Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Birchbank Marshmallow Roast

We had a great afternoon for the hike at Birchbank Mountain. It was a bit cool, but sunny & people warmed up as we hiked up the hill. We had about 2 dozen walkers plus a number of dogs who enjoyed a number of highlights; the views of the Housatonic Valley from the Overlook, the re-routed trail along White Hills Brook, and the marshmallow roast at the old chimney.

We started on Indian Well Road (one of the straighter and flatter roads in Shelton) at the railroad crossing. We then walked in along the old colonial road that was level for about a quarter of a mile, and passed a number of trees that had been cut by Aquarion Water Company to try the make the area less attractive to ATVs. The ATVs tearing up the trails and causing a lot of erosion damage. Some of the trail re-routes were done to avoid the damaged areas and try to stabilize the gullys.

We started to warm up as we began the gradual climb up the wooded slope. We crossed the junction with the Paugussett Trail, then headed right through the mountain laurel on the re-routed Birchbank Trail and got to enjoy the babbling White Hills Brook below us. After a bit we came to the junction with the blue and white access trail to the short and easy walk to the Overlook.

We passed the remnants of an old charcoal pile along the blue & white trail. It's hard to believe looking at the woods today that much of these hillsides were once cleared to provide fuel for the mills in the Valley.

The Overlook has one of the most open views of the lower Housatonic Valley from this outcrop & everybody enjoyed it. We were showing people how the Birchbank Trail hooks up with the Paugussett Trail and connects with various neighborhoods.

We then retraced our steps back to the White Trail, crossed the brook and proceeded downhill to the Chimney, where Rich had a nice fire going.

The chimney and foundation are the remains of the old Monroe Rod & Gun Club. The chimney has seen better days but it was fun to take a break next to the fire, crack out some hot coffee, enjoy the sound of the little waterfalls along the brook and toast some marshmallows.

After the break we headed down the hill along the re-routed trail with nice views of White Hills Brook in the ravine below us. (Thank you Rich for staying behind to put out the fire). In some places we were retracing the route the Indians and colonial farmers used in going from the Upper White Hills down to the Housatonic River, and the remains of older retaining walls along the colonial roads were visible at the bottom of the hill. It's fun to hike on trails, but it's more interesting when some of our trails follow historic routes.
There's a longer description of the new and improved Birchbank Trails on the Shelton Trails website. The round 2.3 mile trip took about 2 hours with a nice long stop at the Chimney.

We hope that all our neighbors and friends from the Birchbank and the White Hills neighborhoods explore the new trails. Future access from Little Fox Run is also planned to give neighbors better access to the park. Birchbank Mountain contains some of Shelton's most interesting habitats, so you never know what you'll find. Enjoy Shelton's open spaces, & see you on the trails.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scout Wish List - Birchbank

The new and improved trails at Birchbank Mountain still need a few improvements, so here's a wish list for any prospective Eagle Scouts out there. First, the trailhead (above) is hard to spot and we could use a small sign kiosk. Right now all we have is that little brown sign tacked to the post, and people have pulled that off.

Next, we need two bridges for the white trail over Upper White Hills Brook. The lower crossing is shown in the photo above.

Somebody pulled down the top of the chimney arch over the past couple weeks. A repair would be nice.

Part of the white trail follows an old colonial road that has erosion issues because the soil is so sandy and we had a lot of ATVs in there. Some steps, check dams, and/or drainage ditches and pipes would help.

Part of this old road became so eroded it had to be abandoned and the trail rerouted. ATVers had been pulling rocks out of the bottom and throwing them up over the side. In this spot (photo above) we pulled the rocks back down and created check dams to slow down the erosion. This needs to be done for the rest of the abandoned trail.

Birchbank is our most unique and sensitive open space. If you are willing to help out, please contact the Conservation Agent at or call 203-924-1555 x315.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hey, that's a Gneiss Rock!

Why the Egyptians? Wait and See.

The Lane Street entrance to the Shelton Lakes RecPath has been problematic with vandalism lately. We moved a small boulder out of the way last year so Barry Mucci could build the entrance, but forgot to move it back. This made it easy for us to access the RecPath for work parties, but it also left the path open to people driving on it illegally and bothering some of the neighbors. So we put a wooden post in place temporarily, however somebody vandalized the post and removed it. This lead to the the following problem:

We had somebody drive in one night to "look at the stars" and they drove off the boardwalk into the swamp. For more photos see Cadillac Tests the Boardwalk. The District Attorney called last week with questions so hopefully some required community service is handed out soon.

