Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2018 Paugussett Trail Tweaks: A Summary

Improvements to the Paugussett Trail "Shelton North" section continued in 2018. As a reminder, in 2016, the trail was reroute through Birchbank so that hikers would come to a newly cleared overlook of the Housatonic River and then descend to the Birchbank chimney. In 2017, a major reroute at Indian Well was undertaken, the overlook was cleared, and the beach access trail gained over 50 new steps. 

In 2018, there were no major reroutes. Instead, there were a series of incremental trail improvements between the Monroe border and the beach at Indian Well. Here's a summary: 



1. The Poet Path section between Princess Wenonah Drive and Thorea Drive was greatly improved in early spring. Crews dug the existing trail into the side of the hill so it would a more pleasant walk. The steep climb up the hill from Princess Wenonah Drive was made much easier with some route tweaking and steps. Finally, five painted slates were added that depicted famous poets.

2. The south side of Birchbank has the most difficult footing of the entire trail in Shelton. One section that descended steeply loose rocks and then ascended back up was replaced by a new section that was cut into the side of the hill. It's still very rocky, but the footing is much more stable.  There were a few other tweaks in this area. A short switchbank was added near the overlook due to a steep section of trail, and another switchbank added near the "caves." The switchbacks make it  much easier to descend when conditions are slick.

3. The section between Thoreau Drive and the Monroe border (Webb Mtn) was staked out by a surveyor. Once the narrow twenty-foot open space corridor between houses was staked, we were able to adjust the trail accordingly and add a split rail fence to help delineate the public corridor. Next, the steep rotting steps leading towards Round Hill Brook were bypassed with a switchback leading to a new brook crossing location. The old crossing had become washed out and very difficult (and at times impossible) to cross.

4. About 300 feet of trail was shifted just north of the pedestrian bridge at Indian Well due to severe erosion issues associated with the stream. The existing trail was very steep and an advancing 15-foot-deep gully appeared next to the trail. The new trail route is a good one, though it passes through thick barberry.

5. Another 300 feet of trail was shifted at Indian Well between "Blowdown Brook" and "Hickory Hill." The trail (old road?)  there had descended straight down a long slope and was eroded in places, making the footing difficult. The new route curves up the hill, allowing rainwater to escape the trail. Some side-hilling was required. The footing is much easier now, especially going down hill.

6. And yet another 300 feet or so of trail was reroute near the top of Hickory Hill. This is where the river slope steepens and the trail starts to get very close to some houses on Hickory Hill Lane. A huge tree had fallen across the trail a few years back and was across the trail at chest height. The tree was not something we could cut, so the trail had been reroute around the tree at the stump end, close to  houses. It appeared the reroute might be on private property, though. The trail was then rerouted down the hill through the other end of the tree, about 100 feet down the hill (it was a big tree). This gives the trail a lot more privacy. Here are some photos:

"Before"

"After"
Within the past three years, the Paugussett has gotten a lot of attention! Hope it's a better hiking experience for all. What's next?

Turkey Trot Trail Tweak

The new route is up out of the mud
Trails Committee member Mark Vollaro recently carved out a new route for Turkey Trot Trail that bypasses a low muddy area. This is near the intersection of Shelton Ave and Willoughby Road (there is an unfortunate amount of road litter in this area). The new section is about a hundred feet long and seems much drier. Enjoy!


 



Growing Gully Threatens Paugussett Trail at Indian Well


This gully keeps advancing up hill
The Paugussett Trail crosses a tiny stream at Indian Well State Park that has managed to create a rather large gully. Canyon might be a better word. It swallows large trees. It's might be thirty feet deep in places and far too wide for a pedestrian bridge. The unstable sides of the sandy gully are impossible to walk up or down. In other words, it's not something a trail can get across.

Overview: Stream erosion from Tahmore Place and gully advancement up the hill
The Paugussett doesn't need to cross the gully just yet, but the gully head is advancing up the hill and is now within fifty feet of the bridge. Based on the location of a previous trail route, it can be inferred that the crossing used to be about 100 feet downstream, but was moved up the hill to escape the growing chasm. No idea when that was. The northern approach to the bridge needed to be rerouted in 2018 because a fifteen-foot drop at the head of the gully was too close to the trail. The trail was one large storm away from collapsing into the gully. The original southern approach was apparently abandoned some years ago, but can still be seen on the LIDAR aerials. The current southern approach is in jeopardy as well, but there is not an easy reroute due to the topography.

The head of the gully is now near the property line between Indian Well State Park and the Shelton Land Conservation Trust (the red line in the aerial below). The bridge is on Land Trust property. 

Add caption
Why is this stream eroding so badly? Obviously it's a steep, sandy hill, so it's highly prone to erosion, but compared to the many other small streams descending the river bank, this one seems to be suddenly eroding at a very fast pace. The most likely explanation is that the stream handles too much stormwater runoff from subdivisions built on top of the river bank. All the water from streets, roofs, and driveways goes right down the stream whenever there's a storm.  The hillside consists mostly of sand that was at the bottom of a glacial pond. It's not the normal Connecticut glacial till. The consistency is closer to sugar, and it washes out badly during big storms.

