Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Click on a photo to enlarge

Tuesday evening Terrance Gallagher and Rich Skudlarek attended a slideshow presentation at the Derby Library by Felicia Ortner, DEP Master Wildlife Conservationist. The subject was black bears in Connecticut and how to co-exist with them. At first I thought this meant setting aside a room for them in your house, planning meals that included berries, leftovers, and an occasional chipmunk, and being very careful not to wake them suddenly during hibernation. But the gist of the talk covered habits and habitat, bear encounters and how to react, and how to prevent bear intrusions in your yard and at your campsite. Since the only bears found in this part of the country (outside if the zoos, if you want to get technical) are black bears, most of the presentation was limited to this species.

Mother black bears are notoriously protective of their cubs, who stay with their mothers for about two years.

Black bears are here and have been sighted in Shelton and the surrounding areas, so we must learn to deal with it! They are protected and it is illegal to hunt or kill them, except in self defense, of course. But there is little to fear with black bears, assuming you use common sense when encountering them. It is extremely rare for a black bear to attack a person unless it senses that it or its cubs are threatened. Even at that, it may bluff an attack, hoping that you will depart with extreme prejudice.

Cubs are taught from early on to climb when in
danger, although they can
make themselves very
comfortable perched on a branch

There probably aren't many things cuter than a bear cub, but they should remain cute from a distance. Like any protective mother, a black bear sow will do whatever it takes to protect her cubs if she feels they are in danger.

This photo and the next were taken by me in Yellowstone National Park. Note the Mom snoozing below on the boulder while junior catches forty winks up in the tree.

Like many of us, mama bear turns over in her sleep to get more comfortable (how does one get comfortable sleeping on a boulder?).

O.K, so this guy's giving us the raspberries, but there's lots more to learn about the black bear, and the Connecticut DEP has a very informative website that includes black bear sightings. Check it out:

The North American Bear Center has an interesting site that includes a live webcam covering a hibernating black bear. Follow the progress as she cares for her cub in their den (click on "Lily Den Cam"):

....and last but not least.....

DO NOT confuse this with a black bear!!! The folks happily picnicking on the Shelton Land Trust Lane St. meadow are naively unaware that once this polar bear awakens from his comfy slumber, they are the hors d'oeuvres on his picnic menu! Do not make this same mistake! The Trails Committee is not responsible for loss of life or limb to polar bears!

Basic Tools for Trail Clearing

Shelton's trail system is built and maintaiNEd by volunteers. The Trails Committee has a growing coLLection of hand tools, but most volunteers like to use their own tools and sometimes ask what to bring. Most of our work in clearing trails is done with loppers, bow Saws, and hand pruners (remember to bring those gloves).

Here's some of the loppeRs and hand clippers that we use. There are two pair of the anvil loppers (left and center), but sOme people prefer the bypass loppers (red handle on right). The anvil loppers crush the branch so they work better on dead wood and are easier to stick into a patch of brush. The bypass loppers make a cleaner Cut on live branches, so that's usually what homeowners have. The blade on those actually hooks around the branch and shears it off. I prefer the Snap-Cut anvil loppers in the center (grey handle) for most work parties because they're light and easy to use. The bigger ones with the wooden handles maKe short work of larger branches and saplings, but they're a bit nose-heavy.

The hand clippers are good anytime. Even if you can't make one of our work parties feel free to carry a pair the next time you go for a hike and trim off some brush as you walk.

These three saws take care of Most of our sawing. The bow saw works well to cut saplings flush with the ground so you don't trip on them. The chain saw is good to taking out blow downs and other storm damage. There are obviously A lot of safety issues with using a chain saw that I assume everybody is aware of. The third saw is a Pole saw that is good for taking out higher branches and cutting vines.

Helpful Trail Tip: Remember to look up before pulling a cut vine out of a tree, and don't stand under the vine when you pull. A lot of dead branches and other stuff can come down and hit you on the noggin. Some of us have been known to occasionally wear a hard hat after a few too many whacks to the skull.

Lee Valley Tools carries a nice cheap Booklet called Chain Saw and Crosscut Saw Training Course that I would recommend. They have nice catalogs for gardening and woodworking, and I've always had good luck with them.

Sometimes we even try to dO some things safely and efficiently. Generally though we just try to get the job done, take pride in our trails, have some fun, and not make things too complicated. A lot of our work is accompXlished with some simple hand tools and a little common sense.

