Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Trombetta Woods Open Space

State Forest lands block the extension of 
Stockmal Trail to Trombetta Woods

So close, and yet so far. 

Hikers reaching the end of Stockmal Trail in the White Hills are just 150 feet away from the City's elusive "Trombetta Woods" open space. Blocking passage to this landlocked property is a narrow strip of Centennial Watershed State Forest through which Means Brook runs.  The state purchased recreation rights over the watershed property in 2002, so we had high hopes of acquiring permission to extend Stockmal Trail across the brook. Moreover, the Connecticut DEEP had required Shelton to build Stockmal Trail with the goal of linking to Trombetta Woods after awarding the City a $202,500 grant to protect the Stockmal property. The State would seem to have a vested interest in linking to the Trombetta property, since they helped fund the connection.  But Shelton's request to cross the state forest was denied. 

The Trombetta Woods Open Space

Trombetta Woods covers 32 acres, but seems larger because it abuts the state forest to the north and east, and Jones Farm to the south.  It was purchased for $342,000 in 1988 from Louis and Nancy Trombetta and was part of the former Swendson Farm in Monroe. About half the property was quarried for gravel in the 1960's, and parts of the property are scattered with old piles and trenches, now covered with trees. Legal access to the property is from the Monroe side with an assigned address of 68 Swendsen Drive, opposite Captains Hill Road, but the old drive leading down to the open space between houses has become overgrown and there is no parking area.  Back in the 1980s, the Trombetta property was expected to be developed as a Planned Residential Development (PRD) with twenty new houses draining into the drinking water supply. Shelton city crews would have needed to drive through Monroe to access the new homes with school buses and emergency response crews, and this is likely a major factor for its purchase by the City. 

Trombetta Woods

A blazed 1/2 mile loop trail was created on the Trombetta property in 2021 after the Natural Resource Manager discovered the highly invasive Mile-a-Minute (MAM) Vine growing in areas that were previously disturbed from gravel quarrying. The trail allows access across the property to the infected site for future management efforts, but cannot be easily reached by the general public. 

Means Brook at low flow

Means Brook, which runs through the state forest, sends drinking water supplies to Means Brook Reservoir.  DEEP describes the brook as an "engineered canal" that was excavated over 100 years ago. During low flow, the river is only a few inches deep, but heavy rains cause the channelized river to rise rapidly. The floods might wash away any pedestrian bridge that is built improperly, which is why the Trails Committee had not previously attempted to extend Stockmal Trail across the river to Trombetta Woods. A pedestrian bridge would be a technical challenge. But in 2021, it was noted that the river was typically low enough that the crossing could be as simple as a plank thrown across the river, with the plank tied to a tree to keep it from washing downriver after heavy rain. A more significant pedestrian bridge could be added later if necessary.

Growing the Greenway:  After the Trombetta property was purchased in 1988, members of Shelton's Conservation Commission and Land Trust set out to connect the open space to other conservation lands in the area, including the nearby Stockmal property, which was privately-owned but used as a Boy Scout camp. The Land Trust had recently acquired the next parcel over, called Willis Woods (1986), and soon gained the core of Nicholdale Farm across the street (1991).  

Plans were put into writing with Shelton's 1993 Open Space Plan, which outlined a strategy for connecting conservation lands into corridors called "greenways."  Several private properties, including the Stockmal property, were tagged for preservation within the Means Brook Greenway. This greenway was considered especially important because it protected drinking water that flows into Means Brook Reservoir.  

The Stockmal Property:  In 1999, Shelton applied for a Connecticut DEEP grant to purchase a conservation easement and hiking trail rights over the Stockmal property. Mayor Lauretti's cover letter justified the proposal: "It will provide a key linkage in the City's hiking trails allowing access for the first time to the Trombetta Woods City Open Space Parcel." 