Head of the gully, where a waterfall drops about 15 feet into a narrow trench
The head of the gully is only about five feet wide, but it's maybe fifteen feet deep. It's a narrow trench.  A waterfall plunges down the face of the trench, and undermines the sandy bottom. Eventually the walls of the trench collapse and the gully advances up the hill and widens. 



Where does all the washed out sand go? A lot of it piles up on Indian Well Road. Here's a photo of the gully taken in 2007 from Indian Well Road right after a major storm:

Bottom of the gully at Indian Well Road

And here is some of the sand that had to be scraped off of the road with backhoes:


Sand scraped off of the road
That's a lot of sand. Some of it is presumably making its way into Lake Housatonic, where it would be filling in the lake created by the Derby-Shelton dam. At some point after the 2007 storm, some check dams were installed at the foot of the gully to stop sand from washing onto the road, but they don't stop the gully from advancing up the hill. 

Check dams near Indian Well Road in 2018
So the gully just keeps on growing, getting wider, deeper, and heading up the hillside. 



It's just a matter of time before it reaches the Paugussett Bridge. And then what? Assuming no action is taken to stabilize the slope, we'll need to move the bridge up the hill again. And over time we'll need to do it again and again, and the trail route will need to go up the hill closer to the houses. Eventually the gully will either hit bedrock (hopefully) and stop growing, or it will go all the way up to the houses on the hill, at which point it's not clear how the Paugussett will get across.

Paugussett Bridge





Saturday, December 8, 2018

Brush Cutting at Great Ledge

There are never enough hours in the day to cut all the brush along Shelton Trails during the growing season.  Last year was tough with all the multiple Nor'easters, storm damage repairs, and brush clearing. There was explosive growth particularly in the sunny wet spots.

There are spots where we get these walls of brush growing into the trails during Spring and early summer and they can restrict the trail width while we are working on other problem areas.  It seemed like we were always behind the Eight Ball trying to play catch up with the brush. 

But not this year.

On Saturday, 10 volunteers staged a preemptive strike to cutback the briars and brush along the RecPath near Great Ledge just south of Oak Valley Road.  The area is open and sunny next to Spooner Swamp and the brush has been gradually growing in tighter along the RecPath.  We've cut it every year, but usually it's later in the season after all the other crisis' have been dealt with and the brush is growing into the RecPath.


We spread out and cut back the briars at least 2 feet back from the edge of the crushed stone surface, and tried to go further for anything with thorns or aggressive growth.  We also tried to clear out invasive species, but left slower growing native species; like Mountain Laurel.

Some cut hi, some cut low, some by hand, some using power tools.    We also cleared out clogged drainage pipes, raked leaves (where they weren't frozen in place), and cleared out debris.  It was great having a good sized crew.

The RecPath looked better after we were done.  There were a number of folks out enjoying the trails on a cold December morning.  Hopefully this pre-growing season cutting makes the RecPath a little nicer to use now, and it should make things more comfortable come Spring when everything leafs out.


 After.  We hope to do this type of treatment elsewhere along the trails during the coming winter months, weather permitting.  Thanks to Jose, Marc, Joe, John, Val, Jim, Bill, Mark, Mike and Terry


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Fun with Lidar Maps

Birchbank Mountain
Here are some fun LIDAR maps courtesy of the City's GIS mapping system. They show both "hill shade" and false colors that correlate to the elevations. LIDAR penetrates tree cover to show you what the ground looks like. The first map is Birchbank Mountain. At the base of the slope along the Housatonic River you can see the oval groundwater recharge ponds owned by the Aquarion Water Company.  The white dashed line is Birchbank Trail, a moderate "lollipop loop" trail that does a circle around Upper White Hills Brook. The blue trail is the Paugussett "Blue Dot" Trail, which follows the riverbank just below the top. The aqua colored trail on the map is the blue/white connector.


Willis Woods and Nicholdale Farm
The second map shows the trails at Nicholdale Farm and Willis Woods on either side of Leavenworth Road (Rt 110). The trails are generally on the lowlands near Means Brook. Only the red-blazed Willis Trail has any real elevation to it. The swamp and stream crossed by Stockmal Trail are pretty obvious, and the trail ends abruptly at Means Brook (someday we hope for a bridge to cross to open space on the other side).

Rec Path from Huntington Center to Oak Valley Road
Lastly we have the Rec Path from Huntington Center to Wesley Drive and Oak Valley Road. It's a little hard to see on the map (click the map to enlarge). Anyone who has tried to bike this route comes to realize pretty quickly just how much of a hole Huntington Center is in, because it's all up hill until you reach the upper Wesley Drive crossing. This map also shows the ledges of the Nells Rock area (originally called "Knell's Rocks", probably as a joke Mr. Knell had to endure). These are mostly in white on the map. The ledge/swamp/ledge/swamp terrain of this area is why it was little farmed or settled and is now open space. The Paugussett Trail is also shown on the map as it heads north from Buddington Road.