Additional note for AQ fans: TRAP DOOR AT BOTTOM.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Getting the Hang of It

Winter is a good time for fixing things. Rich Skudlarek found this old axe head that had seen better days and needed a new handle. It actually needed a lot of things - somebody had really abused this one by pounding on it and it was covered with rust so we cleaned it up and ground down all the edges. The eye was filed to eliminate all the burs, and some of the gouges were ground out. I wish I had taken a "before" picture.

The bevel was a mess so that was sharpened. A variable speed grinder set on slow was used to avoid burning the edge. If the metal gets so hot that it goes to blue, well you've lost the temper and need to grind down the edge and start over. Frequent stops and quenching in water help prevent this. You can also sharpen an axe with a mill file, but watch your fingers.

The handle is shaped with a rasp so it fits the eye of the axe. Be careful not to take off too much wood though. When the handle fits the eye fairly well, turn the axe so the handle is pointing up and pound the handle firmly into the axe head with a wooden mallet. This is called "hanging the axe" and the steps are shown in more detail than you ever want to know in "An Axe to Grind".

Helpful Trail Tip: Shape the top of the handle to fit the eye, but not too loose or the handle won't hang right. You also don't want it too tight or you might wind up splitting the handle during hanging, and after a sufficient round of swearing have to make a trip to Sears for a new one.

Here's the axe after the handle is hung. The wedges were then pounded in the top of the handle, and the excess wood was cut off and sanded.

Some people advise just using a hardwood wedge, and saving the little steel wedges in case the axe head loosens up later. When the steel wedges were set they split the wooden wedge, so a little epoxy was added, which was probably overkill.

Finish honing of the edge was done with a round axe stone. One side of the stone is coarse & one fine. Use oil or spit to keep the stone lubricated. You may want to wear leather gloves if you value your fingertips. The end result is a nice used axe for a fraction of the cost of a new axe. You can't say the Shelton Trails Committee isn't frugal.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Neither Rain nor Sleet....

Snow?? What snow? Nothing that a warm pair of gloves and thermos full of hot coffee can't remedy! Scratch the gloves. Where's that machete? Did something bring the flame thrower for the marshmallows? Let's get to work!

Hey, we found our gloves! Anyone know which way is north? The work zone has got to be around here somewhere.

Oh there it is. Looks like Lynn needs a bigger tool. See what happens when someone forgets to bring the flamethrower?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Corn Crib Clearing

The photo above shows the Wells Spring Open Space last fall. The property is located just a few hundred yards from Exit 12 Route 8, at the corner of Farmill Crossing and Old Stratford Road. You can barely see the top of an old corn crib sticking out of the impenetrable field of brambles. Parks & Rec crews cleared out the thorny jungle last week before the snow. Here's what it looks like now:


Here's another view from last fall. The bridge in the distance is Farmill Crossing. I let you figure out what river it's crossing.

And here it is after the clearing:

There's a short trail of sorts, unmarked, that starts on Farmill Crossing (there is a large open space sign), leading down an old drive that passes the corn crib. Stay on the drive, veering left to stay on the gravel emergency access road that runs along the condos and retaining wall. This leads quickly to the old dam ruins for Beard's sawmill, as well as some old bridge abutments for a bridge that washed out. It's a short trail, but very scenic along the Far Mill River.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

CFPA Winter Trails Workshop

I went to Connecticut Forest & Parks Association's winter trails workshop in Middlefield yesterday. There were about 60 volunteers who maintain trails & open spaces from around the state to listen to a variety of topics. The meeting room at CFPA Headquarters was filled - here's a photo from one of the breaks. I'm sorry that I had to miss the Nicholdale Marshmallow Roast & Hike in Shelton, but I'd never been to one of these workshops before & it was really worthwhile.

Laurie Giannotti from the DEP did an informative talk on the Recreational Trails Program; this is the program that Shelton has used to fund a number of the improvements on the Recreation Path. Ann Faust of Community Consulting did an insightful presentation on grant writing (I wish that I had had a lot of these tips earlier). Christine Woodside did a great presentation on how to communicate with the public on your trails (and I don't say that because she liked our Shelton Trail Committee Blog). She also used Teresa Gallagher's map for Riverview Park as an example of what a clear trail maps should look like. I handed out some of Rich's Trail Com. business cards.

There were a number of exhibits and props arrayed around the room. I liked this one with the models of the various types of trail bridges, and it tied in nicely with Bob Schoff's talk about the structures that the roving trails crews have built.

