Monday, February 26, 2018

Stockmal Trail Bridge

Anthony and Luke carried the heavy beams down the trail
A narrow window of incredible weather for building a bridge in February! It rained the night before, and started raining in the afternoon, but for the morning work party it was warm and sunny. A good crew showed up and started lugging the wood and tools down the trail while Terry used some rocks to build an abutment for the lower side.
Jim receives the first beam from Terry, Mike and Sheri.
The wood used had been salvaged from previous projects, so the bridge didn't cost anything.

Lining up the beams
While the crew was working, Jill Stockmal Bennett stopped by. She owns the Stockmal property and her father, Bob Stockmal was one of the founding members of the Shelton Land Trust. The bridge would finally allow hikers to access the public hiking trail that leads through her property.

Jill, Jim, and Sheri level up the bridge
Once the two beams were leveled up, the decking needed to be screwed on. Luke and Anthony working on opposing sides of the bridge and met in the middle.

And there it is, another trail bridge. So much easier to get across now. The eastern approach is pretty lumpy and wet, but you can get across it (maybe a good Scout project there?)

Jill took the honor of being the first to cross the bridge, which seemed appropriate. Many thanks to everyone involved and to the Land Trust for allowing us to construct the trail across Willis Woods.

Jill walks across first
Nice Job!

Terry organized the work party

Friday, February 23, 2018

Birth of Stockmal Trail

Stockmal Trail
Shelton gained a new hiking trail in February 2018, made possible by unusually mild weather. The trail has been in the works for a long time, and was required under a state grant awarded to the city several years ago to purchase a conservation easement over the 40-acre Stockmal property.  The Stockmal family had hosted a Scout camp and trail system on their property for many years and wished to see the land preserved from future housing developments while retaining ownership.  Bob Stockmal was a founding member of the Shelton Land Trust.

Unmarked trail at Willis Woods needed improving
Unlike most City of Shelton trails, Stockmal Trail does not cross land owned by the City. The trail was required to cross the rear of the Stockmal property and link up with a network of Scout trails on the neighboring Land Trust property called George Willis Woods. (As a reminder, the Shelton Land Trust is a private group, not the City of Shelton). Sadly, those trails were completely overgrown and had been abandoned, so with permission from the Land Trust, a new loop was flagged by City staff in 2015 and partly cleared in preparation for the future Stockmal Trail.
The Cedar Grave, flagged and partly cleared
This month, the Stockmal trail was finally flagged, cleared, and blazed. The first half of the trail, where it passes through Willis Woods, is tough terrain. It starts out along a bony hillside, passing through twisty mountain laurel, following the loop that was flagged out in 2015 and lightly hiked ever since. The new trail then leaves the loop, turning west. It drops down through a grove of dead and falling cedars, crosses the gas pipeline, and picks through wetlands to arrive at a stream. Finding a plausible route through this terrain took a long time.

A stream to cross

Beyond the stream, the trail route was forced in a dense grove of mountain laurel.  That's always tough for a new trail, but after a few years laurel trails can be pretty neat.

Sigh. Must go through the Mountain Laurel
At the Stockmal property line, the terrain suddenly becomes much more easy and open. Instead of rock and swamps, there is a sandy plateau under foot, and part of the trail follows an old woods road that lead to the former Scout camp. Easy!

The end goal: Means Brook overlook
The trail route comes to an end (for now) above Means Brook, about 0.6 mile from the trailhead on Rt. 110. It's a neat spot, and this area is where the Scout camp used to be. The land right along Means Brook is owned by the Aquarion Water Company, and then on the other side is the City's Trombetta Open Space.

Clearing through the mountain laurel
Once the route was nailed down and flagged, it was just a matter of clearing and blazing.  How often can you paint outside in February? In 2018, there were several days warm enough to do so.

