Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Eversource Trail Closure Status

(updated Sept 19, 2023):  Eversource is in the clean-up/restoration stage at Shelton Lakes. The Paugussett Trail will reopen by October 1.  The other trails remain officially closed where they cross the powerline corridor but may reopen later in October after disturbed areas have been seeded. French's Hill remains inaccessible due to active construction, probably for the remainder of the year.  Typical construction hours are 7AM-7PM Monday through Saturday.  See this previous post for more info about the project. Consider exploring our other trails such as Boehm Pond,  Nicholdale Farm, Birchbank Mountain, Tahmore Trail, and Woodsend Trail at Housatonic Woods.  

Sunday, September 3, 2023

French's Hill Eversource Update

Wood matts cover the main trail at French's Hill

While Eversource is in the clean-up and restoration stage over at Shelton Lakes, their work at French's Hill is still in the construction phase, with some of the new towers not yet installed. The trail has been marked as "closed" all summer and we've skipped the trail maintenance for that reason. Eventually, though, we'll need to have a work party and clear it out even if the trail isn't open for public hiking. So a quick check on the trail was on order and here are some photos from that walk. 

New millings on the parking lot
The parking lot was nice and dry thanks to some work done last spring by the Shelton Highways & Bridges Department. They graded out the muddy lot for drainage and put some millings down. Previously, there were some pretty fierce mudholes and people needed to be careful not to get stuck. The entryway and drive are a bit shaggy with tall invasive mugwort and other vegetation which could be could be cut back, but it's not terrible. 

This is the trail
The very first 100 feet or so of trail is by far the worst. It looks like a deer path through tall meadow vegetation and seriously needs a brushcutter. People or deer have been going through it. Hard to tell which. Except that both of the Eversource "Trail Closed" signs have been ripped out and tossed aside. Don't do that, people! If you want to ignore the signs, that's on you. But don't remove the signs, which alert other trail users and explain why the trail is in such bad shape. 

Eversource "Trail Closed" sign

New tower, old tower

Once in the woods, the trail isn't too bad. Clearly, people have been removing sticks from the trail, and there are no big blowdowns across the trail. Coming out to the Eversource powerline corridor, there's a short overgrown section, and then a stretch of heavy timber mats covers the trail for a bit. All our trail markings seem to have survived (thank you, Eversource). 

The trail crossing the powerlines where there are no towers, so the only real hazard is any equipment that could be traveling back and forth on the timber mats. After construction has been completed, the timber mats will be removed. We're happy that there won't be a big new gravel road to mar the scenery.

After the trail crosses the powerlines, it becomes a loop. This part was in pretty good shape. Again, a bit shaggy and some spots could use a hedgetrimmer or hand pruners where stray barberry shoots have crossed the path, but not bad overall. 

Shaggy trail, but passable

The bigger issue in here is the terrible footing (mud-rock-roots) and the fact that a lot of wheeled traffic has been making it worse. The trail is for foot travel only due to the vulnerable trail tread. But there were lots of fresh dirt bike tracks churning up the mud.  So it was time to check the security camera and harvest photos of these guys. They may have been coming in via the powerlines. The photos will be forwarded to the Police Department. City ordinance allows for the PD to seize any quad or dirt bike that's been ridden on City property.  

The Red Trail crossing point
There's a short red-blazed access trail that leads to the big meadow on a hill. This trail is very overgrown and passes right next to the existing towers, which have not yet been replaced. The long-term goal was to have the trail go onto the new gravel pads that would be constructed around the new poles. But it's not clear if Eversource's plans have changed, since we see timber mats there instead of gravel. Bottom line is that we'll wait until they are done and then determine where the exact trail crossing should be. It's a very wet area. 