Did I mention that they had tools? With safety guards over the sharp blades no less! Elaine LaBella did an animated demonstration on how to use the various instruments of destruction without hurting someone. We may have to work on Bill Dyer's technique with the grass cutter this year. We had a fun back and forth discussion about how many tools are enough, and whether Rob Butterworth needs a new chain saw. (The guys all said yes). Bottom line was to use what you're comfortable with to get the job done. I was reminded of the episode of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe that I had just seen; Safety Third.

Rob also went over good tips for planning & managing work parties, and trail safety. In general, we are pretty good, but we just might be able to improve our safety techniques a tad. We could at least improve our volunteer retention at work parties by counting that we're bringing as many people out of the woods as we took in. Here's an example of a sign they put across the trail on either side of the work zone - this would've been handy when we were taking out the blow down on the RecPath last week.

Rob lead walk on CFPA's trails out back at lunchtime. They have a nice grove of handicapped accessible trails out there that they use for education events.

Oh, and look at CFPA's tool barn. Stanley Tools donated $10,000 to CFPA for this beauty, PLUS gave them a bunch of tools for their work. And I thought we were doing good with our funky old Red Barn. Imagine if some business or developer volunteered to fix up the White House at Nells Rock Road as the Shelton Lakes Greenway Center what a positive impact it would have on our community. Everybody from around the state was oohing and aahing at the Stanley Tools tool shed at CFPA yesterday. Now that's good advertising.

It was a good workshop & I'm grateful to everybody at CFPA for putting it on. Thank you Terri Peters, Eric Hammerling, Rob, Laurie, Elaine, Clare, Christine, Ann & everybody else who helped. CFPA is Connecticut's oldest environmental organization that takes care of over 825 miles of Blue Blazed trails in Connecticut - all with volunteers and a small but dedicated paid staff.

And thanks for the doughnuts.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


What to do on a cold, windy winter Saturday to arouse the primitive soul festering inside your spoiled, calorie-abused body? Why, join the Shelton Trails Committee on a stirring hike through the Shelton Land Trust property at the Nicholdale Farm, of course! In spite of the raw, 20 degree breezy weather, and the forgotten threat of a major snowstorm, a larger than anticipated group turned out to enjoy a hearty 1-1/2 mile walk across farm fields, alongside a babbling brook, and through mixed forest to a Scout camp, where a roaring fire, hot chocolate, and marshmallows for roasting awaited them.

Jim Taradine, Keeper of the Flame, awaits the arrival of the hikers with Polly Dyer. Jim and Rich Skudlarek arrived early to start the blaze, hopefully keeping eyebrows intact in the process.

These logs spent their entire lives waiting to provide us with with a beautiful campfire.

Polly's pooch patiently awaits the arrival of the hard-core hikers.

Peter Conway and son, the first of the wanderers, emerge from the forest primeval.

Bill Dyer leads the rest of the party into the campground.

And they keep coming!

Hope there's enough hot chocolate for this crowd!

Even the furry persons enjoyed the walk.

They approach the camera like the Donner party stumbling upon a dead cow!

There's nothing like good company, a warm fire and a cup of hot chocolate to make the effort worthwhile!

Cold on the outside, but warm on the inside, the group is directed back to the cars by Bill. Another great ramble!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nicholdale & Nor'easter Marshmallow Roast & Hike this Saturday

Well we've done it again - scheduled an outdoor event in Winter without getting permission from Mother Nature. Our Feb. hike is scheduled for this Saturday at 1:00 on the Shelton Land Trust's Nicholdale property on Rt. 110. We may, or may not, have a Nor'easter dump anywhere from 1 inch to 1 foot of snow for this event.

Here's a cozy picture by a Mr. Art Parnell of what our hikers should look like Saturday. The Land Trust sponsors a scout camp on the property with a fire ring, and Rich Skudlarek has kindly volunteered to have a nice roaring fire going with marshmallows for guests when they come tramping through. We may even have hot cocoa, but we're still working on that so you may want to bring your own; along with chocolate bars, graham crackers, and whatever else you like (offer the guides brandy & they'll lead you around the property twice).

This should be a fun 1 1/2 -2 mile loop hike that's great for families and kids. The Nicholdale Farm Property is one of the prettiest parcels in the White Hills, with a nice mix of fields, streams, and woodlands. The volunteers from the Shelton Land Trust & various scout troops have done a lot of work over the last few years to improve wildlife habitat on the property. Bring your binoculars, nature guides, warm waterproof boots, and enjoy winter with us.

If the weather turns bad then the storm date is Sunday at 1:00. Lets hope the storm stays stays in Delaware.