Friday, July 6, 2018

Survey Leads to Paugussett Improvements at Thoreau Drive

Shelton's northern-most section of the Paugussett Trail
Sometimes you just need to hire a surveyor, and this was one of those times. The City of Shelton owns a 20-foot-wide open space corridor between homes on Thoreau Drive, but no one knew exactly where that corridor was. The open space was preserved as part of the "Blue Dot Preserve" subdivision (pause for the irony), so that the trail could pass from Thoreau Drive (more irony) to Webb Mountain Park.

"Before": Stairs coming down from Thoreau Drive, and survey stake
From Thoreau Drive, hikers descended a set of stairs, then had to cross a lawn area next to a driveway. Many hikers have complained about this section over the years because it felt like they were trespassing through a private yard. It was so uncomfortable for some that they turned around, not daring to cross the lawn.

"After" - Bottom of stairs removed, trail shifted to scrub area
The land survey showed that the bottom of the stairs were right on the property line. So the last seven or eight steps were removed, and the trail was angled down the slope across the 20-foot-wide accessway. Hikers no longer find themselves facing a mowed area at the bottom of the hill.
"Before": At bottom of steps, trail had to cross a mowed area. 
The view above is what confronted hikers for decades. Where is the trail? (It went straight ahead in the photo). More experienced, confident hikers could spot a blaze and just went to it, but most of our hikers lack that experience and didn't know what to do.

"After": At bottom of hill, trail crosses a scrub area. 
Now hikers come to a scrubby area and see an island of trees directly ahead. This feels much better. (It will be even better when the newly defined open space is allowed to grow back into woods.)

"Before": Trail went to the right of the wooded knoll at the edge of the lawn
That island of trees is a low, wooded knoll that couldn't be mowed. The old route headed to the right, following the edge of the lawn here.  The tree island always looked like the better route, but was it open space? The survey showed that part of it was, and it would be feasible to shift the trail into the trees.

"After": Trail goes through the trees now. 
Hikers should feel a lot better about this section of trail now. You're still walking between houses, which isn't great, but at least it no longer feels like you're trespassing. This fall we intend to plant some evergreen trees and shrubs in the mowed areas of the open space, so that should provide more screening for hikers.

"Before": Coming up from Webb Mtn - "Where's the trail?" (Goes to the left)
Here are a couple more "before" and "after" shots, heading up from Webb Mtn. Part of the problem with the former route was the lack of blazes, since there weren't any good trees to blaze. Now, hikers immediately see the blue blaze on the wooded knoll and know exactly where the trail goes.

"After": Easy to see a trail blaze now
Many thanks to Lewis Associates for a great job surveying. They put in some extra pins along the property lines right where they were needed so that we know with confidence exactly where the open space is located.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Trail Rerouted Many Times, But Always Saved"

Three versions of the Paugussett Trail at Birchbank
The recent discovery of a survey map from 1990 provides a perfect example of how the Paugussett Trail route has changed over time.  The brown dashed line on the map above was the "Blue Dot Trail" at that time, according to the survey map.  The old route approached the overlook, and included a set of rock steps that still stand today. Note that the overlook was private property at that time.

In the early 1990s, the entire trail was shifted down the steep hillside due to several pending subdivisions. That reroute is mostly shown as light blue on the map (now blazed blue/white) and dark blue to the south. This route was inferior to the original route, both for scenery and footing. At the time, the Trail Managers were unsure where the new houses were going to be built and where the new open space might be located, so they simply moved the trail far down the hill to get away from it all.

In 2015, the trail was moved back up to the top of the ridge, closer to the first route. The overlook and rock steps are once again part of the trail. The latest route has the better footing and scenery of the 1990 route, but is shifted further from the new-ish houses where needed.

Birchbank Overlook, restored in 2015.

The Paugussett Trail has been rerouted many times over the years because the original route crossed private property with only verbal agreements. Impending subdivisions kept Trail Managers scrambling to find alternative routes, especially during the building boom years of the 1970s and 1990s.

Birchbank Overlook Trail Registry Entry from an Old Timer

A number of people have been curious about where the old route at Birchbank was. For the most part, it has vanished, but because there are a few remnants of old blue blazes scattered about, people keep looking. The survey map below settles the question near the overlook.

Filed Map #2685
Near the overlook, the current route is the best of the three. But what about to the south? That is very steep, rocky terrain. We've found part of that route, too, but that's for another blog post. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

New Paugussett Signs

The new design
Inspired by a sign seen along the Appalachian Trail alerting hikers to an upcoming road walk, we've decided to try out some new informational signs along the Paugussett Trail. We have three road walks along the Paugussett Trail in Shelton, and most hikers assume the trail simply ends there at the road. So this seems like a great way to let people know the trail continues and how to follow it. Blazes along roadways can suddenly disappear if, for example, telephone poles are replaced or blazes on curbs are covered with fresh asphalt.

