Wednesday, October 21, 2020

RecPath Topping at Lane St

Bill Dyer from the Trails Committee was out with Dan and Dave Landscaping today putting a fresh topping layer on the RecPath at Lane St and Wesley Drive.

That portion of the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path provided a temporary detour when the Lane Street Bridge was replaced.  When the temporary paving was removed earlier this year, the underlying crushed stone was firm, but too coarse for bicycle and other traffic.  Dan and Dave placed a 10 foot wide swath of crushed stone that is smaller than 3/8's of an inch in diameter to be a finer surface course for the RecPath.

This was about 450 linear feet of RecPath along the Lane St. Fire Access Drive.  The finished section ties back into the RecPath by the stone wall.

The fine surface layer is a little soft now, but a lot of people were still using it today.  The Shelton Highways and Bridges Department will come out and roll the fine stone with one of their rollers in the near future.  The resulting path will be smoother and easier for all users; including bikes, baby strollers and wheelchairs.  Wood chips may be placed along the sides.

It was a very pretty early Fall picture along that portion of the Recreation Path.

That portion of the RecPath also includes Shelton's Famous Chestnut Tree that you may have seen in the papers recently.

Thanks to the Shelton Conservation Commission for authorizing these improvements, Dan & Dave for doing a nice job, and Bill Dyer for organizing everything.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Trail Signs of 2020

People like trail signs and have been asking for more signage since the 1990s. 

It's one of those things that's great in principle, but  classic signs are time consuming and in the past have been prone to vandalism.  Over the last two years, we installed some routered signs at the Rec Path trail junctions and a few other places, and so far those signs have all survived. So it seemed safe to add a few more, and with the large number of Covid hikers this year, the signs were needed more than ever. There were a lot of new people on the trails not accustomed to dealing with trail blazes and maps. So over the hiking season, signs were added a few at a time. The 2020 signs tally now stands at:

 - 32 hand-routered signs 
 - 1 raised-relief header sign for the Birchbank kiosk
 - several turn arrows 
 - 16 hand-painted (not routered) signs at Indian Well

Birchbank's Chimney Junction

People still cannot rely on signs to tell them where to go. Trail users have an obligation to be prepared and bring a map (don't rely on cell phones when on an unfamiliar trail). But we've learned that many trail users either have no official map and no clear idea of the trail system (and are sometimes using apps like AllTrails, which is both confusing and inaccurate in Shelton), or they might be really familiar with one small part of a trail system (like the Rec Path) and have no idea what the trail junctions are or where the side trails lead. 

The blue/white Birchbank Connector is more inviting now

Also, most people don't know the names of the trails. When the Trails Committee members talk about the trails, they typically use the trail name, not the blaze color. We don't say "the red trail at Shelton Lakes." We say "Oak Valley Trail."  It's always a little sad when people walk on a trail several times a week for years and don't know the name of the trail. Then again, how would they know the name of the trail unless it's on a sign? The trail names are on the maps, but people tend not to look at the maps. Anyway, the trail signs let people know the names of the trails. 

Kiosk header sign - the hardest one of all

Mileage was added to some of the signs. We heard of some hikers on the Rec Path near Lane Street thinking they were near the Dog Park because the Rec Path goes past the Dog Park. It does, a few miles down the trail (the Rec Path is 4.2 miles long).  Mileage on a couple Paugussett Trail signs was also added for awareness of how long the blue trail is (13 miles) and how it connects major park areas. At the Birchbank's "Chimney Junction", for example, people walking on Birchbank Trail encounter a mileage sign for the Paugussett that shows they are half way between Indian Well and Webb Mountain. People like that sort of thing. And on the Rec Path near Silent Waters, a Paugussett turn sign lists the mileage to Indian Well. 

For people who think they are near the Dog Park

The Rec Path got several new signs at sharp turns

The signs are made from cedar, and routered by hand. Sure, there are CNC machines out there that can make perfect letters, but we strive for "tastefully rustic." Hand-routered lettering is classic for trail signs and has more character than machine lettering.

