Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Our Favorite Walks Part 6: Teresa Gallagher

Indian Well to Birchbank: Heart of the Paugussett

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. 

The blue-blazed Paugussett Trail at Burritts Rocks
When I'm in the mood for a local hike and have a few hours to spare, I head over to Indian Well State Park and walk from the beach area up to the overlook at Birchbank Mountain and back again. It's a 3-mile round trip (print map), but feels longer due to some very rocky sections known as Burritts Rocks.  All that rock at the top of the steep riverbank gives the trail the feeling of the Appalachian Trail in northwest Connecticut. Like the Paugussett Trail, the Appalachian runs along the top of rugged hills overlooking the Housatonic River.  I'm also able to check on the condition of the trail as the CFPA Trail Manager for the Paugussett between Indian Well and the Monroe border. 

This part of the Paugussett has had a lot of recent improvements, so if you hiked it five or ten years ago and didn't care for it, try it again. In the past five years, the Birchbank overlook has been cleared out so you can see the river, and there have been a number of reroutes to bypass the most treacherous and tedious spots and to pull the trail back away from houses as much as possible. The trail is still challenging, but less tedious and more wild and rewarding.

It's not a hike I do if it's wet outside. And if I have my dog along, I often turnaround at the beginning of the worst rocks because I don't need a leashed dog lunging after a chipmunk while I'm trying to keep my balance going from rock to rock.

CFPA volunteer Bill worked tirelessly on the big steps in 2017
I park in the off-season lot across from the main entrance to the beach on Indian Well Road. A white-blazed access trail heads immediately up some massive oak steps. Each step took a CFPA volunteer 2.5 hours to build, and there are over fifty steps. It's a work of art. 

In April, Dutchman's Breeches and Trillium bloom above the steps as you continue ascending the hill.  Take a right when it levels out and follow the  blue blazes of the Paugussett Trail northbound.

The first half mile along the Paugussett is pretty easy. Then you cross scenic 'Blowdown Brook' and the trail immediately starts angling up the hill, up and up. We call this Hickory Hill because the houses at the top are on Hickory Lane. As it climbs, the trail is skirting around the beginning of Burritts Rocks, heading for the top of the boulder field because it's impossible to go through it. You'll start to see more ledge and boulders as you climb, but the real rock is still out of sight down the hill. When you get to the top, the trail is squeezed between the precipitous rockfall on the right and some houses on the left. Reroutes have pulled the trail down the hill a bit further from the houses, so instead of feeling like you're in someone's backyard, you momentarily glimpse the houses through the trees when the trees are bare. 

New section near "Border Brook"

The next stream is 'Border Brook'. Not a real name, that's just what we call it. It's the brook near the border between Indian Well and Birchbank Mountain.  There should be a Shelton open space marker on a tree at the brook. This is a recent reroute and I just love this spot. The reroute was the most technically challenging section of trail I've ever done. I didn't think I would ever find a feasible route through that terrain, but there it was. 

"The Boulders"
The trail heads up the hill some more and level out briefly before getting to the heart of Burritts Rocks. First up is "the Boulders."  You'll need to use your hands to get over them. Follow the blazes carefully through the boulders for best results. 

Area known as "the Caves"

Next up is "the Caves." A jumble of ledge and giant boulders have resulted in nooks and crannies that resemble little caves. Not all are visible from the trail, so it can be fun to stop and explore.

It's all rock underfoot as you descend from the Caves. Go slow and watch your step. The trail soon takes a left onto a new section and cuts across the boulder field. The old route used to go straight down the steep hill on loose stones that were both tedious and treacherous. The new route is still extremely rocky, but the tread is solid and much more gradual.

