Monday, October 26, 2009

Webb Mountain Discovery Zone, Monroe, CT 10-24-09

Well, after killing what was truly one of the great warm sunny days of Fall Thursday inside a windowless bunker at UConn in Stamford talking about greenways, I had to make up for it by painting the remainder of our house in the cold all day Friday. Teresa & I finally finished up installing the front lights around 6:30. Having gotten that project completed I had the chance to go for a walk on Saturday, and since heavy rain was forecast my wife suggested that I visit the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone. Hmmm, she's sending me deep into the woods at the top of a mountain right as a big storm is due to hit - how much life insurance does she have on me? I said sounds good - OK.

The park is on Webb Circle and is easy to find with all the direction signs. The Discovery Zone is a separate parking lot before the main Webb Mountain gate at Old Fishouse Road (heading north - if you've seen the caboose in the front yard you've gone too far). The Town has a website with a lot of information on the park.

They have a variety of nice plastic laminate signs for nature displays. The Discovery Zone is set up as a self guided nature hike with about 30 stations. The trails are set up for kids and classes but there was something for everybody (I learned about birthing huts).

The trail system is a couple of stacked loops with a out and back to the hay field. There are lots and lots of signs so you can't get lost and the trails are easy hiking. Most of the site is wooded. The trails are about 1-2 miles in length depending on which ones you choose. Surprisingly, I had the whole park to myself (I guess most people were not nuts enough to go out in the rain) until near the end when a couple and their three very happy dogs came bounding by.

There is an outdoor classroom and garden near the entrance. In addition to this being a bumper crop year for acorns it's also a good year for other trees. The ground below these two black walnuts was littered with big yellow nuts. Black walnuts are a very valuable tree for lumber and food - I took a couple of bootfulls of nuts to see if we could plant them along Shelton's trails.

And here's all the walnuts. If you go there soon bring boots with 2" thick tread on them because walking on all the acorns is like trying to rollerskate on marbles. We are going to have some fat squirrels this winter.

The unique thing about the Discovery Zone is that the exhibits connect the human history of the former farm land with the natural environment that people see today. People tend to look at the world as static & think that's how it'll always be. The theme of the exhibits demonstrates how things have changed over time. Some farmer back in the 1800's invested a lot of time in building this monumental wall around his fields (maybe his wife had a list of honey-do's for him), and it's held up really well over the centuries. Things that are built well last over time.

Here's an exhibit about an old farmer's quarry at a ledge outcrop. The signs were made by Fossil Sign Company.

And here's some of the split rocks with the drill holes. If a farmer back in the 1800's could do this with hand tools then we should be able to split a few rocks for trails.

They also had a lot of benches (note how they're bolted to the ground so they don't walk away). Monroe used a lot of plastic lumber for features like this bench. This is good in that it avoids the cost of repairs when things rot, but it looks well, like plastic. The benches are made by EPS Plastic Lumber

And here's a slightly more rustic bench that Jim Tate would love. Natural materials, locally sourced within 500 miles, low-impact, not likely to be stolen, ah nature.

And here's the view over the hay meadow. It was pretty up there in the rain, and it looks like it would be even more picturesque on a clearer day.

There is a nice mix of habitats within the park; old field succession, tree plantations, second-growth woodlands, older wolf trees like this Red Oak, open fields, man-made ponds, vernal pools, swamps, cliffs. Lots of fun stuff to see and climb on for kids of all ages.

Back at the parking lot there were some more amenities that make this a nice outing for school groups and families. There were plastic picnic benches.

There were some security cameras up in the trees. Monroe had had some knuckleheads tearing up the parking lot after this park was opened, and the Conservation Commission responded with the cameras. It doesn't look like there have been any problems recently.

A clean, HC-accessible porta-potty. There were also trail map & guides, trash cans, and a butterfly garden.

There was a sign to thank local businesses that helped pay for the park. What a concept - I wish that we had businesses in Shelton that would help with our trail projects.

And they even have a happy watering can to take care of their butterfly garden. Maybe we should have something like this up at Eklund. It certainly looks Valley-esque. There is no drinking water at Webb Mountain though so bring your own.

I made it out of the woods just as it really opened up. The Webb Mountain Discovery Zone trails are definitely a "must-see" if you haven't been there before. Maybe combine it with a trip to the farms in the White Hills as part of a family outing this Fall. I think the Monroe Conservation Commission did an excellent job with their nature trails. Now I'll have to go back sometime when it's not pouring.


  1. That is one fat squirrel!!!
    The benches overlooking the hayfield are a nice touch. I almost fell asleep on one on a late summer day.

  2. I received this comment from the Monroe Cons. Commission folks:

    "Terrance, thank you for the nice review.

    We actually moved the park to P&R late last year but are starting a Friends Group to oversee programs beginning by spring.

    Tom Ellbogen"

    There was a meeting of the Friends of Webb Mtn. Discovery Zone last night (10/27/09)- not sure if they'll meet monthly if anyone in Monroe wants to help them.