One of the trickiest parts of the process is transferring the lettering onto the boards. It sounds so simple and yet can be frustratingly difficult to pull off. A craft projector is used to beam an image of the lettering onto the boards, which is traced onto the wood with a pencil. The routering is loud and dusty, but goes pretty quickly once all the correct router bits have been figured out. It's the painting that takes the most time. 

Cedar boards and projector

Then it's time for installation. To discourage vandalism and give the weak cedar wood more strength, a backer board is used. Reclaimed trail bridge deck boards are used.  The back board is bolted to a tree or 4x4 post, and then the cedar sign screwed to the backer board with a variety of hardware. The signs most prone to vandalism may be installed very high on a tree, which requires carrying a ladder down the trail. 

This used to be a cedar tree.

What got signed? Trail junctions, for the most part. Confusing bends in the Rec Path. And there were some trail entrances as well. Boehm Pond Trails, Little Pond Trail, and the Senior Center entrance to the Rec Path were all signed. 

Voted the most confusing trail junction

Turkey Trot Trail along the powerlines was said to be the most confusing junction. As it happens, while heading out to install signs there, a hiker came up asking for directions. 

People didn't even know there was a trail here

Little Pond Trail was our least know trail. During installation of an entrance sign, neighbors walking past the trailhead stopped to ask if that was a trail. Yes, it is, and the sign proves it. 

Side trail off the Rec Path gets some advertisement

Nichols Trail at Nicholdale got a a few signs and a slew of arrows because that trail has some sharp turns in meadow areas that can be hard to spot amongst all the other mowed paths. 

Help for Nichols Trail

This spot used to be pretty confusing and easy to miss

The Pearmain Path at Nichols Trail junction got some clarity, as well as a sign cautioning people to wear bright colors during hunting season. 

The Pearmain Path at Nichols Trail

Early in the season, a bunch of arrow signs were hand-painted for Indian Well. These were not routered because the trail was deemed highly prone to vandalism. But the Covid crowds were wandering up and down the trails asking, "Where are the falls? Where are the falls?" Especially since the falls parking area was shut down during bridge reconstruction. These signs were a big help. 

Signs for Indian Well

Hopefully the new 2020 trail signs will last ten or twenty years. Signs are traditionally routered so they are still legible after the paint wears off. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Nells Rock Work Party

Saturday's work party was brush clearing along Nell's Rock Trail.  Seven volunteers met at the trailhead parking lot on Nells Rock Road across from Chordas Pond and L'Hermitage Condos.

All masked up and generally distanced for Covid safety guidelines when together.  We split up into teams to spread out around the trails.

The entry was pretty shaggy.  A lot of briars, and invasive species like Japanese knotweed were cut back hard near the entrance.  Controlling invasive species that crowd out native plants is usually toughest nead disturbed areas where there's a lot of sun and water.  The area near the parking lot used to be a municipal bulky waste dump.  It looks much nicer today as an open space park.

The parking lot fence and gate could use some work, and the trash barrel needs to be replaced. 

Various individuals and smaller groups tackled brush along the trails.  Further in the woods the trails were in pretty good shape.  A couple of step over blowdowns were left in place for now.

The trails were brushed out all the way from Nells Rock Road to the powerlines, RecPath, and Basil Brook Bypass.  They are in good shape for some good Fall hiking weather.  Thanks to Ellen, Mark, Ted, Bob, Mike, Bill & Terry for coming out.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Full House for the Full Moon Hike

We scheduled most of our guided hikes earlier in the year prior to Covid.  We had to cancel some due to the pandemic but thought we could have the Fall Full Moon Hike at the Land Trust's Nicholdale Preserve on Rt. 110.  The traditional campfire and marshmallow roast was omitted to space people out.  It was assumed that most people probably wouldn't come out for that.

Boy, were we wrong and how. 

The main parking lot at Nicholdale was filled a half hour before the 7:00 start.  It was a good thing that we cleaned out all the storm damaged trees a couple of weeks earlier, otherwise there wouldn't have been any room to park.

