it's about two miles each way, but it feels longer due to lots of ups and downs as well as some areas with challenging footing and a short scramble over 'The Boulders' at Birchbank. (A scramble is where you need to use your hands). It's a nice quiet alternative to the busy trails over at Shelton Lakes.

You could park your car at a couple different places to get to the Indian Well overlook. I started at the end of Tahmore Place and followed the blue/yellow blazes of Tahmore Trail, taking a right turn at the sign to reach the overlook. You could also hike in from the Indian Well Falls parking area or the Beach off-season parking area, but Tahmore is more quiet this time of year. 

Indian Well overlook. The Derby/Shelton Dam and Rt 8 are in the distance. 
From the Indian Well Overlook, you'll head north following the blue blazes and soon reach the white-blazed access trail to the beach at Indian Well. A lot of people do hike up from the beach area to the overlook and continue on to the falls, so this is the area you're most likely to run into people. 

Junction with white access trail from the beach
On busy summer beach days, you may hear a lot of screaming from people swimming down below. Not sure what it is about swimming, but it gets people screaming like it's the end of days. But once you're past that point, the beach sounds fade and you can sometimes walk for several hours on a beautiful weekend day and not pass a single person. As happened today.

Blowdown Brook
You'll go over a foot bridge and continue on for a good ways until you reach what we've been calling Blowdown Brook because trees keep falling on the brook crossing. Over and over again. Of all the brook crossings along the way, this is the one most likely to have water. 

At Blowdown Brook. This was the trail last year. We rerouted.

This stretch of trail between the two overlooks has an amazing amount of tree carnage.  Every few weeks there is another blowdown across the trail. This hike was no exception, with another old hemlock down with it's spikes jutting out.  It would appear that the riverbank was once home to many large hemlocks which died from the aldegid infestation, and these trees are still falling. As the hemlocks died, other fast-growing trees shot up and are themselves now falling. It's a mess. 

Blowdown of the week

After Blowdown Brook, the trail does a steady climb up to the top of what we call Limbo Log Hill. It's the hill with the very big log across the trail at the worst possible height. Too high to chain saw. Too low to easily get under, especially if you have a backpack. This year we built a bypass through the raspberries and have done OK keeping it clear.

The Limbo Log and new bypass trail
You'll then progress to an area that looks like it might be involved in a landslide someday. This is the area above that section of Indian Well Road that's insane to drive and which in fact has had landslides.

Top of the Landslide with glimpses of the river below
The trail squeezes tightly between houses up above and the very steep slope below, with glimpses of the Housatonic River through the trees. Last year while scouting possible reroutes to get the trail further from the houses, I spotted a convenient sort of mini-chasm parallel to the trail and just a bit down the hill and thought about rerouting onto that. Then I started to wonder what had formed that land feature, when it dawned on me that this is directly above the landslide area and this is quite possibly the top of a failed landslide, where the slope began to give way but stopped.

Another dead hemlock, but cool fungi
"Border Brook" is our nickname for the brook that forms the border between Indian Well State Park and Shelton's Birchbank Mountain Open Space. A tree is marked with yellow paint from either the park staff or possibly the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company back when they owned Birchbank, along with an open space marker. A surprising number of people think Birchbank is part of Indian Well. It's not.

Welcome to Birchbank
Shortly after entering Birchbank, the hard part begins, starting with The Boulders. This is a short stretch of trail, maybe 150 feet long, where you need to scramble over boulders. You have to stop and ponder the best route, and some pets may need assistance, although mine did not.

Gateway to The Boulders

The Boulders. See the blue blaze?
Then you quickly cross a narrow clearing which is a big water line going straight down the hill. This is the same clearing you would see going up the hill from the Birchbank Trailhead, so you could just roll down the hill in theory and find yourself in that parking area if you so chose. I would not recommend it.

Water line

The Rock Faces

Right after that you'll get to the rock faces. There is some serious geology going on here and you may be tempted to explore some caves. After that is a long stretch down the hill on a talus slope. Deceptively treacherous to walk on and not recommended when wet. Be careful! I highly recommend a hiking stick or trekking pole. Occasionally a rock can shift when you step down, or may be mossy and slick. All it takes is one bad step to break an ankle. Unless you're like a mountain goat, go slow.

Down the talus slope
After a slow, tedious descent, you'll soon find yourself where the trail was rerouted in 2016. The old route is now blazed blue/white, while the new route gradually ascends to the Birchbank Mountain overlook.

Yay! No more rock!

Section benched in by High School students in 2016

The high school students did a great job and the trail looks so much more natural this year. Last year it looked a bit like a scar upon the earth, but this year it's just a trail.

Stairs to the overlook

When you get to the old stairs, we don't know when those were built, but the Paugussett used to go here back in the 1980's or 90's before it was rerouted due to a pending subdivision up above. The 2016 reroute was partly new and partly a restoration of an older route. 

Trail Register

Up at the top is the new trail register, and there are a few entries in the book now.

Entries in the trail register

Just a few more steps and the view opens up. Yes! That seems like longer than two miles. And it will seem even longer on the way back! But it's a good hike. If you can spot a car, I would recommend continuing north on the Paugussett to Round Hill Road. That would be about a three mile hike. 

Birchbank Overlook