Stockmal Trail was required by the CT DEEP

The Connecticut DEEP awarded $202,500 towards the project, with the City of Shelton paying an additional $247,500 for total purchase price of $450,000. The grant contract required the City to maintain the following public access: 

"...by a marked trail proceeding generally from the George Willis Woods Open Space owned by the Shelton Land Conservation Trust to the east and across the northerly half of the subject parcel in a westerly direction towards the Trombetta Woods Open Space parcel owned by the City of Shelton to the west of the subject parcel." 

This trail is called Stockmal Trail, blazed white. The trail currently ends at the west edge of the Stockmal property near Means Brook, at the edge of Centennial Watershed State Forest. 

Stockmal Trail ends at the border of the state forest,
150 feet from Trombetta Woods

About Centennial Watershed State Forest: In 2002, the State of Connecticut purchased rights to 15,300 acres of water company lands in 24 towns (940 acres in Shelton), collectively known as "Centennial Watershed State Forest."  The price was $90 million, with the Nature Conservancy contribution $10 million and state taxpayers funding the rest. The sale included recreation rights to 14,496 acres (areas near water company facilities were excluded from recreation access). Some of the properties were purchased by the state outright, while Class 1 Watershed properties are still owned by the water company (now Aquarion), but are protected from development. 

The Saugatuck Trail fords a small stream that flows into the
Saugatuck Reservoir in Centennial State Forest

In Fairfield County, hiking opportunities were subsequently created in the State Forest around the Saugatuck Reservoir in Redding/Weston via the Saugatuck-Aspetuck Trail. In Shelton, there are currently opportunities for fishing and hunting within the state forest by special Aquarion permit, but not hiking except for a short section of trail at Nicholdale Farm that preexisted the creation of the state forest. Shoreline fishing is allowed at Far Mill Reservoir. Archery deer hunting is allowed on over 400 acres, including 218 acres surrounding Far Mill Reservoir and 189 acres next to Means Brook Reservoir. Although a form of recreation, deer hunting is also an important forest management technique used to improve water quality (overabundant deer strip vegetation, leading to erosion).  

Managing Recreation in the State Forest:  A "Natural Resource Management Agreement" between the three landowners specified how the state forest was to be managed. Under the agreement, a new "Conservation Land Committee" (CLC) was charged with management decisions. The Committee consists of one member each from Aquarion, the Connecticut DEEP, and the Nature Conservancy. The goals of the management plan include the protection of the drinking water supply, healthy forests, and recreational opportunities. 

Section 5.4 states that "public use and recreation opportunities will be encouraged" and that "linkage to existing trails will be a priority." 

Saugatuck Reservoir, as seen from the Saugatuck Trail
in Centennial State Forest, Weston

Section 5.4.1 states that the "highest intensity public uses will be directed toward storage reservoir watersheds.  Distribution reservoir watersheds will have more limited public use in an effort to protect the water quality of these critical water supplies." Means Brook and Far Mill Reservoirs are storage reservoirs (as is Saugatuck Reservoir); Trap Falls is a distribution reservoir. The proposed trail is located 1.6 mile north of a storage reservoir. 

Section 4.2(a) of the agreement requires the Committee to create Watershed Management Plans that shall "ensure that long-range resource management plans are developed and implemented on a watershed basis, incorporating prescriptions for resource stewardship that are science-based and specific to local conditions. The plans should also include measures to promote and accommodate recreational access to the extent such recreational access, use and resource management does not significantly adversely affect (i) BHC's ability to fulfill BHC's Public Service Obligation, or (ii) the natural resource protection goals of the Conservators." (Note: BHC is now the Aquarion Water Company).  

The Saugatuck Trail in Centennial State Forest crosses many streams that
 flow directly into the Saugatuck Reservoir

This Watershed Management Plan requirement is described under Section 5.10. and is to include "public use and recreation, including without limitation, hiking and pedestrian access, equestrian access, bicycle access, boating and fishing." Prior to adopting each Watershed Management Plan, the Committee is required to hold informational public meetings to "exchange ideas regarding each such plan and the related policies and procedures with interested members of the public." Notice of the meeting is to be sent to the Chief Elected Officials of each town. After the Watershed Management Plan is adopted, annual meetings with the Chief Elected Officials are to be held. 

