Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nicholdale Hike - Part I, or "Life Moves Pretty Fast"

We had a great hike at the Shelton Land Conservation Trust's Nicholdale Preserve on Rt. 110 in the White Hills on Saturday.  It was one of the required hikes for the Shelton Trails Marathon Challenge, so we hope that everyone who attended is trying to complete that and earn a special trails medallion. It was particularly fitting given that this was the closing weekend of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

A lot of people view "The Challenge" as a fitness test, to see how many miles they can do, or how fast they can do the trails.  Which is fine; two guys who were on the hike Saturday plan on doing all 13 hikes this fall in one day shooting around town, which sounds crazy, but I think they'll be fine.  Whatever gets you out in the woods.  Just consider, no matter how fast you go, remember to look around and enjoy the moment.

Just like Usain Bolt; the fastest man alive.

One of the good things about these hikes on the Shelton Trails Marathon Challenge is that you get to try out new open spaces, new trails, and see things that you may not have noticed before.  On the Nicholdale Hike we got to walk around the open fields (on nicely mowed paths) and see a number of wildflowers; Joe Pye weed, Ironweed, Milk weed, and others.  Since it was mid-summer there were hundreds of butterflies, moths, bees, and other insects feeding on the wildflowers in the meadows.

We had a fold-out guide to Common Butterflies of New England which some of the kids used to identify the butterflies that they saw.  We stopped from time to time to check out each one that they identified.  It was fun having them explain to us what we were looking at.  So everybody got to get some exercise, check off a hike on the list, learn a few things, and enjoy a great summer morning out with friends and family.  It's amazing how enjoyable the trails are when you slow down and look around - and it's free.  As a Famous Philosopher once said "Life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in awhile you could miss it". More photos to come from this hike when our erstwhile photographer gets around to uploading them.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Blowdowns Vs Birchbank Deer Exclosure

Mother Nature can be so rude. We set up a deer exclosure near the Birchbank trailhead last year to show hikers the impacts of deer browsing on our native vegetation.

BEFORE: Deer exclosure installation 2015 (click to enlarge)
We were already starting to see some important differences between the two sides of the fence this summer, with a shrub called Bladdernut chewed up outside the fence and growing well inside the fence. And then BAM! a multitree blowdown crushed the deer fence and the bladdernut.

AFTER: Blowdown crushes the deer fence
There wasn't even any wind. Best we can tell, the trees were loaded with swelling grapes, with the first falling tree taking out several others. It was a mess, blocking the trail in addition to crushing the deer fence. 

This is the trail near the deer exclosure

Deer exclosure cleared out, fence back up

Time was of the essence to clear this up, before the plants beneath the blowdown died. Not sure if we entirely succeeded in saving the plants, but the deer fence is back up and the path is clear. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Excessive Heat Warning: Perfect Weather for Trail Work

OK, so the National Weather Service has issued an Extreme Heat Warning for this weekend with temperatures in the upper 90's and humidity levels somewhere South of the Amazon jungle.  I love the part about avoiding strenuous outdoor work.


So a SANE Trails Committee might postpone mowing along an open field today, but not us.  Nope, nosirree.  We went ahead with cutting brush along the RecPath at Lane Street, where it was getting really overgrown.

Rich and Jim drove over with the Gator and DR Mower and cleared along the edges of the RecPath.  That left John, Tom, Luis and Terry clearing briars and taller stuff along the edges of the Path.  We worked from Lane St. up to the lower Wesley Drive crossing.  It was hot work with a number of water breaks, just like the NWS advised.

But by the end we had cleared out a lot of the overhanging brush, and you can now see some interesting things; like this flowering shrub in the swamp along the Boardwalk.  There were a surprising number of people out actually enjoying the RecPath in this heat; walking, running, and biking.  It was great to chat with people out using the RecPath.  The Path needs raking or leafblowing following all the cutting, but that will have to be another day when it's cooler.

Here's John and Tom Killian "enjoying" their first trail work party.  They should get overtime for this one, everybody was soaked and filthy by the end; except curiously Jim and Rich.  John and Tom also cleared out blowdowns at the Land Trust's Tahmore property earlier in the week.  They picked a great week to work on trails and we really thank them for their help.

So enjoy the trails, but bring lots of water and don't overdo it in this heat.  Maybe we need to get us some goats to keep up with the brush this summer.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rollaway Blues, or Logs don't Love your Lunch

It's been a busy month for blowdowns and cutting brush on local trails.  The weather Sunday was a little better than Saturday's humid air so we headed up to Round Hill Road to clear some larger logs crossing the Paugussett Trail.