The closer you get to the overlook, the less rocky it becomes until the old path climbs up some old stone steps. At the top is the overlook of Lake Housatonic 400 feet below. If the leaves are off the trees, you can look left to see Laurel Lime Ledges across the river in Seymour. Then check out the nearby trail register.  People leave notes in the logbook, and I like to stop and read them.
Housatonic Overlook

Trail register near the overlook
The way back to the parking lot seems a lot easier and quicker than the hike to the overlook. The trickiest footing is uphill instead of downhill (the worst footing is always better to do uphill), and there is a lot of gradual downhill that goes fast (you're descending about 350 feet). Some people prefer to make a loop by continuing on to Birchbank Trail and then taking the railroad tracks back to the parking area. It's illegal but there are no trains and people do it. I've done it once or twice but with all the recent trail improvements I like to just go back the way I came. 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Our Favorite Walks Part 5: Terry Gallagher

Gristmill Trail: A lot of scenery for a short amount of walking.
by Terry Gallagher

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. 

Gristmill Trail
One reason people choose a favorite trail is convenience, and this one is within walking distance for me.  Most of the trail follows the Far Mill River and it gets used a lot by fishermen accessing the water.  The trail itself is only 0.3 miles long, but my walk to the trailhead adds length for a total round-trip walk of about one mile. There's a parking area at both ends of the trail on Mill Street. I walk in on the east end of the trail near the intersection with Judson Street (#140 Mill Street). That's the smaller pull-off. Here's a Trail Map. 

In the Winter the River can look like a Christmas card with all the trees frosted with snow.

The Spring brings new growth, Spring freshets, fishermen, and the occasional whitewater kayaker following a storm.  Portions of the trail are temporarily underwater from time to time during floods.   The trail may get wet for a while, but it's better than having someone's home or business flooded out.  It's a good reminder why we need lots of open space along the rivers and floodplains.

Summer offers a cool respite from hot days by the historic mill dam.  At one time the Far Mill River was dotted with water-powered mills as settlers moved to the far end of Stratford to found Shelton.  The trailheads along Mill Street reflect the historic character of Shelton's first designated Scenic Road.

Early Fall along the river can be a striking walk when the trees bring on The Color.  Gristmill Trail is a pretty stroll along the Far Mill River with a lot to offer for very little effort.  This trail is a treat in all seasons of the year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

An Armchair Tour of Boehm Pond Trail

Lately I’ve been avoiding the overcrowded Rec Path and seeking less-used trails. Everywhere I go, I meet people looking curiously at the trailheads, but a little nervous about venturing into the unknown. I thought a few armchair tours might be helpful.

Yesterday, I walked the Boehm Pond Trail, a quiet gem on the West side of town. There are two access points. There’s a small pull-off across the street from 99 Farmill St. and more parking at 70 Winthrop Woods Road, at the bottom of the hill just past the guardrail. I started at the latter.
A red-blazed trail crosses Winthrop Woods Road at my starting point. I headed across the street (North), towards Boehm Pond. Until recently, you had to take a short side trail less than 1/10 mile up and to the left for a view of Boehm Pond. That’s no longer necessary. Beavers have changed the landscape, giving hikers a water view right from the main trail.
These blazes indicate a short side trail to the left for a better view of Boehm Pond, and the main trail straight ahead.
View of Boehm Pond from the end of the side trail. Those trees with their feet in the water used to be on the shoreline. Beavers changed that!
The red trail is flat and easy to follow, just a tad muddy in a couple spots.
The trail beckons.
About ¼ mile from the road, you’ll cross a stream on some stepping stones.
Rock-hop across the stream.
Shortly beyond that, there’s a sign indicating the end of the open space. Thanks to a pedestrian easement, you can continue down the trail all the way to the end of Boehm Circle.
A pedestrian easement allows hikers to continue along the trail past this sign to Boehm Cirlce
I opted to walk down Boehm Circle, then left on Farmill St. and left on Winthrop Woods Road. Alternatively, you can trace your steps back to Winthrop Woods Road and cross the street to continue on the red trail on the other side of the street.
The red trail continues across Winthrop Woods Road, to the right of the evergreen.
Once you enter the woods, you’ll go down a short hill and across a wooden bridge.
The stream crossing became LOTS easier after the bridge was installed.
Trout lily leaves are poking up everywhere. Look for their pretty yellow flowers in a couple weeks.
Heading uphill, the red trail ends in about 1/10 mile, where it meets the white trail. Bear right and continue up the hill, following the white blazes. In another 1/10 mile, the trail bears sharply left (the path to the right leads to the parking area on Farmill St.).

