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.