The old farm road
The hayfields have been cut, along with the old road that the trail follows for a bit. Overall, it was a pleasant site walk with the only real problem being the dirt bikes damaging the trail. The goal for the Trails Committee is to get the summer overgrowth cut back so that when Eversource is done working, the trail will be immediately open and ready to hike. Stay tuned for a potential September work party there. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Birchbank Deer Exclosure Removed After Completing Its Mission


June 2015 Birchbank Trail - a sea of invasive Japanese Knotweed
This is story about Birchbank Deer Exclosure #1, which was located near the trailhead parking area off Indian Well Road. A deer exclosure is a fence designed to keep deer out (an enclosure would keep them in). Back in 2015, a vast sea of invasive Japanese Knotweed would block the hiking trail each summer until crews could get to it with a brush cutter. The Knotweed patch was 250 to 300 feet long and maybe 100 feet wide. With help from a summer intern, the Knotweed was cut back repeatedly all summer. 

June 2015 - The knotweed is cut repeatedly all summer
Later in the summer, we decided to install two deer exclosures along the trail to see what impacts the deer might be having on the native vegetation.  The first exclosure was placed right on the edge of where the Knotweed had been growing, at the toe of the river slope. The second was further down the trail, beyond where the Knotweed had been growing, but both exclosures were in areas that had blankets of Dutchman's Breeches and Red Trillium every April. 

August 2015 - Deer Exclosure #1 to the left of the trail

Upon identifying some of the unusual plants and looking at the geology, it became apparent that this spot was a "Rich Mesic" forest with unusual growing conditions for our area. There is a lime seam in the bedrock, sandy, well-drained subsoil with rich topsoil, and water seeping out of the 350-foot slope. Bladdernut is a shrub that only grows under these conditions. Over the next few years, the shrub began to thrive within the exclosure. But as soon as a portion of the shrub grew through the fencing, it would be nipped off. Turns out that Bladdernut is a deer favorite.

June 2017 - lots more growth inside the deer exclosure

Over the next few years, the battle with Japanese Knotweed continued with lots of digging and pulling. The plants within the deer exclosure grew quickly. Red Trillium plants grew larger each year, blooming and setting seeds, as did the Dutchman's Breeches. Outside the fencing, these plants became more stunted each year, failing to set seeds as deer nipped off their blooms. The annual wildflower hike was even canceled because the vast blankets of blooming Dutchman's Breeches carpeting the forest floor were a no-show. But inside the deer fencing, the Breeches were blooming fine.

June 2022, second year of using deer repellent
Outside the deer fencing, invasive plants quickly overtook the area where Knotweed had been removed. Mugwort, Garlic Mustard, and Japanese Stiltgrass were impossible to keep up with, and the Japanese Knotweed continued to resprout. In 2021, after six years of this losing battle, it was noted that there were no invasive plants inside the deer fencing. The lush native plants were outcompeting the invasive plants. A decision was made to start spraying deer repellent throughout the area where the Japanese Knotweed has been, and to transplant a few vigorous native species where mugwort was a problem. The invasive plants continued to be removed, while the deer repellent gave protection to the native plants. 

August 2023 after removing the deer fencing
After a few years of using deer repellent, the deer exclosure became surrounded by lush native plants.  Goldenrod, asters, grasses, Jewelweed, Horsebalm, Clearweed, and others took over.  In August of 2023, with a large dead ash hung up and ready to crash through the exclosure at any time, it was time to remove the deer fencing. 

The deer exclosure had served its purpose. It not only demonstrated the degree to which an excessive deer population was damaging our native plants, but showed also how the lack of competition from native plants then created an opportunity for invasive species to take over. 

