Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Birchbank Boogie

It was a beautiful Spring day for a hike, with the promise of emerging flora and fauna. Mother Nature was her usual mysterious self once again, though, and the flora part was less than anticipated (It's hard to predict!), but the hike itself was rewarding.

Click on photos to enlarge
14 hikers, 3 Shelton Trail Committee members, and 1 pooch gathered at the trailhead kiosk, with Terry warning about bears, alligators, and politicians possibly lurking in the woods

Into the woods

Terry points out some of the wildflowers that are found in this area

The smart hikers would check Terry's observations with guidebooks

We crossed one of two bridges built by Eagle Scouts

One of several hikers we encountered using the new Paugussett stream crossing

After a healthy climb, we reached the recently cleared overlook with a clear view of the Housatonic River. See the preceding blogs that detail the work done in preparing this overlook and the nearby new trails

This was the perfect spot for a break
Shelton High students did a terrific job in clearing and benching a new trail

It was downhill all the way as we made our way back to the start
 Though we didn't get to see Disney-esque fields of flowers, it was an exhilarating and educational experience. Hope to see you on our next hike!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Paugussett Reroute at Birchbank: Part 3

Are we done yet??? YES, we're done! SHS students have completed the Paugussett Trail reroute at Birchbank. Not only that, but they also completed an extra reroute of Birchbank Trail that had been flagged out just in case the other stuff got done. 

We split into two teams. The first team head down the hill to a deeply eroded switchbank on Birchbank Trail, where they proceeded to build a bypass trail.  The erosion is largely due to years of illegal quads and dirt bikes chewing up the trail. It's become too difficult to walk. 

This reroute was a spur of the moment project set up just in case we had a good turn out and finished rerouting the Paugussett. Good thing it was all flagged out! Although this reroute wasn't very long, one section did need to be banked into the side of the hill, and that's always a big job.

We basically extended the switchback to an overlook of the water chutes of Upper White Hills Brook. This provided both a scenic overlook and better footing. It was a great place for a well-deserved break. This team got the better break location, but then had to walk all the way back up the hill when they were done to get to the parking area. 

The second team stayed up on the ridge and finished leveling off the Paugussett Trail tread. This is where we were working on our first day.  Some parts had been finished off nicely, but many other parts were still pretty rough. 

We spotted a coyote running along the hill down below us.  This was the third time a coyote was seen running through that area in the last month, so I think there may be a den nearby.

Although the trail reroute is finished, it still needs to be blazed. Blazing takes longer than expected if you're doing quality blazes. It took me 20 hours to blaze 3/4 mile of yellow/blue trail at Tahmore last November.  We'll also post some signs up alerts hikers to the new blaze colors.

The newly completed Paugussett reroute will gain a blue blaze. Part of this route joins Birchbank Trail and will have two blazes: one white and one blue.  The old Paugussett section that is being replaced will be demoted to a blue/white connector trail. It's still a good trail, but I think people hiking the Paugussett from Monroe to Shelton Lakes will enjoy scenic features of the reroute better, especially the restored Houstanic Overlook. 

Here's a list of all the students who helps out for the third work party: 

Derik Cerulli
Eric Silva
Dan Cerulli
Ryan Widomski
Justin Widomski
Justys Oritz
Joe Piccirillo
Jessica Visconti
Veronika Chapelska
James Bell
Angela Toth
Matthew Cho
Alexandra Kenealy
Tyler Nolan
Prashanna Kandex
Christian Spillane
Cameron Marro

Friday, April 15, 2016

Paugussett Reroute at Birchbank: Part 2

Day Two of our Spring Break Paugussett Trail Reroute and the entire half-mile section of trail has been roughed in with the help of two dozen high school students. We had spectacular weather to make up for the rain on Tuesday. 

Earlier in the day, our Tree Warden Dean Cawthra (and I'm so sorry but I don't know who it was that helped Dean) cut down some big trees at the foot of the cliff to open up that beautiful view of the Houstaonic River. And I was there the day before putting up more work party signs and survey flagging for the crews so they don't get lost on the trails. 

This time I brought more tools, and some of the kids brought their own from home, which is a big help. Someone even brought a DeWalt power tool! 

This day was a lot easier than Tuesday. We cleared new trails sections that already had pretty good footing, so most of the work involved raking, sawing, pruning, and picking up sticks. The first work zone was a short stretch through mountain laurel. It looked intimidating, but the crew cleared it right out in quick time. 

They even took out a log using hand saws. Wow!

The second work zone was down by the chimney, and that was our break location. It's a great place to stop and relax, with the sound of running water. There is a shallow stream crossing at the chimney that will eventually get more substantial rock stepping stones, but as long as it's not flooded, it's pretty easy to get across. 

After clearing out the chimney section, we headed back up the hill to the overlook, cleaning up the trail as we went. We took another break at the overlook before heading back down to Tuesday's work zone to continue on with some unfinished business there. 