There is an existing "Forest Management Plan" for the Means Brook Watershed Block (2013 to 2023), which appears to be the plan that is required in the Agreement.  This Forest Management Plan focuses on logging, invasive species, and hunting. The plan says little about public access and recreation (the Watershed Management Plan is required to include watershed-specific "measures to promote and accommodate recreational access.")  The plan does say, "There is a long history of positive connections between good forest management practices and hiking in Connecticut. Much of the 500-mile Blue Trail System is located on abandoned or active logging roads, some of which are found on other watershed lands throughout the state."  The plan also very briefly describes the Paugussett Trail in Monroe and suggests that new trails might link the Paugussett Trail to Monroe town open space. There does not appear to be any reference to public hiking access in Shelton. 

Saugatuck Trail brook crossing in Centennial Watershed S.F.  
This brook flows into the drinking water reservoir.

Section 4.5 of the agreement states that the CT DEEP "will provide personnel time, equipment, supplies, and materials in the implementation of joint resource management or maintenance activities, as appropriate, and specifically with respect to any recreational enhancements."  This means that new trails may add to DEEP's inventory of management obligations, although trails themselves are created and maintained by volunteers. This requirement may act as a disincentive to approve new trails. However, enforcement is also required where there not hiking trails. This is especially true in the case of Stockmal Trail, since the existing Stockmal Trail ends near the banks of Means Brook (as required by DEEP), and there is evidence that the general public has already been continuing through Aquarion property towards the river.  Moreover, active enforcement is already required for 400 acres open to hunting and one reservoir open to fishing. In comparison, the proposed hiking trail would impact 150 feet of state forest. 

The Approval Procedure: According to the Management Agreement, Aquarion "shall make" an initial determination as to whether such proposed public uses significantly adversely affects its ability to provide quality drinking water. If Aquarion determines the use is acceptable, then the three members of the Conservation Land Use Committee have 180 days to determine whether the use will be permitted.  Additional approval must then be granted by the Department of Public Health. According to Section 5.4.3, new trails must be unanimously approved by the Conservators. 

We do not know if Aquarion made an initial determination on whether Stockmal Trail would significantly adversely affect the drinking water supply. A site walk with all three stakeholders was organized by Aquarion personnel. The only feedback received at that time was from DEEP staff, saying they did not want anyone near the river. The Conservation Land Committee subsequently denied Shelton's request to extend Stockmal Trail across Means Brook. The reasoning was as follows: 

"The Conservation Land Committee (CLC) is required to obtain a Connecticut Department of Public Health permit to construct and maintain trails within Centennial Watershed State Forest (CWSF). These permits require impact assessments, monitoring, patrol, maintenance and enforcement plans.  CT DEEP EnCon Police and Aquarion Water Company Police are then required to patrol and enforce the regulations stipulated in the permit.  The CLC has worked to create trail access and extensions where feasible with rules to protect sensitive watershed lands, such as: no pets, no wheeled vehicles (bikes), no horseback riding, and no off trail access. The CLC believes this trail crossing through CWSF would be difficult to control, monitor, and patrol for the extent necessary to enforce these regulations and visitor rules, especially if folks need to cross through the water."

This was a surprise given the number of stream crossings that occur along the Saugatuck Trail in Weston in the State Forest and on Class 1 watershed lands. Those streams are closer to Saugatuck Reservoir than Shelton's proposed crossing is to Means Brook Reservoir. Both reservoirs are storage reservoirs, not distribution reservoirs. If fording the brook was an issue, then conditions could have been placed requiring a bridge, but that was not the case. 

Bridge over Nicholdale Brook near Means Brook
Centennial Watershed State Forest/Nicholdale Farm

There is a closer example of a hiking trail crossing Centennial Watershed State Forest: Nichols Trail at Nicholdale Farm. This loop trail briefly passes through the State Forest and crosses Nicholdale Brook just 400 feet from Means Brook. It's closer to the drinking water reservoir than the proposed Stockmal Trail crossing is, and the brook typically has a good flow. The trail was built in the 1990s before the State purchased recreation rights over water company lands to create the state forest. The Iroquois Gas Company sold the property to the water company in 1996 with a deed restriction allowing passive recreation. We are not aware of any problems created by this trail. As a pre-existing trail, however, the Agreement requirement that DEEP supply resources to police the trail would not seem to apply. 