The second exclosure remains in place. It's located in an area that is shadier and not so lush, and to the untrained eye it might not look much different inside the fence than outside. However, if you look closure, you'll see that the wildflower plants like Trillium and False Solomon Seal inside are larger, bloom successfully, and set seeds, while the ones outside do not. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Turkey Trot Work Party - Starting Again

The Trails Committee had our first work party on the Turkey Trot Trail this summer. Actually it was the second, but the first was part of an Oak Valley Trail workparty that got ambitious, and then there were wasps. This section of the Turkey Trot has been closed due to Eversource Transmission Line Construction most of this summer. Now they are starting to wrap up the southern end of their project, and moving into restoration. So the trail may be closed from time to time this August and September, but we were able to get out and do some badly-needed cutting on Saturday. It's amazing what a summer of sun and rain will do for briar growth out in the open. But we had a good crew of 13 volunteers who came out and got to choppin.
Derek used one of the brushcutters clearing out the trails. Nothing like a little quality time with hot, messy machinery.
There was one older blowdown on the Turkey Trot Bypass that needs to be sawed, but the rest of the trail was cleared and cut back.
Hopefully Eversource is able to remove their bridge and leave a good crossing for us to use mowing the trails in the future. We have to appoligize that we did not get more photos of all the folks who came out and worked. Thanks to Annie, Mike, Matt, Declan, Val, Ellen, Niko, Lorenzo, Matteau, Mark, Derek, Luis, and Terry for helping out. Hope that whoever got hit by the wasps near the footbridge was OK. Some of us went through there, quickly, and managed to not get hit. We got a lot done along the Turkey Trot, powerlines, and portions of the RecPath. These were areas that would ordinairly been maintained earlier, but due to Eversource's construction, have been off limits technically to the public. The trails in this area were very busy today however, and we got some nice comments about how the trail work was appreciated. It was really pretty out, and it was fun to be able to work on some of Shelton's trails that have been closed during all the powerline construction this summer.
The Woodland sunflowers were doing great along the portion of the RecPath at Silent Waters. Try to find time to go exploring and enjoy them while they're in bloom this August.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Field Walk with Eversource - Restoration Tasks

The Trails Committee had a field walk with Eversource representatives to confirm restoration measures by Eversource on the portions of Shelton's open space and greenways that were disturbed during their construction.  Eversource is completing most of their new transmission line construction in the south end of Shelton.

Here we are north of Derby Junction at the Maybeck Open Space.  It was a big group; the Eversource team outnumbered us 9 to 7, like earlier meetings.  We covered a lot of ground from north of Constitution Boulevard North down toward Buddington Road.  

Eversource has finished their work here and said they will remove the timber platforms placed over the wetlands and allow the area to re-vegetate naturally.  The crushed stone roads will be feathered back down to match existing grades so we can maintain some areas with our newly-repaired Gator and mower. 


We requested that they replace stone wall boulders where the stone walls were broken to create construction accesses, so that dumping and ATV's do not damage the open space.  We think that they agreed to that, but it was tough to tell sometimes.  It was not clear which members of the Eversource team were deciding on which issues at times.

This is one of the areas along the Paugussett Trail that we have not been able to maintain well this summer due to the powerline construction.  These timbers are to be removed over the next couple of months.

We then went south to Wellington Court and reviewed the construction and Paugussett Trail restoration there.

At Independence Drive we had a long discussion about reducing the access road widths, and regrading where Eversource has raised the grade, sometimes by several feet, at existing trail junctions.  The roads need to remain in place while they complete demolition of the existing transmission towers, but we did not think they needed to be as wide as they are now that construction is completed.  Eversource may add a gate on the north side of Independence to control dumping.  The gate on the south side of Independence Drive will be restored.

Finer material will be added over the top of the crushed stone roads to remain so it's not a tripping hazard to hikers and bikers.  The tower pads will also be covered with compost and be seeded with a native wildflower meadow mix to make the pads and roadways look less industrial.

Going up the steep roads South of Independence Drive they will add a number of waterbars to divert runoff from the road and prevent erosion.  We asked that the sides of the roads be composted and seeded to reduce the visual impact from City streets.  We'll see what they do.

We also discussed restoring the disturbed areas to lessen the visual impact from City open spaces.  The haul roads were a special area of concern, as was the view of the large crushed stone pads around the towers on the City-owned property.