The overflow lot overflowed onto Rt. 110.  People were parking up and down the road and on side streets.

This was probably the most well attended hike that we've ever hosted.  There were lots of families with kids and dogs.  We got everybody off the road and hiked around the Nichols Trail in the dark.  There were stops along the way to see the stars from the Land Trust meadows, but the full moon hadn't risen yet.  

It was a warm night so we enjoyed that stars and dark with the accompanying music from Fairview Farms haunted trails in the background.  It was good that people were able to spread out and wear their masks during the hike. 

Everybody made it back, we think, in the dark to the parking lot to finally see the Full Moon rise.  We counted 157 people and 7 dogs.  We also had to turn away people.  It was insane.

It took a while to get everybody out of the parking lots, but everyone made it ok thanks to Bob's traffic directions with a flashlight on Rt. 110.  Next year we'll bring more lights.  Everyone seemed to have a fine time even without the marshmallows.   Thanks to Val, Bob, Bill, Mike, and Luis for publicity, guiding and traffic control.  Thanks to everybody who came and thanks to the Shelton Land Trust for letting us use their property.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Birchbank Connector Reroute

The latest reroute is shown in purple

There have been a number of reroutes at Birchbank over the years to address sections of trail that were either deeply eroded or overly steep (and therefore becoming eroded). The latest one is near the top of the blue/white connector, which was formerly the Paugussett Trail until that trail was moved up the hill to the overlook. 

The new route has turns where water can be directed off the trail

The Birchbank Connector is a nice trail allowing people to create a heart-pumping loop past the overlook. There were two problems, though. First, part of this trail was ridiculously steep and quite hazardous if going down the hill when leaves are on the trail. There are leaves on the trail for most of the year, so that was a real problem.

Second, the steep section was developing erosion issues. The trail is about twenty-five years old, but it was really just the past few years that a lot of people started to walk (or run) it routinely. That wear and tear straight down a steep hill was predictably leading to the formation of a gully down the middle of the trail, which would have necessitated a series of water bars. 

The new trails heads up a scenic valley

The new route is still moderately steep, but it has strategic turns and flat areas where water can be diverted off of the trail, hopefully reducing future erosion issues. 

One of several stone piles

The new section runs up through a deep, broad valley, passing several large boulder where the old people placed some stones. Why? There are several possibilities. Farmers would put stones on boulders to get them out of the way. This doesn't seem likely, since the area is a real boulder field and there are no stone walls indicating the land was used for farming. 

A second possibility is the stones were marking an old property line. This seems more likely. 

A third possibility is the rocks were place by Native Americans for ceremonial or remembrance purposes. 

We'll probably never know how the rocks got there. But it can be fun to ponder as you walk past. By the way, this is one reason it's best not to start moving rocks about to build unnecessary cairns or whatever. You might accidentally upset something created a few hundred years ago. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Nicholdale Log Rolling (storm clean-up)

The parking lot at the Shelton's Land Trust's Nicholdale Preserve needed to be cleared of several fallen trees at Storm Ess-Ahh-ee-sahs.   Technically, the lot was open after an initial storm clearing, but there was a lot of junk to remove to make the trailhead really usable.  

Who were those masked trail workers?  This is the "After" picture with Val, Bob, Mike, Terry, Graham, Mark, Ellen, Luis, and Bill, when all the work was done.

This was the "During" photo when people were sawing, hauling, dragging and stacking all the debris.  There were three trees that were criss-crossed over the parking lot.  The trunks were cut up into fire wood for the scouts, and the tops were stockpiled for later chipping by the Shelton Highways and Bridges Department.

Mark and Ellen clearing up the debris.

Bob Wood having a great old time with the brushcutter.

Bob & Luis clearing back the parking and driveway after the trees and tops were sawed up.

And a new trail sport; competitive log racing.  Bob is in the lead, Ellen is close behind, and Val is Running to Show.

