Saturday, October 31, 2009

Far Mill River Trail work

On a misty Saturday morning we set to work defining and clearing part of the Far Mill River Trail, starting behind the Well Spring Estates. Most of the work involved whacking and cutting weeds, thorns and wayward branches and raking enough of the leaves to make the trail recognizable. Although the area was wet, the air was warm and the scenery was New England beautiful.

In spite of being warned it would not work, Jim Taradine tried to
move this boulder with his loppers. Jim never listens.

Jim and Bill Dyer look for the best path through rugged terrain.

Lynn Reid defines the trail with her rake.

Lynn and Bill compare horticulture notes while Terrance Gallagher
finally catches up with the rest of the work party.

The sights along the trail are numerous and well worth the hike along the Far Mill River Trail.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Hit the Waves!

Due to the 2" of rain that fell Saturday, the water level at Silent Waters is up considerably. This may be your last chance to get in a kayak or canoe excursion before it gets too cold.

Fall colors are in!

The view from any angle is refreshing.

Webb Mountain Discovery Zone, Monroe, CT 10-24-09

Well, after killing what was truly one of the great warm sunny days of Fall Thursday inside a windowless bunker at UConn in Stamford talking about greenways, I had to make up for it by painting the remainder of our house in the cold all day Friday. Teresa & I finally finished up installing the front lights around 6:30. Having gotten that project completed I had the chance to go for a walk on Saturday, and since heavy rain was forecast my wife suggested that I visit the Webb Mountain Discovery Zone. Hmmm, she's sending me deep into the woods at the top of a mountain right as a big storm is due to hit - how much life insurance does she have on me? I said sounds good - OK.

The park is on Webb Circle and is easy to find with all the direction signs. The Discovery Zone is a separate parking lot before the main Webb Mountain gate at Old Fishouse Road (heading north - if you've seen the caboose in the front yard you've gone too far). The Town has a website with a lot of information on the park.

They have a variety of nice plastic laminate signs for nature displays. The Discovery Zone is set up as a self guided nature hike with about 30 stations. The trails are set up for kids and classes but there was something for everybody (I learned about birthing huts).

The trail system is a couple of stacked loops with a out and back to the hay field. There are lots and lots of signs so you can't get lost and the trails are easy hiking. Most of the site is wooded. The trails are about 1-2 miles in length depending on which ones you choose. Surprisingly, I had the whole park to myself (I guess most people were not nuts enough to go out in the rain) until near the end when a couple and their three very happy dogs came bounding by.

There is an outdoor classroom and garden near the entrance. In addition to this being a bumper crop year for acorns it's also a good year for other trees. The ground below these two black walnuts was littered with big yellow nuts. Black walnuts are a very valuable tree for lumber and food - I took a couple of bootfulls of nuts to see if we could plant them along Shelton's trails.

And here's all the walnuts. If you go there soon bring boots with 2" thick tread on them because walking on all the acorns is like trying to rollerskate on marbles. We are going to have some fat squirrels this winter.

The unique thing about the Discovery Zone is that the exhibits connect the human history of the former farm land with the natural environment that people see today. People tend to look at the world as static & think that's how it'll always be. The theme of the exhibits demonstrates how things have changed over time. Some farmer back in the 1800's invested a lot of time in building this monumental wall around his fields (maybe his wife had a list of honey-do's for him), and it's held up really well over the centuries. Things that are built well last over time.

Here's an exhibit about an old farmer's quarry at a ledge outcrop. The signs were made by Fossil Sign Company.

And here's some of the split rocks with the drill holes. If a farmer back in the 1800's could do this with hand tools then we should be able to split a few rocks for trails.

They also had a lot of benches (note how they're bolted to the ground so they don't walk away). Monroe used a lot of plastic lumber for features like this bench. This is good in that it avoids the cost of repairs when things rot, but it looks well, like plastic. The benches are made by EPS Plastic Lumber

And here's a slightly more rustic bench that Jim Tate would love. Natural materials, locally sourced within 500 miles, low-impact, not likely to be stolen, ah nature.

And here's the view over the hay meadow. It was pretty up there in the rain, and it looks like it would be even more picturesque on a clearer day.

There is a nice mix of habitats within the park; old field succession, tree plantations, second-growth woodlands, older wolf trees like this Red Oak, open fields, man-made ponds, vernal pools, swamps, cliffs. Lots of fun stuff to see and climb on for kids of all ages.