The denial to Shelton's proposal to cross Centennial Watershed State Forest, as worded, makes it sound like the issue is more one of DEEP not wanting to incur additional commitments with limited resources. If so, the state's purchase of recreation rights may have paradoxically reduced Shelton's ability to extend Stockmal Trail. The Stockmal property purchase was planned in the 1990s, at a time when the water company (BHC at the time) was open to hiking trails such as the Paugussett Trail in Monroe and the new trails at Nicholedale Farm in Shelton. Conservation Commission members were frequently in communication with BHC's president and working with the company over various property issues throughout the 1990s, and there appeared to be no concern that Shelton might not be granted approval to cross Means Brook. It was only later, when the state purchased development and recreation rights over the property in 2002, that DEEP gained veto power over local efforts to cross water company land. 

Regardless, DEEP required Shelton to build Stockmal Trail for the stated purpose of accessing Trombetta Woods, and contributed over $200,000 towards that goal. We'd like to find a way to finish this job. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Lost Overlooks of the Paugussett Trail

 A good friend just passed on the 1976 Bicentennial Edition of the Connecticut Walk Book, and it was interesting to check the Paugussett Trail description and map. 

Paugussett and Pomperaug Trails in 1976

At this point in time, the trail south of Indian Well had already been abandoned. To the north, the Paugussett officially ended at a junction with the Pomperaug Trail, which ran from Kettletown State Park south to the Stevenson Dam, then on to Monroe. At some later time, the trail system was reorganized, and southern end of the Pomperaug Trail became an extension of the Paugussett Trail. 

Reading the description of the Paugussett in 1976, it's striking how many more overlooks there used to be. This is probably due to both the riverbank trees getting taller as well as some trail relocations in response to new housing developments. 

Here are the overlooks referenced in the 1976 edition of the Connecticut Walk Book. Note that the mileage is based on the trail beginning at Rt 110, going to the falls, then straight up the cliff to the first overlook. The trail goes a different way now and the mileage would be longer. Mileages from Birchbank to the Stevenson Dam were also much shorter in 1976 because the trail was more direct at that time (no houses). 

Overlook #1 (mile 0.2): Indian Well, above the falls. This overlook had overgrown but was cleared out a few years back. 

Overlook #2 (mile 1.1): The old trail was said to cross an attractive brook at mile 1.0 and then "swing sharply uphill to outlook at 1.1 mile."  This brook is what we call "Blowdown Brook" and is the last and largest of several brooks before the trail heads gradually up "Hickory Hill" (so named because it crests opposite Hickory Lane).  There is a steep rise and cliffs on the left as you climb up the hill where the trail presumably used to go. It was likely moved down the hill as a reaction to new housing. 

Overlook #3 (mile 1.7): An outlook is reported above the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company wells. This appears to be about where "the boulders" are located. At least some of the trail in this area was originally located a bit higher up on the ridge (some older blazes have been found there). Again, the trail was probably shifted downhill in response to new homes. 

Overlook #4 (mile 2): This is the Birchbank Overlook, which was reclaimed a few years back. 

Overlook #5 (mile 3.8): This was in Monroe on the other side of Webb Mtn Park: "Climb through a cleft in cliff to rock ledge with unique view of either side of river." This has been lost. The trail was relocated above the cliff climb and trees got taller.

Overlook #6 (mile 4): "Pass lookout above Lake Zoar".   An overlook above Lake Zoar was cleared out a few years back. 

Overlook #7 (mile 4.4): "Head west past series of lookouts to Stevenson Dam and junction of Pomperaug." Lost to new houses. 