Appalachian Trail sign: "Road Walk Ahead"
The design was paper under a piece of plexiglass that was screwed onto a painted board. We noted that part of the information on Appalachian Trail had faded to nothing, so we used a good laser copier on the darkest setting, stuck to black and white, and then sprayed the paper with several coats of a special acrylic sealer designed to filter out UV rays. The sealer will help the paper hold up if it gets wet, too. We had some spare cedar shingles laying around, so we used those to make a simple roof. We considered laminating the paper under the plexiglass, but thought water might get trapped between the laminating plastic and the plexiglass and fog up. We can always try that next if this doesn't work.

Welcome to Birchbank Mountain

We also wanted to inform hikers coming in from Indian Well when they've reached Birchbank Mountain, because most of them think they are still on DEEP property, and this design seemed like it might work.

"Road Walk Ahead"
When we're done, there should be six signs for the three road walks (one from each direction): Mayflower Lane, Okenuck Way/Boulder Path, and Thoreau Drive.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Another Paugussett Reroute at Birchbank

Birchbank Reroute Location

The latest reroute of the Paugussett Trail bypasses what may have been the most tedious -- and at times treacherous -- section of the entire trail. The new trail makes hiking from Indian Well to Birchbank Mountain a safer and more enjoyable trek. There are still some challenging spots along this stretch of the Paugussett, notably "The Boulders" where you need to use your hands, but some hikers find the Boulders to be the fun type of challenge. 

Old route - straight up the loose rock on a 40% slope
The south end of Birchbank Mountain is very steep and covered with rock rubble. In an effort to circle around a particularly bad section, the old trail veered down the slope before heading straight up the rocky hill. Years of erosion loosened some of the rock and it wasn't clear where exactly you were supposed to put your feet. The "trail" was essentially ten feet wide. Northbound hikers descending this hill had to use extreme caution, especially if it was wet out or there were fresh leaves.  

Old route went down then back up. New route is more level.

The new route is shorter with less elevation gain as it cuts straight across the bony hillside. It starts by passing through a very difficult area with lots of boulders and massive Yellow Birch tree roots over mostly level ground, then rises gradually through an area of ferns before leveling out again to cross another rocky area. The reroute was challenging to construct but much easier and safer to hike. 

The rocks and yellow birch roots were a challenge at the north end

Middle section: Much easier getting up the hill now!

South section levels out, passing through more rock

Here are profiles of the old route compared to the new route. The new route is about sixty feet shorter because it cut the corner. The old trail went down 26 feet in elevation and then gained 46 feet. The new trail starts out level, then gains 20 feet, then levels out again. The old trail had a 42% slope on loose rock. The new trail has a slope of 14% on packed dirt. 

Slope profiles (southbound)
So now if you want to do the Overlook to Overlook hike between Indian Well and Birchbank Mountain, it should be a bit more enjoyable.

Overlooks at Indian Well and Birchbank

Friday, June 8, 2018

It's June - Mountain Laurel Time

In case you live and work in an underground bomb shelter, It's June and the weather is great outside!  And bye the way, the Mountain Laurel are spectacular along the Recreation Path.

Some times we get so wrapped up in chores, sports, home improvements, etc. that we forget to see what's around us.  We see some attractive spring flowers as we speed by on City streets, but do we really see them?  They are nice everywhere this year, but one really good place to see them is along the powerlines by the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path. 

The best stretch is between the Nells Rock Parking Lot at the Dog Park, and Great Ledge going past Oak Valley Road.  There are a lot of good sights along the entire RecPath, but you'll see a lot of picturesque views with very little effort by taking a walk along this stretch this year.  Take your time and soak in the scenery.

There are places where you'll feel like your walking through a tunnel of flowers.  It won't last forever, so carve out a few minutes and go for a short walk this weekend, or possible a longer one.  There's a variety of reasons that residents like Shelton's greenways.  Go for a walk and you'll be pleasantly surprised along Shelton's trails and open spaces.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

2018 Trails Day Hike - Overlook to Overlook

On a muggy and tropical National Trails Day, we had a challenging hike on the Paugussett Trail from Birchbank Mountain to Webb Mountain.   We had previously spotted cars at Webb Mountain Park in Monroe for the drive back to Shelton after the hike.
The map shows the route of the hike. It was 4 miles, with 800 feet of elevation gain, and 3 stream crossings.

Portions of the Blue/White trail up the hill from Birchbank Road were steep, and hot, but with a number of stops we arrived at the first Housatonic River overlook.  And there was a breeze!.

Birchbank Mtn overlook

 Following a short breather at the overlook we went down to Upper White Hills Brook.

Crossing Upper White Hills Brook (at the chimney)

This was one of three pretty streams that we crossed.  The two four-footed hikers with us enjoyed each stream crossing.

The first of the brief road walks

This stretch of the Paugussett involves 2 road walks through quiet residential neighborhoods.   We said hi to folks out mowing their lawns and doing yardwork as our party trooped past.  A little red fox was spotted running across one yard not too far from a road named Little Fox Run.  We then climbed some of the new stair along the "Poet Path" section (a number of streets in this neighborhood are named after famous authors).

Eventually we came out on Thoreau Drive, had another shorter road walk, and came to the crossing of Round Hill Brook.  Congratulations the party made it to Monroe.