The Round Hill Rd. entrance was grown in with briars, and will have to be cleared again.  It's been cleared twice this year, but with all the rain briars keep on growing in sunny places.  The trail was clearer about 50 feet into the woods.  The first blowdown was an older log that was partially rotten and slightly off the ground.  These look easy but they can pinch the bar on your chainsaw when they are partially cut, and then you need a second, or in some cases, a third chainsaw to cut them free.

The Culprit; passable, but a little awkward to step over.
Earlier this summer I was able to attend one of CFPA's chainsaw safety workshops for trail volunteers and learned some new tricks for safer trail work.  One cut was the Roll Away cut for freeing logs like this using only 1 chainsaw instead of 3.  You angle the cuts outward toward the downhill side, use wedges to keep the kerf open, and the log should roll away as you finish the bottom cuts.  It's all outlined in this Forest Service Manual on how to cut trees.

Here's the log partially cut with the wedges in place.

And Whoah-lah, the log rolls away without pinching the saw at the end, and the trail is clear.  Buoyed by my new found logging expertise, I went on to cut other stuff until I neared the junction with the Birchbank Loop.
This log was marked for clearing for awhile and was more awkward to step over.  So I put down my pack containing my gas, tools, and lunch.  Put on my safety gear, got out the wedges, hatchet, planned my cuts, started the saw, made the cuts, set the wedges, completed the cuts, shut off the saw, kicked the log, yelled Take That, and watched the log roll away.  A split second later I realized it was rolling straight for my pack that I had carefully left out of the work zone, downhill of the log.

Trail Safety Tip;  A boulder or log wants to stay anchored to the earth.  When dislodged or cut they tend to develop a stubborn will of their own, and unlike Jordan Spieth yelling at his golf ball, no amount of yelling at a rolling log will make it stop, sit, or turn. 

Well the log went up and over the pack and tools before coming to rest downhill.  Luckily the gas bottle, cell phone, tools, and camera were OK. My Keebler peanut butter crackers and lunch fared worse and were flattened.  This was very disappointing because I was looking forward to lunch after finishing this log.

I then finished cutting up the log and sucking down my cracker crumbs.  The moral of the story is to look out below before you cut something and try to envision unexpected consequences, which in this case I should of expected, but CFPA never mentioned lunch safety protocols during the chainsaw workshop, so I think this is all their fault. Or not.

Thanks to the guys who cleared the Tahmore Trail blowdowns.  If you can come to our work party on Lane Street this Saturday and help us cut brush along the RecPaths - no chainsaws so you should be safe.  Bring water, lots of water in this heat.  Have fun on the trails

Monday, August 1, 2016

Utility Work Update - Shelton Lakes

August 1: Utility work this week - expect trail closures in the following areas: Shelton Ave, Independence Dr, Soundview Ave, Wellington Ct. Impacts the Paugussett and Turkey Trot trails, and possibly the trails south of 108, we're not sure. Closures are most likely between 7 am and 5 pm, so your best bet is to do the trails at Shelton Lakes in the evening or wait for the weekend.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Exploring around Town on a Warm Weekend

It's been hot the last two weeks so some people are taking to the water.

This was a nice scene with a family out fishing and kayaking at Hope Lake today.  Other families were fishing from shore or hiking around the lake along Nells Rock Road.

There was a report of multiple trees blocking the Paugussett Trail north of Princess Wehnonah Drive.  It was a short hike in up in the Poets Section, but steep.  Here's the Before picture of a red oak that snapped and took out a hickory on the way down across the trail.

And here's the After Picture. It was warm work but the trail is cleared.  People should try to explore the Poet's Section of the Paugussett, it's a nice neighborhood trail in the White Hills.

After the clearing there was a quick stop at Eklund Garden on Oak Valley Road.  The flowers were looking great.

It's an unexpected spot along the Paugussett Trail, and you may find some good ideas for using native plants around your home. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Birchbank Trailhead Makeover

See the bench? It's so covered up with invasive Japanese Knotweed, it's hard to see. The photo was taken in 2015 before we began efforts to eradicate a vast area of knotweed at the beginning of the trail. The "after" photo is just below it. 

June 2015 "BEFORE" - all Japanese Knotweed
July 2016 - same spot "AFTER"
This spot has good sun, well-drained but moist soil with a neutral pH, so after the knotweed was mostly gone, some flowers were planted. 

Bee balm has been a big hit, attracting lots of hummingbirds and butterflies. The "After" photo doesn't do it justice since it wasn't in full bloom yet. The video is better. 

The deer like this one too much - Woodland Sunflower

Woodland Sunflower is a native that is found growing along roadsides, but the deer have just demolished it. This plant is often four or five feet tall. A few packets of free wildflower seeds were also planted, and some of those are coming up and blooming. Not bad!