Once the trail turns, it levels off and parallels Farmill St. You’ll pass a couple other neighborhood access side paths. Ignore them and keep following the white blazes.

The trail eventually bears left, turning away from Farmill St. Keep your eye out for a sharp left turn in the trail, marked by two white blazes, one canted to the left above the other. Take that left and keep following the white trail.
Blazes arranged like this mean "the white trail
turns left here."
On other trips, I’ve seen a large flock of turkeys on this section of the trail. They love the huge supply of acorns there.

A yellow-blazed trail meets the white on the right. It’s a “u”-shaped trail that meets the white again further along. I continued on the white and took a right on the yellow trail at the bottom of the hill, making a sort of figure-8.

At this time of year, the yellow offers a nice view of the stream below.
Enjoy the water view and keep a lookout for wild turkeys!
A plank bridge makes it easy to get across the boggiest spot.
The easy way across the bog.
Once across, the trail heads back uphill and joins the white trail, where you can retrace your steps back to the red trail that will take you across the wooden bridge and back to your car. Total mileage of this route is 2 miles.

Tahmore Trail Reroute Complete

The Red Roof Promontory, partly blazed 
The west half of Tahmore Trail has been rerouted and reopened. Originally, this reroute was going to be completed on April 4 with a big work party, but due to the ongoing pandemic, all work parties have been cancelled and probably will be for a long time. In the meantime, the number of people on the trails has just exploded. So a couple of us just went ahead and cleared the trail.

It's open!!
This is rugged terrain, and a few parts of the new route go along the side of a hill. We were going to have those sections all leveled out and dug into the hill on April 4, but it was not to be. We did get the worst sections leveled off, and will continue to improve the tread a little at a time. We'll get to it! But if anyone with a strong back needs community service or just something to do, let us know. We'll supply the tools if you supply the labor. 

More of the trail will be dug in like this

There is always, always a golf ball
The newly improved Tahmore Trail is a really nice 1.0 mile loop, encompassing the Indian Well overlook (formerly a part of the old Paugussett Trail) and now the hilltop we've been calling 'top of Tahmore.'  The footing is a lot better than the old trail, even with the parts that still need to get dug in.  A really nice 'lollipop loop' is to start at Indian Well across from the beach, go up the stairs, hang a left on the Paugussett, continue up hill to the overlook (an elevation gain of 200 feet) and then do the Tahmore Loop (another 100 feet up). A good, quick work out with great views and there aren't usually any crowds.

A note about the old route: A number of locals have hiked part or all of the old route even though it wasn't being maintained and parts didn't even have any blazing left. This is especially true of the part closest to Tahmore Place. It followed an old woods road which was nice and gentle but went right along the edge of some back yards. That first part of the old route remains open, it's just not blazed. Some locals have been bushwhacking off of the old trail to bypass the southern lobe of the old loop, the part with a bridge. That little bushwhacking route has been cleared out because it now connects the old route with the new trail in only 75 feet. Locals 'in the know' can continue following the old route and quickly link up with the new route. It's shown as a faded gray dot on the new map. Regional hikers coming in from Indian Well will stay on the blazed trail.

An updated map is on the Shelton Conservation webpage or click HERE.  Access is via Indian Well State Park (see map) or locally by parking at the end of Tahmore Place (GPS #30 Tahmore Place).

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Our new Outdoor Challenge

Avatars at the Shelton Canal & Locks
There's a pandemic going on and people have been ordered to stay home. But authorities say that getting outside for fresh air and exercise is perfectly fine as long as people maintain their distance from each other. The exception is a few towns that closed their parks and sometimes trails because people were meeting up and congregating. And the state has closed a few areas that received way too many visitors.