There was an impressive pile of fire wood at the end.  Nice job by everyone who came out to clean up all the storm damage.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Birchbank Mountain Kiosk Sign

Installed kiosk sign

A lot of people pull into the Birchbank traihead parking area thinking they're at Indian Well. There's a blurb in the kiosk asking people if they're looking for the falls at Indian Well, and tells them how to get there, but a lot of people don't stop to read.  Groups clad in swimsuits and carrying beach towels head down the trail, possibly wandering about the trails for hours in utter confusion. Who knows. Do they get to the little cascades of Upper White Hills Brook and think that's the "well" of Indian Well? 

..inspired by the Eklund Garden sign

A header sign for the well-built kiosk is something that always made sense. A gorgeous sign crafted for Eklund Garden by Tim Bonney several years ago set a very high bar for what might be possible. The sign has raised-relief lettering, with the wood around the letters having been carved or routered away. I've always admired it. 

As always, these things are typically harder and more time-consuming than you expect. The first hurdle was getting some lettering penciled onto the boards, which sounds simple, but it isn't. What font? How do you transfer that onto the wood? I printed out "BIRCHBANK MOUNTAIN" in what I hoped was a workable font, then tried using a small projector we had stashed in the basement. Sadly, the projector cannot project from very far away, meaning the project image must be small. Too small.  I pulled the project back farther from the board to try an enlarge the lettering, but then it was out of focus. So I did my best to trace the fuzzy letters, then turned the lights back on and repaired the font by eye. Not a very efficient system, but eventually the lettering looked OK. 

Outlining the letters with a narrow router bit

The next step was to carefully outline the lettering using a 1/16th" router bit. This was done freehand and was a little nerve wracking. All it takes is one slip up...


Then a 1/4" router bit was put on and the remainder of the wood around the lettering was removed. This was boring and took longer than expected. And then it was all sanded.

All painted

There was a lot of back and forth about the colors. The Eklund Garden sign looks superb with the dark green background and natural stained border. For a trailhead sign, a different set of colors seemed appropriate. The other issues to consider were maintenance (polyurethane tends not to last very long), and what supplies were already on hand. In the end, the colors were (for future reference): 
  • Lettering - White paint used for trail blazes (Behr premium plus)
  • Background - the Gallagher's leftover deck stain. 
  • Border - Concealer paint used to cover obsolete blazes and graffiti on trees. Behr Premium Plus "Landmark Brown" (ultra flat). 
In the end, it looks pretty good, but not as nice as the Eklund Garden sign, which was expected. I certainly gained an appreciation for how hard these signs are to make. And when people pull into the parking area, or even just drive past on the road, they should see that the kiosk is for BIRCHBANK MOUNTAIN. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

Storm Isaías Recap

Phew! Storm Isaías made a real mess of the trails, but that's mostly been cleaned up. How big of a mess was it? Along the 10-mile Paugussett Trail system in Shelton (which includes Tahmore Trail), there were about thirty-five blowdowns large enough to require a saw. That's an average of almost one every quarter mile, although the blowdowns were cluster on exposed hilltops.  And that doesn't include the other 20 miles of trails in Shelton. 

These obstructions ranged in size from large branches too heavy to drag off the trail without being cut first, to the unstable "monster hickory" over the Paugussett Trail that took three guys with two chainsaws and a peavey all morning to clear.  

Terry, Mark and Luis cut up this big hickory

The "monster hickory" across the Paugussett Trail

Many of the obstructions consisted of tree crowns that had fallen across the trail as the storm tore off the upper limbs and threw them to the ground, and sometimes it was several tree crowns piled up together. These can really block a trail. Immediately after the storm, hikers started creating a tunnel through one particularly bad crown-fall complex at Indian Well, crawling twenty or thirty feet and breaking some smaller branches with their hands. The terrain was too steep on either side to go around, and it was the only way through. This blowdown took almost an hour to clear because much of it was overhead and not entirely stable, so a lot of time was spent studying the mass and proceeding slowly. 

People were tunneling through this mess 

Same spot, all clear!