So we put the wooden bollard back.

This worked for a while, but somebody vandalized that & went in and cut up some downed trees. Cutting up the trees was one thing, but we didn't want anybody to drive over the boardwalk and damage it. The boardwalk was built for pedestrians, not cars and trucks. We are looking to provide a removable metal bollard and two fixed granite posts at this location to all walkers and bikers in, but keep unauthorized vehicles out.

In the meantime, Bill Dyer rounded up some of the usual suspects (Jim and Rich), with strong backs and weak minds, and they set to work moving the boulder back into place.

Trouble is a 20"x21"x16" Gneiss boulder weights a deceptively large amount. I asked my wife "What's the unit weight of Gneiss?" (a typical conversation at our house). And she started asking me if it was dark Gneiss or light Gneiss because the percentage of iron would effect the specific gravity. I gave up then and just used a range of 167-178 lbs/cf. That puts the boulder at between 650-690 lbs. Not something you easily pick up and move by hand.

They pushed and pulled and swore and crowbarred the boulder over. It kept digging into the woodchips and gravel. Boulders are pretty conservative; they hate to move unless they have to. But Jim had his handy come-along and they gradually convinced the rock to take up sentry duty in the middle of the RecPath. Lets see somebody move that!

Jim may have to spend the rest of November re-coiling his come-along wire rope. Which leads us to the Egyptians. It the trails guys had used some logs and rolled the rock into place it would've been easier to move. See some of the pictures in the front. We really haven't progressed all that much in 2500 years.

We've got some great books on how to move boulders like AMC Guide to Trail Building and Maintenance , we just have to use more block and tackles. Or get us a few thousand slaves.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Birchbank Trail 2.0

This is what a part of Birchbank Trail looked like a year ago, thanks to rampant ATVs. It was not fun to walk up. The trail was too far gone to repair, so a quarter-mile reroute was in order.

Now the trail goes up a completely different way and has a view of Upper White Hills Brook.

Two other reroutes were done as well. The upper stream crossing was moved slightly, and a new stretch of trail was added below the chimney following the stream all the way down to the floodplain. It's beautiful!

Here's a new section of trail down near the bottom. The neighborhood has actually been walking up here for years. We just dressed it up and made it official.

The water flows over the bedrock in a series of waterfalls and chutes. Very scenic.

A bit further up the hill on this new stretch of trail, the path rises above a small gorge.

And then you're at the old chimney (see the waterfall in the background?)

Today I decide to scout out another possible trail route -- a connector from the Paugussett Trail overlook to Birchbank Trail. Following the Paugussett Trail south from its intersection with Birchbank Trail, the trail first goes down and then up up up, letting you know if you're overweight.

This sign marks the blue/yellow dot side trail up to the overlook. It's very steep and the leaves made for an arduous trek up.

So here's our view. Partly obstructed, and in the summer you probably can't see much. The trees blocking the view are mostly very tall and located way down the slope. Still, it's a neat spot. Just wish it wasn't so hard to get to. I started exploring the possibility of bushwacking to the north to see if there might be another possible route.

Going down the shoulder of the hilltop a bit, I found there was still an overlook, but one that could be trimmed back more easily for a better view because it drops off more sharply to the south. And from there, it was an easy walk north down to Birchbank Trail. Not too rocky or steep or wet. I see a new trail in our future :). This route is shown in yellow on the map below (generated from my gps).

Monday, November 15, 2010

What is It?

Guess what this is and win a prize. And no, Richard can't enter the contest.

It was a beautiful Fall weekend & there was a lot of household chores to do after our do-good work at the Boehm Pond trail. On Sunday, I got a chance to walk the Birchbank Trail where Teresa has been re-routing some of the trail. The park was really pretty, and it looked like the ATV enforcement was having some effect. The trail is being re-routed in a couple of places to avoid really eroded gullies, and to take advantage of scenic overviews.

It's easy to get so absorbed with working on the RecPath, fixing vandalism, or working on other trails that I sometimes forget how truly pretty this park is. Here's one view over White Hills Brook that is really picturesque. I met a guy walking a large Chesapeake retriever (is there such a thing as a small Chesapeake?) & they were both having a great time along the Brook. It's good to have a big park like this next to some densely populated neighborhoods like Birchbank.