Our goal is to keep the trails in Shelton open, and we can do that with your help. Avoid popular areas during peak time, maintain six feet from others, and don't meeting up with people. We're asking people to explore some of our lesser used trails and open spaces. There are about 30 miles of trails in Shelton, so there is lots of room to spread out. 

And so we give you the 2020 "Getting Out and About"outdoor challenge, designed to encourage our fine residents to get outside and explore. There's much more to Shelton's trail system than the Rec Path at the Dog Park. We have three levels. The easiest level consists mostly of scenic drivebys and very short walks on gentle terrain. The hardest (the Wandering Goat level) consists of Shelton's most difficult and remote locations, mostly in the White Hills. Choose an avatar to represent yourself, visit all ten sites in the level of your choice, and take a photo of your avatar at each location. Email your photos to us and you'll be placed in a drawing. The avatars make this especially fun for the kids. Enjoy!

Our Favorite Walks Part 4: Bill Dyer

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. 

Boehm Pond
by Bill Dyer

In the past 25 years Shelton has acquired considerable Open Space, either by purchase or via the Open Space provisions of the subdivision development regulations. It is not surprising that on much of the open space property there are existing paths created by deer, local residents and even old roadbed created centuries ago and subsequently abandoned. The Trails Committee has taken advantage of these paths and roadbeds when available and often created new paths to provide loops and connectivity to other acquired parcels. An example of this is the Boehm Pond Trail off Far Mill Street and Winthrop Woods Road.

Crossing Boehm Brook
The original 31 acre parcel on Far Mill Street had some walking paths that a local resident volunteered to maintain in terms of removing fallen branches and cutting back briars. However he requested help from the Trails Committee, especially with treefall removal and trail marking. When I first went on this trail I missed the hairpin turn at the southern end of the path and ended up in a resident’s back yard on Copper Penny Lane. By expanding the trail width and the proper blazes, we solved that problem. We created a marked return to the parking area (the white blazed trail) and subsequently a second loop (yellow blazes) on the east side of the property.
Trail Map - click to enlarge

When a builder acquired the property at the dead end of Winthrop Drive and extended it to Farm Mill Street, designating it Winthrop Woods Road, the City received 20 acres of Open Space contiguous to the original parcel, including Boehm Pond and a pedestrian easement to Boehm Circle. We could now extend the trail (blazed red) across Winthrop Woods Road to Boehm Pond. Last year we extended the trail to provide access to Boehm Circle and the local residents in that area.

Several years ago we built a pedestrian bridge across the outflow stream from Boehm Pond to facilitate getting to the Boehm Pond side of Winthrop Woods Road. After a major rainstorm, the bridge was washed about 20 yards downstream, caught up on some rocks and trees. Fortunately it was not damaged and we could retrieve it with ropes and drag it back to the proper stream crossing location. However this time we made a pier of rocks on both sides of the stream, thus raising the bridge a foot higher than before and attached a steel cable to the bridge and a nearby tree just in case this was not high enough. So far so good for the bridge.

Volunteers hauled the washed out bridge back up the hill
We have a trained chainsaw crew among our ranks that can tackle most major treefalls across our trails. One such occurred on the Boehm Pond Trail in the area just before the pedestrian bridge when a huge live tree fell across the path. The portion covering the trail was about 30 inches in diameter and maybe 12 feet from the massive root ball now sticking out of the swamp. Richard Skudlarek (who met his future wife working on the trails) agreed to use the chainsaw and I was there to assist. Due to the size of the tree, he had to cut it from both sides of the trail, crawling under it to do so. When he finished the first cut on the side of the root ball, a strange and scary event occurred. While the weight of the entire tree toppled the tree, once the weight of most of the tree was removed by the cut, the 12 foot tree stump slowly rose to a vertical position and the root ball fell back into place. Very eerie! Another cut of the remaining horizontal tree and the trail was reopened for business.