In between all the big stuff were zillions of leaves, sticks, and smaller branches. Some trails weren't too bad, while others were covered in a thick blanket of this stuff. 

Confounding early cleanup efforts was the inability for the volunteers to communicate with each other since most were without power or Internet service for several days. Over 60% of Shelton was without power and a number of roads were blocked with fallen trees. Cell phone signals were terrible throughout much of Shelton and people couldn't even get their email or check the Facebook comments about the trails. Trails Committee volunteers also had to first deal with tree damage at home before worrying about the hiking trails. 

The Nicholdale parking lot was a mess

Bruce Nichols with Shelley and Nick Sheriden show off the cleared parking lot

But eventually the forces were marshaled to get the trails clear. Some of the Trail Monitors had begun clearing their trails almost immediately (Trails Monitors don't have to do any actual work other than report trail conditions to us, but we LOVE it when they really adopt their trail and work to keep it clear). Ellen Cramp was hard at work on Oak Valley Trail and giving us reports of blowdowns.  Shelley and Nick Sheriden started working on one end of Nichols Trail while Graham Bisset started working on the other end. The parking lot at Nicholdale was covered with fallen trees which Shelley and Nick were working on when Bruce Nichols and an anonymous volunteer happened upon the scene and cut up the mess with chainsaws. 

There were undoubtedly plenty of hikers and mountain bikers out there moving sticks and small branches off the trails. That was a huge help. 

Hard to tell, but this is the Rec Path near the Dog Park

The Rec Path behind Pine Lake, already partly cleared

The storm hit on Tuesday, August 4. The next morning, the weekly "Weeding Wednesdays" session at Eklund Garden was converted to storm cleanup. Staff Teresa Gallagher started working on repairing 150 feet of deer fencing at the garden that had been crushed by two large trees (in between was a wasp nest, but that's another story), and directed volunteer Dan Persico to forget about the garden and start clearing the Rec Path behind Pine Lake with his handsaw. Dan got quite a bit cleared that first morning, and Teresa followed up in the afternoon with a battery-powered chainsaw from Pine Lake to Silent Waters, leaving just one larger log for the big chainsaws. 

"Before" - Paugussett below Sinsabaugh

"After" - cleared with a small battery-powered chainsaw

At this point, there wasn't much communication going on. Teresa set a goal of checking the entire Shelton Paugussett and Tahmore Trails while carrying a battery-chainsaw in a pack, which took several days. The small chainsaw was fine for 80 or 90% of the blowdowns, and much lighter to carry down the trail. She also set up a storm status post on this blog as a clearinghouse of information. Which trails were clear? Where was a chainsaw needed? Which trails were still a mystery and needed to be walked? It was all recorded there and updated continuously. 

By Thursday or Friday, committee members started getting their Internet back like everyone else in Shelton, and we started getting better feedback about the trails. Someone reported that Basil Brook Bypass had been cleared. We still don't know by who, probably some mountain bikers. Shelton Lakes clearly needed a lot of work, so the Trails Committee decided to have a work party there on Saturday for storm cleanup. There was a surprisingly good turnout, and most of the trails at Shelton Lakes were cleared by the end of the day. There were so many sticks and leaves on the Rec Path that the guys used the Gator mowing deck over the Rec Path, which worked fine. 

The volunteers get ready to clear Shelton Lakes

The volunteers then began chipping away at other trails in town. Terry Gallagher cut up a large "limbo log" at Indian Well. Boehm Pond had several large blowdowns identified by Val and cut up by Mark and Luis, with Teresa following up with a backpack leafblower because the trail was so messy (she blew off Tahmore Trail as well, which was just covered with leaves and sticks). Mark and Luis were a critical duo, cutting up a large proportion of the major blowdowns all over the trail system. 

As of this writing, three and a half weeks after the storm, there are still a few minor blowdowns to attend to, but nothing significant. Three or four blowdowns occurred after trails had been cleared as broken limbs and trees hanging in the canopy finally completed their fall. There are in fact a number of spots where trees and limbs are still hung up overhead, so hikers should be alert for that.