We went over to Rt. 108 and reviewed the Turkey Trot Trail, Paugussett Trail, and restoration of the old timber bridge crossing the brook.  We explained that this was a busy area in the summer with a lot of public use along the trails and the haul roads by hikers, bikers, and the cross country track teams.  We asked that the roads be grading down at the bridge so we can drive our Gator over it again to mow the roads and trails for trail users. 

It sounds like they will be seeding by the end of the September, which will help prevent the spread of invasive plant species in the disturbed areas.  Cutting invasive plants is turning into a major task for trail volunteers, and we didn't want to see it get worse following Eversource's construction.

Ellen, Val, and Bill were going over restoration of the drilling debris and haul roads following demolition removal.  We also requested clean up of the fill piles from blasting and foundation work, narrowing of the haul roads, composting and seeding of the disturbed areas.  Eversource said they would seed once in the fall and come back and reseed bare areas in the spring.   Hopefully this is enough to stabilize all the disturbed areas on City open space.

We then went south of Rt. 108 and looked at restoration of the junctions with Oak Valley Trail.  The issues there were the same; regrading filled areas, removal of timber platforms, composting and seeding, narrowing haul roads, resetting our trail kiosk, restoring visual impact from roads and open spaces, etc.  Eversource volunteered to add a 4x4 sign post at the junction of Oak Valley Trail and their haul road.  The issue there is that their roads are now so big that some of the public may follow the roads rather than the trails by mistake.

We then went down to Great Ledge at the end of Oak Valley Road to go over restoration of the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path.  This is our main handicapped accessible multi-use path that was damaged by the haul road construction.  We requested that it be regraded going between the monopoles, left at 12' wide with shoulders along the wetlands, and topped with the 3"-4" layer of the 3/8" minus fine crushed stone mix.  

Eversource will remove the timber platforms and haul roads from the wetlands, but they do not propose any seeding or plant restoration in Spooner Swamp or the wetlands near Great Ledge.  

Bill, Bob, and Mike wore modeling the latest in Eversource safety vests.  The neighbors were probably enjoying the high visibility gang walking up and down the powerlines.  Nobody was lost during the field walk.

There was a lot of disruption to the mountain laurel and swamps further south along Nells Loop Trail.  We requested that the gravel haul roads be covered with compost and seeded following removal of the timber platforms to stabilize the area and reduce the visual impacts on City open space.  We think they agreed to this, but it was tough to tell with so many people on the field walk - we'll see.

The last remains of one of the former towers that marked our trail coming out across the powerlines.  Eversource crews are cleaning these up as they work their way north.

The Nells Loop Trail crossing coming out onto the powerlines.

Teresa pointing out a possible re-route for the Paugussett Trail.  These are some of the big bridges and haul roads to be removed and restored in and around the wetlands.

Teresa and Ellen as we worked our way out thru Spooner Swamp.  The timber matting is to be removed by Eversource.

Eversource demolishing the old towers and foundations along Oak Valley Road as we were leaving.

Eversource said that they anticipated completion of this southern area by end of September - give or take a little.  Work on the northern area of town near the French's Hill Open Space will continue through the winter into Spring 2024.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Indian Well's Great Gully

"Great Gully" location at Indian Well State Park

The vast, mostly man-made gully at Indian Well State Park has cut the park in half and is getting close to  the Paugussett Trail. After every major storm, torrents of sand rush down the hillside and are dumped on Indian Well Road.

Much of the sand likely washes into Lake Housatonic, filling in the reservoir that generates hydroelectricity.  With no efforts to stop it, the head of the gully advances up the hill a few feet every year towards the homes along Village Drive. 

It's not easy walking up the gully, but you can do it. Park at the hiker lot located just across the street from the main park entrance to the beach and boat launch facilities. This is where a white-blazed trail goes steeply up the hill towards the Paugussett Trail. Instead of going up the trail, follow the utility road off to the right (north), through an open area with giant piles of sand, until you reach the normally dry streambed. Just go up that, dodging fallen trees. 
Undermined trees fall into the gully

If you're a geology geek, you'll love this. There are glacial sediments deposited by temporary glacial lakes. There's lots of unstable sand and obvious bedding. 