Back at the parking lot there were some more amenities that make this a nice outing for school groups and families. There were plastic picnic benches.

There were some security cameras up in the trees. Monroe had had some knuckleheads tearing up the parking lot after this park was opened, and the Conservation Commission responded with the cameras. It doesn't look like there have been any problems recently.

A clean, HC-accessible porta-potty. There were also trail map & guides, trash cans, and a butterfly garden.

There was a sign to thank local businesses that helped pay for the park. What a concept - I wish that we had businesses in Shelton that would help with our trail projects.

And they even have a happy watering can to take care of their butterfly garden. Maybe we should have something like this up at Eklund. It certainly looks Valley-esque. There is no drinking water at Webb Mountain though so bring your own.

I made it out of the woods just as it really opened up. The Webb Mountain Discovery Zone trails are definitely a "must-see" if you haven't been there before. Maybe combine it with a trip to the farms in the White Hills as part of a family outing this Fall. I think the Monroe Conservation Commission did an excellent job with their nature trails. Now I'll have to go back sometime when it's not pouring.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nicholdale Bench

The Land Trust folks have placed a bench at the edge of the first pasture with a panoramic view of the entire field...

... great place to relax and enjoy the Autumn scenery.
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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Boehm Pond Ramble 10-17-09

We had another guided hike today on the Boehm Pond Trail. Here we are trying to figure out which way is North with Jame's help. Rich Skudlarek was our official photographer for today.

I thought that we were going to get washed out by the nor'easter, but we got the hike in ahead of it. One woman & her friends who came down from Litchfield started the hike early just to get it in before the rain. The trailhead is across the street from #98 Farmill Street.

Here's Ryan Gallagher with Mike Gjoni, Mike's mom & their very well-mannered puppy. They use the trail often since they live around the corner. The Boehm Pond Trail is a good example of a "neighborhood" trail in a local open space which helps make Shelton an attractive place to live.

And off we go! The trails were very easy to follow because Bill Dyer had blown all the leaves off yesterday. His biggest problem was moving tons of acorns off the trail. I tried to explain to some of the folks that there may be times when they hike on our trails that they are not as immaculate at this.

And here we are over by the Pond on the other side of Wintrop Woods Road. Nobody wanted to go for an invigorating swim though. Boehm Pond Trail is a short, easy walk with a lot of attractive spots to sit, read, or enjoy a picnic lunch.

Here's Sherri & her cousin & friend exploring the public open space on the back side of Boehm Pond. There is a small footbridge on the north side of the pond that let's you get around the pond for fishing.

All in all we had a good time, beat the storm, & most of the hikers made it out of the woods alive. Boehm Pond is a very pretty neighborhood trail that folks should explore.

Visit the Shelton Trails website for a trail map & additional information. There has been a lot of ATV trespassing in the park & it's good to have a map for following the blazed trails.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Scary Start at Lane St.

We have a Halloween Surprise brewing at the Lane St. entrance to the RecPath. After months of bids, contracts, hunting for road millings, obtaining material bids for crushed stone, purchase orders, Mayor's approval, Cons. Com. meetings, BOA referrals, LoCIP funding, and probably the sacrifice of a small chicken during a full moon, it looks like construction work is starting on improving the Huntington Center end of the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path. The goal is to create a handicapped accessible 8 foot wide crushed stone path that will join up with the boardwalk and the existing crushed stone RecPath on the Land Trust meadow. Once the entrance is improved it will make it much easier for people to enjoy this end of the RecPath.

It looks like Barry Mucci has moved his backhoe over to the Lane St. entrance of the RecPath and started grading out the 8 foot path bed & shoulders. There was no activity today (Thursday 10-15-09), but the weather was turning snotty & most work will probably be rained out until next week.

Here's another view of the start of the regrading. Barry is widening the work that was done last August by Randy Szkola of Hilltop Gardens. Randy kindly volunteered his time to rough-grade the Lane St. entrance to the RecPath.

I flagged out some limits of the 8 foot wide path, shoulders, and toe of slope. There were some paint marks on rocks, but it was tough to tell where people were going to be working. I also flagged a 12" Red Maple that needs to come down because it's sticking out into the RecPath. Three other trees were already marked to be removed. The City Tree Warden; Dean Cawthra, is handling the limited tree removals for the Conservation Commission.