So we still have three of the seven overlooks, and a few years back we didn't even have those. But imagine how different the Paugussett was in 1976 with lots of overlooks and no houses. Sigh.

And look how the trail used to blow through what is now all houses. (Do not take this map litterally, it's not that accurate). 

1976 map GIS overlay (do not take litterally)

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Dig We Must - Two

Crisp, but clear Fall morning at the Shelton Intermediate School.  A group of about a dozen volunteers formed to start work on the Recreation Path and Turkey Trot Trails.

Cody and Chase were not giving an inch when it came to digging out the beech roots along the Turkey Trot Trail.  And neither was the beech.  But in the end teamwork and persistence prevailed over the tripping hazard, and the trail was fixed up.

And so goes much of trail work.

A bunch of us started to tackle various drainage improvements along the RecPath.  Ellen Cramp, our newest Trail Committee Member, asked where is the best place to start?  I said begin at the low point near the culvert and work your way uphill.  Looking back at it, I think much of life can be summed up that way; you just got to dig in, and start your way backwards.

Ted and Bill were clearing out the drainage ditch at the RecPath.  We have a lot of erosion issues at the junction of the Turkey Trot with the RecPath.

Mary King cleared ditches along the RecPath.  A lot of folks were working up and down the trail.  It was mentioned that it was a scene from Cool Hand Luke.

 Derrick, Ted, & Paden were working on a swale to direct water off the RecPath at the Turkey Trot Junction.  We''ll see how time works out, but it looked like a good improvement.

Waterbars on the Turkey Trot Trail were cleaned out.  The culverts and ditches along the RecPath below were also cleaned out.

The leaves were blown off the RecPath.

And we made The Sun shine brightly on Silent Waters.  Well, maybe that last one is a grand exaggeration.  But it was a wonderful morning, and we were out there working, so we must've had a part in it. Right!

Thanks to Cory, Chase, Lorren, Ted, Luis, Mary, Ellen, Paden, Graham, Mark, Derrick, Bill, Eli, Bob & Terry for coming out today and ditch digging.  Sure, it looked like a scene out of Cool Hand Luke, but it was a lot more fun.  See you on the Turkey Trot Hike after Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Wesley Drive Work Party

We had another fine turnout for the trails work party this past Saturday.  Folks met at the Upper Wesley Drive crossing near Scotch Pine Rd.

There were a lot of folks out enjoying the RecPath; neighborhood families, joggers, mountain bikers, dog walkers, and even a couple of rock climbers.  And then there were these 2 neighbors out for a little Fall stroll by Lizard Head Rock.  Nice to see everyone out using the trails.

And thanks to all the volunteers who turned out.  Here's Norm and Harry cutting brush back along both sides of the RecPath.  It was a pleasant fall morning to do some trail work.

Mark and Chase picked up some crushed stone with the Gator to fill in erosion from earlier storms.

Chase, Val & Mark filling in washouts near one of the bridges off Wesley Drive.

The Fall colors were great.  The Christmas fern, Maple-leafed viburnum, and beech leaves were putting on a show of native color.

Basil Brook was flowing nicely along the RecPath following the recent rains.

Did I mention that we had cute kids out acting as nature guides and explaining the trails to us?  We may have a future trails volunteer here.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Fall RecPath Maintenance - Part 2

 We met on Wesley Drive on a bright Fall morning to continue maintenance on the Recreation Path.

It was a good turnout of volunteers.  Our main objective was to clear drainage and repair storm damage.

The Loading Crew was shoveling processed stone into the Gator at Lane St.

Mark then delivered it to the Spreading Crew filling in the washouts going down the hill toward Lane Street.

Neighbors came over to help out too!  Will & Scott even brought their own power tools - bonus!

We even had Trail Committee Alumni drive up from Florida just for the work party.  Well, that and to visit family too.  Sandie was cutting brush along the sides of the RecPath.  What a wonderful surprise.

Another Alum, Rich Skudlarek, was also helping out and offering safety advice.  "Keep walking backward, you're not going to fall off the cliff yet".  