It is so nice to have that view cleared out! Hikers enjoy that reward after walking up a hill. 

The next work part is Saturday 4/16 10:00 to 2:00.  If we have a big turn-out we'll probably split the crew and start working on a small reroute of Birchbank Trail at the big switchback where the trail has turned into a gully.   Many thanks to everyone who came today, with special thanks one of the parents, Joanne who joined us and helped lead the crews. Here's the list of volunteers from our sign in sheet, as best as I can interpret the handwriting:

Derek Cerulli
Dan Cerulli
Nick P
Angelo P
James Bell
Angie Toth
Richard McCarthy
Prashanna Kandel
Matthew Liscio
Matthew Cho
Zach Koziowski
Alex Kozlowski
OS?r ?
Sofia Ribeiro
Cameron Mano
Christian Spillane

Thank you!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paugussett Reroute at Birchbank: Part 1

Spring Break in the mud! A host of Shelton High School students came out in the rain to help reroute the Paugussett Trail at Birchbank.  Although we delayed the start for two hours hoping for the weather to clear, not everyone got the message and several people were waiting and ready to go at the original starting time. So we started.

This section of new trail involved very little pruning and a whole lot of digging the trail into the side slope, and that meant mud. Lots of it. We were very fortunate to have Colin Carroll from CFPA make the drive down from Middlefield.  It's at this point people generally stop me and say, "What is CFPA?"  It's the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and they have been managing the Paugussett Trail in Shelton for some eighty years or so. Eighty years.  They manage some 825+ miles of "CT Blue-Blazed Trails" throughout the state, so the Paugussett is just one of many trails.

So we were very lucky to have a pro like Colin come down and show the kids how to bench in a trail just the right way so that it doesn't turn into a gully ten years from now. The idea was to pitch the slope so that water runs off the side of the trail and down the hill, rather than down the trail. 

A few hours later, at the rescheduled starting time, lots more student came and we had them strung along the trail digging in the mud. This type of trail work is tiring, so it was great to have so many helping hands. The next section of trail we work on should be much easier. Also less muddy. This was pretty challenging work for those community service hours the kids have to put in, but there is a sense of accomplishment when it's all over. This section of trail will be hiked for many years. 

Towards the end of the show, Colin started working on the stone steps at the beginning of the new section so that the steps direct people in the right direction.  That's some serious rock work! Thanks, Colin!  

Also many thanks to Shelton High School for helping us get word out to the students, and to all the volunteers who showed up in the rain to help build this trail:

Prashanna Kandex
Christian Spillane
Ryan Widomski
Justin Widomski
Victoria Neves
Matthew Liscio
Jinkuk Hong
Derek Cerulli
Daniel Cerulli
Eric Silva
Jonathan Dean
Jacob Teto
Matthew Cho
Justys Ortiz
James Bell
Angela Toth
Sean Conway
Nick Papa
Angelo Papa
Lindsay Gowans
Julia Boretsky

Part 2 will be held Thursday at 3:00 pm, and should be much easier work. Yay! We'll be clearing brush and leaves off of some new trail sections near the chimney. Also, our Tree Warden Dean Cawthra has stepped in to cut some trees down at the overlook Thursday morning. Part 3 will be Saturday at 10:00 am, when we'll try to finish up any rough sections, including some fine tuning where the trail was benched in on Tuesday, and cleaning up the edges so it looks nice. And maybe some blazing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"Next Time We Should Bring a Rope"

One of the unique pleasures of hiking the Paugussett Trail are getting views of the Housatonic River Valley.  You put that effort into hiking the hills, so you should get a payoff with some nice views.  Trouble is, unlike some of the nice tall trap rock ridges in the center of the state with spectacular views from sharp cliffs, we have these hills covered with these things called trees; which tend to grow and obstruct some of the views.

This is the "Before" picture from the Overlook at Birchbank Mountain.  Some of the trees below this knob had been cleared decades before, but over time things grown. Not much of a view.

So a group of volunteers continued some enhancement clearing of the Overlook on Saturday.  Rain and possibly snow had been forecast but we decided to go ahead with the work party.  Luckily the weather was overcast, but it stayed dry.

Cleared brush was removed off the steep hillside with a conveyor belt of teamwork.  Jim had a excellent idea: "Next time we should bring a rope." This would've been impossible to do if the rocks were wet.

Anthony and Luke were working like mountain goats on the slope below the Overlook.

We also cleaned up blowdowns below the Overlook on the Paugussett Trail.  This red oak log is at a stream crossing where multiple work parties are taking place this Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday during School Break (see the Events Page if you want to help).  Later in the week the City's Tree Warden and volunteers will be taking down some larger trees to help with the enhancements.

Here's the "After" picture.  There's more to do, but now you can say " Hey, I can see the Housatonic River".  Now there's a reward for hiking up to the top of Birchbank Mountain.  We even ended up with the same number of volunteers that we started with, so it was a success.  Thanks to Anthony, Dan, John, Luke, Rich, Jim, and Terry.