I also set a series of flags showing the RecPath hugging the edge of the meadow going onto the boardwalk. I suggest that everybody on the Trails Committee take a look at them to see what you think. The goal is to shift the RecPath to the edge of the meadow where we removed the invasive species last Spring. This minimizes the visual impact of the RecPath for the neighbors and park users, and helps to create a buffer between the active agricultural meadow and the adjoining Means Brook floodplain.

Bill Dyer & Rich Skudlarek planted a dogwood tree next to the RecPath on the other side of the boardwalk this week. It was sleeting as I was walking out here with Biscuit. Later it started to SNOW when we were walking on the Turkey Trot Trail.

October 15th, 2009; First Day with Snow in Shelton, Conn. - sounds scary doesn't it.
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Bantam River

It was a beautiful autumn day, and I decided to shoot up to Litchfield and the White Memorial Conservation Center for some quiet paddling. It was cool, but calm, and we had the Bantam River to ourselves. It was one of those trips where one could just float and enjoy the beauty of the surroundings. If you've never been there, the White Memorial has some of the best quiet water kayaking in the state, and the surrounding forest is criss-crossed with 35 miles of trails and bike paths. It's worth the hour's drive.

The blue heron that we came across several times did not seem to be as spooked by us as others I have encountered. We would get pretty close before he would relocate a short distance ahead, where we would meet him again.

Little Pond, about a mile upstream from Bantam Lake, is a refuge for herons, swans, seagulls, and other birds, as well as beavers, who built lodges and dams along the river.

Take a ride up there one day and get in your share of hiking, fishing, biking or kayaking. Go to this link for more info:
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Fall Biking on the Farmington Canal Greenway 10-11-09

Emma & I went biking on the Farmington Canal Greenway in Hamden after dropping Terry off for her hike on the Quinnipiac Trail. After dumping the missus off on the side of the road (literally) we headed over to the Farmington Canal. We started at the Todd Road parking lot near Sleeping Giant State Park.

It was a great Fall Sunday & there were a lot of people out enjoying the trail.
Emma did a pretty good job staying to the right & calling out to people when she passed them. I did have to tell her to give a bit more room & heads up to some folks. This is one of the older rail-to-trail projects in the state, and the pavement gets narrower during primetime. Everybody needs to be polite & ride safely when it gets busy. Most of the people using the trail were bike riders & walkers, with some dog owners and joggers mixed in. We were taking our time soaking up the Color, but some bicyclists were booking and the speed differential of the users was very noticeable. Almost everybody that we met was pleasant, but we were passed by a gaggle of about 9 street bicyclists dressed up like a hot air balloon festival who were incredibly loud yakking back & forth to each other. It was disruptive to the other trail users.

We stopped at Lock 12 Park in Cheshire for a break. Emma couldn't climb the black walnut tree, so she decided to practice on the railings.

The canal locks are reconstructed to show how the canal looked in 1820 when boats traveled from Massachusetts to New Haven. The canal gates actually work and Emma was able to open & close them. A really nice guy from the Historical Society had the small museum open and was able to answer questions.

There was a beefy fountain that was set for kids, adults, and puppies. Emma liked this. There was a port-a-let at the beginning parking lot, but this was the only cool water along the route. Emma was getting hot after biking a bit.

Emma stopped for all the road crossings. The Hamden section had these two removable bollards at all the crossings to keep cars out. The twin bollards in the middle of the trail were actually a hazard to ride a bike through - I think that they should be replaced with a single bollard. Most of the car drivers were polite and stopped at all the crosswalks.

The Cheshire crossings have just one bollard & I think this is a lot safer for bike riding. We went though a variety of trailsides; commercial, residential, woods, swamps, farms. It was a beautiful ride - about 12 miles round trip from Todd Road up to Cornwall Avenue and back.

Emma & I had a great time. Hopefully the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path is this popular sometime in the future. We concluded our expedition with a stop at Kelly's Kone Konnection at the Glenwood Drive-In on Whitney Avenue in Hamden. Emma had some kind of chocolate-fudge monstrosity while I tried the pumpkin cone - with success on both accounts.

Visit the Farmington Canal Greenway website for trail maps and other information. This Greenway will be a major link in the East Coast Greenway; a national pedestrian route stretching from Maine to Florida similar to the Appalachian Trail. By all means take the kids biking on the Farmington Greenway this fall.