First blaze
Within a few weeks, the trail was basically cleared, blazed, and ready to be hiked, although a bridge was still needed to cross the stream. Stepping stones worked in the short term, but were not easy.  Enjoy the "after" photos below:

Trailhead on Route 110 Leavenworth Rd

Land Trust marker

Willis Woods loop section is now more clear

Willis Woods loop section near Rt 110

The cedar grave section

Brook ready to be bridged

Sign that marks the Stockmal Woods property
After entering the Stockmal property, hikers need to respect the property owner and stay on the white-blazed trail. And there may be hunting in the fall, so wear bright colors.
Easy walking along the Stockmal property

Means Brook - can it be bridged?
Next Post:
See the Stockmal Bridge construction. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snowshoe Loop: Basil Brook Bypass & the Rec Path

Waterfall Trail (Yellow/White) off of Wesley Drive
Everything changes after a big snow. Parking lots are impassible and there's more in the way of gear and logistics to consider before heading out on the trails (especially during the Big Chill of 2018). It's so easy to stay inside the warm house, and a hassle to put on all those layers, but it's loads of fun once you're out there. After a big storm, look for parking on plowed city streets that get little traffic. I parked on Wesley Drive at the upper Rec Path crossing a few days after the big Jan. 2018 nor'easter blizzard, and strapped on my snowshoes.

Snowshoe Loop: Parked on Wesley Drive at the "P" icon,
then took the Falls Trail to Basil Brook Bypass and returned on the Rec Path
Snow conditions were perfect for snowshoeing. I decided to check out the Basil Brook Waterfall. Yellow/White blazes lead from the Rec Path crossing at Wesley Drive down to the falls. That was the beginning of what turned out to be a one-mile loop on Basil Brook Bypass and the Rec Path.

Rabbit trail
No people had been down the trail. But near the big rock face at the falls, some kind of animal had created quite a trail leading to a den at the base of the cliffs. A couple piles of little perfectly round pellets in the tracks meant it was a rabbit.

Rabbit Den
The falls were completely frozen, but I could hear water running under the ice. During the summer, it can be difficult to walk across the swampy area below the falls, but since everything was frozen, it was a piece of cake.

Basil Brook Falls
Our poor ash trees. They're all infected with Emerald Ash Borers and are dying. While hiking, you may notice where woodpeckers have pulled of strips of bark looking for the larvae. It's become very noticeable just this year, and is especially noticeable when the bark strips pile up on the snow.  Borers live under the bark, then exit via little holes. The Emerald Ash Borer holes are "D" shaped, like the ones I saw near the falls (there are other types of native borers that make holes, but these species do not kill the trees).

Perfect "D"-Shaped exit hole from an Emerald Ash Borer.
Also, the bark was stripped by woodpeckers looking for them.
After crossing Basil Brook, I took a left onto Basil Brook Bypass. The trail is not marked, so it's not recommended in the snow unless you're familiar with the trail. Most of the trail was pretty easy to follow in the snow, but I did lose it at one point for a few minutes in the mountain laurel. There were plenty of animal tracks. Deer, maybe coyote. Squirrels. Mice. Birds.

Animal tracks on Basil Brook Bypass

Bridge at Basil Brook Bypass
The intense wind on the back side of the blizzard blew a lot of seeds off the trees. There were so many seeds, the snow looked dirty in places. They blew into little piles in low spots. Mostly they were from birch and tulip trees. Birds and rodents eat the seeds, but prefer the free handouts at bird feeders.

Tulip Tree seeds still attached to the flower head
Tree seeds on the snow, mostly birch and tulip
When the trail joined up with the powerlines, I had to stop for awhile to cool down. It was less than 20° outside, but I was sweating.

Goldenrod seeds 
Basil Brook Bypass curves back to link up with the Rec Path, making a nice snowshoe loop of one mile. No one had been on the Rec Path except the animals, which was surprising.

Rec Path
There were stories in the snow. A squirrel jumped off a tree, dug up a nut, then scampered back to the tree. Hawks or owls struck at mice and squirrels. A coyote loped up the middle of the Rec Path. 

Squirrel Circle

Hawk or owl struck at a small animal here

Coyote tracks?

Bird of Prey miss a mouse
All in all, it was a lot of fun. Special gear included snowshoes, trekking poles with the little snow cups screwed on the ends, layers of very warm clothing, and sunglasses. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Time to Snow Shoe

The blizzard last Thursday left some fresh snow.  Sure it was -5 degrees Sunday morning, but the thermometer is gradually creeping up toward 32 degrees.  Time to crack out the snowshoes and enjoy some winter walks.

The Dog Paw Path over by Nells Rock Road wasn't touched as of Saturday morning.  The parking lot wasn't plowed out yet, so the challenge is to find areas near trailheads that have been plowed and walk in to reach your favorite trail.

The RecPath is a good bet for beginning winter hikers or cross country skiers.  Moderate grades, nice and wide tread, nothing to trip on, and scenic views along the way.  Enjoy the good winter weather while you can.