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

Why? 

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.