We have a public hike scheduled for Nov. 28th on this trail, but if anybody has the inclination to blow or rake leaves off the trail before then, well have at it. The trail access is by the railroad crossing on Birchbank Road after the rollercoaster.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ah.... Smell the leaves!

Click on photos to enlarge.

What a great Fall day it was as we prepared to remove leaves from The Boehm Pond Trail. In addition to clearing the trails, Lynn had proposed that we create a new side-trail to overlook the babbling brook that is the outlet for Boehm's Pond. It made for a rewarding morning's work.

The day's volunteers line up, rarin' to go trail hugging!

Tools in hand, Lynn prepares to define the new trail.

Jim fires up one of the leaf blowers, without which this work
party would have been challenging, to say the least.

Carol prepares to flag the new trail with orange tape.
Leaf blowers and rakes follow the flags.

Rich gets down to the nitty-gritty, so to speak , while Luis follows,
cutting away obstacles such as imposing branches and twigs.

Luis shows off the tools of the trade.

Shari gets what Rich misses with the good old-fashioned rake.

The morning came to a pleasant end, with the work party having cleared the entire trail and establishing a new, scenic side-trail that we like to call "Lynn's Loop". Come walk the Boehm Pond Trail. It is especially scenic right now, as there is still some yellow leaf color in the trees, yet you can see some distance through the trees. The pond at the end of the Yellow Trail is a picture of serenity, and the brook is flowing just enough to present a scene right out of a nature series.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Saturday Events

This Saturday will be a busy one for trail & greenway fans around the state.

At 8:30 the Shelton Trails Committee will be hosting a Work Party on the Boehm Pond Trail opposite 98 Farmill Street. Mostly clearing brush and removing leaves on a neat little neighborhood trail. If you haven't explored this open space on the West side of town then Saturday is your opportunity.

And if you don't give a hoot about trail work parties then maybe the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetland Commissions is more your cup of tea. CACIWC will be holding their annual meeting in Wallingford on Saturday & one of the workshop speakers will be our own Teresa Gallagher. Teresa will be talking about the State's greenway program and how the Shelton Lakes Greenway is a case study. Shelton has had one of the most aggressive Greenway programs in the state recently & it's nice when our efforts are used as an example for the rest of the state.

Also the Connecticut Bike & Walk Summit will be held Saturday in New Britain at Central Conn. State University. The summit will feature talks and information about rails-to-trails, greenway planning, and safe street programs from around the state. The summit will discuss how better networks of safe streets and trails can improve the quality of life in Connecticut's communities and why it will be more important in the coming years. This is reflected in a number of local efforts like the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path, The Riverwalk, the Huntington Center & Ripton Road sidewalk improvements, the Sunnyside Safe-Routes-to-School program and other local projects.

So, there is a lot going on Saturday, in Shelton and around the state, to improve our communities with better trails, greenways, and safer streets. If you can, plan to come out and join us for our trail work party on Farmill Street.

And be on the lookout for information about the upcoming Birchbank Hike - it should be fun.

Monday, November 1, 2010

They Went Thataway!

Click on photos to enlarge

It's all over but the ribbon-cutting! Nick Shigo's Eagle Scout project, a part of which was construction, with the assistance of scouts from Troop 55 and with adult supervision, a portion of a biking/hiking bypass around a steep, rocky section of the Oak Valley trail, is complete. The finishing touch was the erection of a directional sign at each end of the bypass. Nick also designed and constructed a bridge spanning a small pond a bit farther down on the trail.

All chiefs and no Indians attempting to hang the first sign.

Bill Dyer, Chairman of the Shelton Trails Committee, Nick's father, and Nick finally agree that the sign is somewhat level

Nick and his dad hang the second sign at the top of the hill

Congratulations on a job well done!

As luck would have it a biker appeared, having just pedaled up the original trail, as Nick was ready to leave (really!).

He was talked into trying out the new bypass, after having been told of it's open status

He has become the first official user of the new bypass, although no prizes were given! The bypass is an alternate route for bikers, hikers, dog walkers, mule skinners, or anyone that is looking for the easier path up or down the slope. Thanks to Nick Shigo and all those who helped in another trail improvement!