New bridge at Webb Mtn Park

Our event was supposed to meet with a Monroe event near the new bridge that the girl scouts had constructed along with a trail blazing project.  They were up at the second Overlook when we arrived, but we still admired the bridge.  It was very sturdy.

Maple-leaf viburnum

The Maple-leafed Viburnum were starting to blossom along the trail.

Pink Ladyslippers

As were the Pink Lady Slippers near some of the campsites.

We met David Solek, the Monroe Park Ranger, up at Goat Rock and learned about the history of the park and Monroe's wayward livestock.

The views of the Housatonic River from Goat Rock were great, and there was another breeze.  We enjoyed a picnic lunch, and then shuttled back to Birchbank Mountain.  The number of cars was perfect for the number of hikers, and we arrived just as the thunderstorm warnings were being broadcast.  It pays to start the hike early sometime.

We had 23 people, plus 2 dogs, from Shelton, Monroe, Derby, Milford, Bridgeport, Stratford, and Haddam.  Talk about your Trails Day Tourism.  Everybody enjoyed the challenging hike, but the cold drinks and showers were welcome afterwards. Thanks to everyone who came out or helped.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Sycamore Dr Access - Storm Clean Up

There are a number of neighborhood access trails to Shelton's trail system.  Sometimes these smaller trails don't get as much love and attention as they should because we're focusing on keeping the main trails in good shape; particularly after the nor'easters this spring.

We got a call from a good friend and volunteer that there were 3 blowdowns on the Sycamore Drive Access Trail, and we were able to schedule a mini-work party to clean up the blow downs.

A mini-work party is when more than 1 person shows up.  In this case it was Jim Taradine and Mark Vollaro.  I moved some light branches and offered helpful encouragement like "It looks like you've got that Jim".   Teamwork stuff like that.

Here's Mark and Jim at the end of the second blow down.  The three trees varied in size and difficulty.  The last was a good-sized red oak top that was across the trail. 

Here the guys are after finishing the third blow down. 

The trail is all cleared out and open to the public.  The Sycamore Access trail runs from the dead end of Sycamore Drive to the Recreation Path at Waymarker Post #8.  The Post is on The RecPath near the Hawley Meadow on Lane Street.  It makes a nice loop for people walking around their neighborhood, with open woodlands and gentle grades.

One off-shoot of the trail leads down to a beaver dam on the Far Mill River.  If you're quiet you may see some wildlife or fish rising to the surface.  It makes for a nice walk early in the morning.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Spring Cleaning at Riverview Park

The Bluff Walk at Riverview Park needed some attention this spring.  There were a thick layer of oak leaves on sections of the trail and some storm damage.  Overall though the trail had held up OK through the winter.

The north end of The Bluff Walk is at the Kids Playground.  The south end is by the southern baseball field.

The oak leaves were very thick on portions of the trail, and brush was encroaching in a number of places.

We attacked the trail with a variety of rakes, leaf blowers, chainsaws, hazel hoes, loppers, brushcutters, and other assorted tools.

We also removed some trash and cut out Japanese Knotweed behind the baseball field.  We had to leave early due to impending heavy rain storms.

The Bluff Walk is one of Shelton's Historic Trails with scenic views of the Housatonic River.  It's well worth exploring the next time you're near Riverview Park.

We managed to finish up just has the rain was hitting about 10:30.  Thanks to Jimmy, Jim, Bob, Bill, Mark, Mike, and Terry.  Enjoy The Bluff Walk the next time you're downtown.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Along the "New" Poet Path

The new, easier climb up from Princess Wenonah Drive
Take a stroll along the new and improved Poet Path, a section of the Paugussett Trail. This section of trail was once so bad that at least one hiker said it would have been better to just walk down the road.

Trail benching!
Nothing can be done about the fact that the open space corridor is pretty narrow and that you're never far from houses, but hey, this IS Fairfield County. You've got to expect some of that along a 13-mile trail.

Add caption
What we could do was improve the footing and markings and clean up the place. A lot of people, including a couple crews of high school students, benched the trail into the side of the hill. And the steep trail going up the hill from Princess Wenonah was redesigned with some switchbacks and stairs so the hillside is much easier to going up and down.
A  poet station
And then to give the Poet Path a bit more interest, we installed painted slates with quotes from five poets who have nearby streets named after them.

There are painted rocks near the slates that relate to the poet's quote.

Robert Frost's famous quote

The blue blazes of the Paugussett Trail connect a series of local parks and trail systems, starting with Shelton Lakes to the south, then Indian Well, Birchbank, Webb Mountain, and the Boys Halfway River corridor in Monroe. Until now, the Poet Path section was the part hikers had to just slog through if they wanted to get from Birchbank to Webb Mtn, or if they wanted to hike the entire Paugussett. With the recent improvements, we're hoping that people who live in the neighborhood will start walking and enjoying the path.

Follow the blue blazes
And we hope this encourages more people to hike from Indian Well or Birchbank Mountain through to Webb Mountain Park. Our 2018 Trails Day Hike will be doing just that.

Words of wisdom