Helpful Trail Safety Tip:  Don't listen to Rich.

The high school volunteers were doing a fine job with the crushed stone repairs.

Several culverts and drainage ditches were cleaned out and cleared along the way.  It's not the most exciting work, but it's important for long-term management.

The RecPath and ditches were blown off and cleaned down to the Lane Street entrance.  

The next work party may be from Wesley Drive North to Great Ledge.  Stay tuned for updates on future work parties.

Thanks to Harry, Zach, Jahneil, Mil, Eli, Luis, Mark, Graham, Will, Scott, Betsey, Val, Ellen, Sandie, Rich, Bill & Terry.  We got a lot done with all the help.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Lovely Fall Day on the RecPath

 It was a lovely Fall day on the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path with a lot of folks out enjoying the trails.  People were strolling, dog walking, mountain biking, jogging, family hiking, you name it.  Some people were even getting chauffeured up and down the RecPath.

Some people have it made.  If only they realized it.

The rest of us were walking about, or planning for upcoming work parties.   There is a volunteer work party next Saturday, October 23rd to fix eroded portions of the RecPath near Lane St., cut brush, clean ditches, un-clog culverts, and other not-so-glamorous maintenance stuff that make it easier to enjoy Shelton's trails.  Check the Events Page for additional information if you're interested in helping out.  And now onto the nice afternoon.

The Shelton Land Trust Meadow at Lane St. was splendid.  Can't say much more than that.  It's amazing how much much natural habitat there is just a few footsteps away from the busy streets in Huntington Center.  People were out hiking, biking, jogging, bird watching, walking their dogs, walking their families, possibly walking other families dogs, the combinations are endless.

This very nice couple was out enjoying the RecPath by the Little Meadow near Lane Street.  Thanks for the update on the bridge conditions at Oak Valley Trail.

This is the processed stone that we're going to use next Saturday to fix some of the ruts on the RecPath. 

This is one of the eroded sections of the RecPath that will be worked on.  We will blow off the leaves, place and compact processed stone in the eroded gullies, clean culverts and drainage ditches, cut grass and brush, and improve sightlines along the trail.  We might even pick up some trash (which looks small at this time).

Here's another spot along Wesley Drive that need erosion repair and clearing to get back to the original 8 foot wide RecPath with 2 foot wide shoulders that were originally built.  

It was really good to chat and see everyone out enjoying the RecPath this Sunday .  Feel free to come out Saturday and help with trail maintenance if you can fit that into your schedules.  Visit the Trails Events Page for additional information about upcoming events and work parties.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Repairin' Ruts on the RecPath

We had some heavy storms in late summer that caused flooding, clogged culverts, and eroded portions of the RecPath.   The ruts were a tripping and biking hazard so they needed to be repaired.  

Recently the Shelton Highways and Bridges Department was able to get a couple of truckloads of processed stone and drop them at various locations along the RecPath for our use.  Some of the stone was a little larger than we typically use for topping the RecPath, but it was good for the repairs.

It was a beautiful Fall Saturday for moving and raking stone.  

One crew loaded crushed stone into the Gator.

Another crew was preparing the washed out areas and spreading the stone when it arrived.  The hydraulic bed on the Gator was a big backsaver.  They also cleaned out the drainage ditches and clogged culverts along the way.  The storms blocked some of those up with debris, which caused the runoff to wash out the gravel surface of the RecPath.  Gotta maintain drainage.

Various spots along the RecPath were exposed down to the filter fabric.  We used up the pile down by the Dog Park & Red Barn parking lot fixing the worst problems.  We'll probably have to come back with material from some of the other piles.

Various spots were filled in out thru the mountain laurels along the powerlines.

We had a great crew of experienced trailkeepers and new volunteers.  Thanks to Ellen, Zach, Jahneil, Mil, Eli, Mark, Graham, Bob, Bill & Terry.  A lot of help makes it easier to move a lot of crushed stone.  There's more to do; probably in 2 weeks down at the Lane Street end of the RecPath, but this was a good start.  Check the Trails Events Page for more information.