The lower parts almost never have water in them. 

As you proceed up the gully, it gets larger and steeper. You probably can't get out of it by climbing up the sides at this point. 

Approaching the head of Great Gully.

The rock under foot is loose, so bring a walking stick and some good boots. 

Pass under some roots next to 'the island'
Nearing the top, there is an island of sorts on the left that will eventually collapse, but for now a large Black Birch is hanging on to dear life. Duck under some tree roots to reach the head of Great Gully. 

The head of the gully

The head of the gully is constantly changing as it chews its way up the hill. As of 2023, it's now wide enough to enter from below. For a few years, it was as narrow as a construction trench and 12 feet deep. Very unsafe to enter. But it's pretty wide this year. Sadly. 

Head of Great Gully
The gully is both interesting (for geology nerds) and tragic. The way to stop it from getting worse is to stabilize the head. That's where water falls over the edge and eats away at the bottom, undermining the layers above until they collapse. There are engineering ways to do this, but the state has taken no interest. 

While there was undoubtedly always a stream channel here, Giant Gully is man-made. The houses and roads up the hill off Village Drive were built back before stormwater measures were required. If the housing developments were built today, a stormwater detention pond would probably be required so that floodwaters from the roads, driveways, and rooftops don't immediately wash into the stream channel.  The steep slope and sandy soil are no match for the uncontrolled runoff from these hard, man-made surfaces, and there is no room up above for a retro detention pond. The only solution is to come in from below and stabilize the head of the gully. It will be easier to do it now than later when it gets near the houses on Village Drive. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Birchbank Trail Register Removed

If you're wondering why there is no longer a logbook in the Birchbank Trail register up at the overlook, this is why: blank and wasted space. Something apparently contagious began happening a few months ago.  A lot of people started skipping pages and lines in the logbook, or scrawling across the diagonally in huge letters. We used to get maybe 3-5 entries per page. Occasionally someone would waste space in the logbook, but it was the exception and not a big deal. It used to look normal, like this: 

Normal logbook entries from back in 2020

Pretty neat, right? A full logbook was our souvenir for maintaining the trail. It's no different that having a guest book for a cottage where you let your friends stay. 

And then shortly after starting the latest new logbook, several people in a row had entries with oversized writing, skipped lines, starting new pages when there was lots of room on the previous page, and even skipping entire pages. People started to think everyone is entitled to use one full page for a few lines of text, and the next person should start a new page. This was a new, leather-bound logbook we volunteers placed there on our own time and with our own money, so that was a little sad. 

But maybe people were simply not familiar with trail register logbooks and what the tradition is. These books are normally in the back country, so they crammed with ink (small print) and very little blank space. I started leaving notes in the book asking people not to skip pages and so forth. Every time I got to the logbook, the note was stuck in the back and the new entries were just a ridiculous as before. 

Lots of blank pages between entries
Lots of half-filled pages

Why write so big? Leave space for others.

Two entire pages for one group of hikers 

So I gave it one last shot. I taped a typed message to the cover pleading with people to not leave a lot of empty space and to finish each page before starting a new one ("please please please"). Then I clamped the earlier pages shut so people couldn't use those as an example. It didn't work.  Soon after, Stephen asked people if they were planning on following the rules on the cover "asking for a friend." And then unironically says "Spread love, be kind." The next entry skips to the next page. The one after that starts yet another page. It's all mostly blank space.  

The response to our request to not leave a lot of blank space.

What is so strange is that we didn't used to have the problem, and suddenly we did. I think a lot of people visiting this trail register have no experience with them and were just copying what other people did. So long as the first several pages were done by people using common sense and respect for the volunteers who maintain the trail they were enjoying, this worked. But then when a bunch of people in a row started setting a bad example, it was all over. 

The bottom line is that we've given up on maintaining a logbook for now. It was nice while it lasted, and our 2020 logbook is a real keeper. This one, not so much.