This massive trunk as it was starting to rotate back to the upright position
In the past several months, Boehm Pond has become the home to some new residents, namely beavers. They have built a 50 foot long crescent shaped dam 4 feet high near the stream underpass of Winthrop Woods Road backing up the water and greatly expanded the size of the pond. The dam is easily seen from the road and notice the stumps of trees that the beavers cut. The pedestrian bridge on the upstream side of the original pond is now underwater, as is much of the land next to the path on that side of Winthrop Woods Road. So far the path is totally dry and no man-made structures or septic systems are threatened. When you follow the red path where it splits to the left toward the water, look slightly to the right to see two parallel yellow blazes on a tree which was on the original pond bank.

Beaver have recently enlarged the pond

I highly recommend this trail, which is the only one located on the west side of Shelton. It is far from all major roads so that once in there you can’t hear any traffic noise. The two clearly marked loops, white and yellow, and the red path that leads to Boehm Pond and Circle are easy to follow. While the trail footing is generally good, in the spring there may be some muddy spots and there are lots of rocks and tree roots in the paths, so I recommend hiking boots. The addition of the beavers adds to the other woodland creatures that one often encounters. Each season has its own features of plants, flowers and animals. Parking is available across from 98 Far Mill Street and at the road stream crossing near 64 Winthrop Woods Road. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Our Favorite Walks Part 3: Mike Flament

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. 

A Trail for Three Seasons, by Michael Flament

Judging by the frequency of my hiking it, my favorite Shelton hike begins at the Abbey Wright entrance to Nells Rock Trail, located across from Chordas Pond and the L’Hermitage condominiums (GPS #160 Nells Rock Road). There are many options starting at this trailhead, from a quickie 25-minute loop when you are running late to a multi-mile hike over trails less traveled by. I started hiking this trail many years ago, when I had two dogs to walk in the morning before work. Now that I am retired, the longer hikes have more appeal.

Five minutes out from the trailhead, the white-blazed Nell’s Rock Trail arrives at “Four Corners” and your options begin...

Four Corners, many possibilities 
  • To the left and right is the blue-blazed Paugussett Trail, which spans a distance of 13 miles from East Village Road in Monroe in the north to Buddington Road at the southern-most part of the Shelton Lakes Greenway. The Paugussett is part of CFPA's 825-miles system of  "Connecticut Blue Blazed Trails." Turn right to visit Eklund Garden, where a wide variety of native flora are on display about fifteen minutes from the trailhead. Thirty minutes from the trailhead will get you to pine-tree-lined Hope Lake with its picnic tables and fishing access. Hope Lake is stocked with trout each spring and also supports native largemouth bass and sunfish.
  • Hikers and bikers can quickly -- within five to ten minutes -- continue straight to jump on Shelton’s four-mile Rec Path, at roughly the halfway point between Pine Lake and Huntington Center. The Rec Path is wheelchair accessible, and mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and even road bikes can manage the terrain, except in icy or snowy weather.
  • Looking for a quiet hike, you can continue following the white blazes of Nells Rock Trail around the loop. You just might spot deer in the mornings or the occasional coyote at dusk. A little further down the trail is the junction with Basil Brook Bypass, which travels an equally quiet, if a bit more rigorous, hiking path that in some years at least provides a  view of a mini-cascade as the snow melts in the spring.

From the Four Corners junction,
there are many possibilities to choose from
For people new to Shelton’s trails or new to hiking, Nells Rock Trail is a good jumping off point to the wide range of hikes available on thirty miles of  trails in Shelton. Maps of these trails can be accessed at www.sheltonconservation.org/recreation/shelton_trails.html
Plenty of parking for the Nells Rock Trail is available at the trailhead.

Caveat Hiker: The area near the Nells Rock trailhead tends to be damp in the spring and it gets quite buggy in late spring and summer months (summer is the season to avoid). The quicker one gets out to the Four Corners meeting of the Paugussett and Nells Rock Trails, the fewer insect bites you are likely to get.