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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Illegal Mountain Bike Paths

Attention mountain bikers: We need your help. We are having a problem with the construction of unauthorized trails at Shelton Lakes for mountain biking. These trails have been closed off repeatedly and signed as "closed" and yet keep getting reopened by bikers. Please spread the word that if this continues, mountain biking may be banned from the trails. If you would like to continue biking the trails, please help us by closing down two specific trails and keeping them closed. Here's the first trail:

Unauthorized bike trail at Hope Lake in red


1. The Shelton Lakes Greenway is a conservation area where we strive for a balance of passive recreation and public access while reserving some areas where wildlife can live and breed undisturbed.  The passage of each hiker and bicyclist does disturb wildlife and this can be enough of a disturbance to sensitive species to reduce their breeding success rate.

2. The trail system is confusing enough for hikers without additional trails for people to get lost on.

3. Most people don't enjoy hiking a trail system where the trails are practically on top of each other and you can see and hear people nearby on another trail. Bikers are looking for technically challenging tracks. Hikers are looking for a peaceful walk through the forest where they can experience nature. The system at Shelton Lakes is designed for hiking and wildlife, not for mountain bikes. That said, bypass trails have been created in a few locations to help mountain bikers around obstacles such as Eklund Garden and a very steep hill to the south of the garden.

As a general rule, if a trail is not shown on our trail map, it's not supposed to be there, and bikes are prohibited.  Our Open Space Ordinance #833 specifies that:  "Mountain bikes or other non-motorized vehicles may be used on designated City Open Space trails only, and at no time may mountain bikes be used off said trails." The fine is $250. For people creating new trails, the ordinance reads, "No person shall destroy, injure, herd, harvest or disturb any form of wildlife, plant life, or its habitat on any City Open Space area excluding state permitted fishing."  These unauthorized trails do disturb wildlife habitat.

And here's the second trail:

Unauthorized trail in red, located off of J. Dominick Drive
Rock Ramps: We are also asking bikers to stop creating rock ramps in the middle of the trail over fallen logs or other obstacles. We have had steps disassembled to build a ramp, rocks taken from historic structures, ramps built in the middle of the trail to get over a log (creating an obstacle for hikers), and general disturbance of the woods as bikers tear up small boulders from the ground.

If you are a mountain biker and have a need for a specific trail modification, please do it legally through the proper channel, meaning the Shelton Trails Committee. Better yet, become one of our volunteers who works with the Committee. This committee has been around for about twenty years and for all that time we haven't had a single mountain biker become a member. Decisions are made by those who show up :)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Birchbank Overlook Trail Register

Hmm..none of these trees is just right...
Shelton got a new trail register today at the Birchbank overlook along the Paugussett. Trail registers are fairly common on long distance trails, but this might be the first one for Shelton. A register is simply a logbook where you can jot down your thoughts and your name, or your trail name if you have one. Mostly the fun is in reading other people's comments.
At the high point next to the overlook
We were hoping to install the cedar trail register box right at the overlook, but there didn't seem to be a good tree in the right spot. So after a bit of, "I don't know, what do you think?" we settled on a tree nearby at the highest point of the hill.  The design is a very simple wood burn. The box was built by Terry and decorated by Teresa. The roof gets the most weather exposure, so it got a layer of deck stain. The knob is a spare from the kitchen cabinets. 

The Birchbank Coyote adorns the box
The coyote on the box was inspired by the coyote(s) that kept going by in the spring of 2016 when the Paugussett was being rerouted. There was probably a den nearby. At one point the coyote even loped by when there was a crew of high school student working on the trail. Hey, the pups gotta eat.

Ready to sign in
When open, the door can be used as a platform or desk for writing. You can use your own name, or a trail name.  The tradition of using trail names became popular out on the Appalachian Trail because it was easier to remember people that way,  and also more fun. Trail names are also used by letterboxers and geocachers. But you don't have to have a trail name. 

So next time you're at the overlook, check out the trail register and share your adventure. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another Birchbank Reroute Off the Eroded Road

Reroutes circled in blue and red
A couple of modest reroutes at Birchbank are redirecting hikers off of an old eroding road bed where footing can be difficult, especially in the fall. On the map above, the area circled in blue was just completed while the section circled in red is under construction. The old road is shown as a double-dashed line.

This is an area where waterbars would not have worked because the land needs to drop off on one side so the water can be channeled off of the trail. The old road is too deeply eroded (as much as three feet deep) with the land rising on both sides. It's essentially a long gully.

Bits of blue and yellow from a former blaze
Much of the erosion was caused by ATVs and dirt bikes. At one point many years ago, CFPA blazed the old road blue with a yellow dot in the center and maintained it as part of the state-wide Blue-Blazed Trail system.  This was back when the property was owned by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company.  But the trail managers grew tired of the ATVs and CFPA finally abandoned the trail. If you look closely, you may find some old blue/yellow blaze remnants. We don't know when that was, but it was prior to 1998 when the city purchased the property.

Not fun to walk on or to look at
After the City took title, the old road was blazed white and named Birchbank Trail, but it soon became apparent that parts of the old road were treacherous to walk on, especially in the fall with fresh leaves hiding loose cobbles underneath. Several years ago, a section of the trail was moved off the old road and now follows Upper White Hills Brook. This bypassed the worst spot, but not all the bad spots.

Top of the new reroute, where it connects with the existing trail

Rock slope where a big wild animal should live

Grassy area, top half of the reroute, 

Besides getting the trail off off the eroded gully with a more sustainable route, a major goal was to make the trail more scenic. Heading down the hill, the first part of the broad new "S-curve" takes hikers to a bowl-like feature at the bottom of a rock face before heading through a flat grassy area at the top of the steep slope.

View of Upper White Hills Brook at the "chute"
After crossing the old road again for the second half of the "S-curve", the new trail route heads down to an overlook of Upper White Hill Brook at the water chute and slide. If there's been rain, hikers will hear the sound of running water as they approach, and can wander on down the hill if they want to leave the trail and explore. Otherwise, the trail continues to rejoin the old road through an area where students from Shelton High School did a lot of work benching in the trail last year. This reroute actually started as an overflow project for the students in case they finished up the main job, which was the reroute of the Paugussett Trail. We had a good turn out, so the Birchbank reroute was started. 

Lower junction with the old road
The last photo was taken at the lower junction with the old road, looking back up the trail. The new trail goes off to the right. This is the spot the students benched in last year. The old road (and old white trail) goes off to the left, now just an old gully that no one needs to walk on. If people (including ATVs and hikers) will stay off of it for awhile and let it fill in with leaves and sticks, the erosion should slow down substantially.