Monday, September 17, 2018

Nicholdale/Willis Woods Sign Installation.

Pearmain Path begins near the Land Trust camp at Nicholdale and heads south to Pearmain Rd. 

New routered signs have been installed at Nicholdale Farm and Willis Woods to help people figure out what trail they're on. Pearmain and Stockmal Trails cross private lands under an easement held by the City of Shelton, but begin on Land Trust property.

Stockmal Trail begins on Rt 110 at Willis Woods

The red loop trail off of Stockmal Trail that circles the Land Trust's Willis Woods property was named Willis Trail for obvious reasons.

Willis Trail on right, Stockmal on left
A short connector trail between Nicholdale Farm (where there is ample parking) and Willis Woods has been blazed blue/white, with signs to help users locate the connection. It's important to cross Rt 110 at this location because there are better sight lines than further down the hill.

Connector as seen from Nicholdale
Coming from Willis Woods, the connector trail is signed "Nicholdale Connector."

Connector as seen from Rt 110 and Willis Woods

The blue perimeter trail has been named Nichols Trail after the family that previously farmed the property. A sign was installed to help people find the trail entrance at the back of the main parking lot in case they want to go look at the cow underpass or head on over to Willis Woods.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Backpacking the Paugussett Trail

Buddington Road trailhead
It's easy to forget that the Paugussett "Blue Dot" Trail is long enough to backpack. In fact, it's a great way to ease into backpacking or test out new equipment. There is a variety of terrain, a legal campground, scenic vistas, and cell phone service. And forget about the heavy 50-lb packs people used to carry. These days, an ultralight pack can easily weigh less than 25 pounds. So sit back and enjoy the trip:

"Four Corners"
We started at the Buddington Road trailhead in Shelton and headed north through Shelton Lakes. When backpacking regional trails, it helps to think of the trail like a strand of pearls, because some parts of this type of trail include road walks or portions that would not be a destination hike on their own, but which give you a connection to prime hiking areas (the "pearls").  The first pearl on this strand is Shelton Lakes, which includes three reservoirs and the popular trail network off of Nells Rock Road.

Eklund Garden (Mile 1.3)
At Shelton Lakes, the blue blazes pass right through Eklund Garden, a botanical garden filled with indigenous wildflowers set amongst the ruins of a former log cabin. You have to pull open a deer fence gate to get inside. The garden was a bit past it's prime during our September hike, but still enjoyable.

Hope Lake (Mile 1.5)
The trail then follows the shoreline of Hope Lake, crosses Route 108, and joins the wide gravel Rec Path. Everyone loves the Silent Waters overlook.

Silent Waters (Mile 2.1)
The Paugussett turns sharply off of the Rec Path, and the turn is easy to miss if you're not paying attention to the blazes. You'll need to be able to follow the trail blazes carefully and be prepared in case a blaze is missing or a part of the trail is blocked, because that can happen on any long distance trail. Have a map, and perhaps a gps unit or a smart phone. For beginners, this is a good trail to practice your blaze-finding skills because you can't get truly lost in this area.

Quartz arrowhead found on the trail
We found a quartz arrowhead on the trail heading out to the powerlines. It's not the first found in this area. The next stretch follows the powerlines north between Independence Drive and Constitution Blvd.

Mike Flament, Trails Committee
We passed a work party being held by the Shelton Trails Committee. This part of the trail can get overgrown really fast in the summer, but our perfect timing meant we found a well-groomed trail.

Bob Wood and Mark Vollaro, Trails Committee
All the rain this summer made it hard to keep up with all the plant growth, but these guys were doing a great job. They clear out a pretty wide swath, mostly with a mower pulled by a gator, so even when it's overgrown you can still follow the trail. At Constitution Blvd, the trail goes back into the woods, crosses a meadow, then emerges at Meadow Street. A quick road walk down Mayflower Lane is required, then a nice quiet stretch (pearl?) descending the hill to Route 110 through an area we call "The Overlooks."

Terry Gallagher, Trails Committee
The next pearl in this strand is Indian Well State Park. When you get to Indian Hole Brook, there's a big sign telling people not to climb on the rocks. Take a detour onto the wide gravel trail that goes along the brook about 0.1 mile and your reward will be the falls and "well" (the deep pool at the bottom of the falls). We were lucky that no one else was around on this cool day. During summer afternoons it can get pretty busy. You're not supposed to, but people jump off the rocks to the pool below. Recently someone nearly died and had to be rescued.

Indian Well Falls (Mile 4.8)
Back to the blue blazes, you cross the brook (either on stepping stones or via Indian Well Road if the water is high) and gradually ascend the river bank, about a 350-foot elevation gain. At the top is a short spur trail (350 ft) that takes you to an overlook of the Housatonic River. At the far end of the river is the Derby-Shelton dam and beyond that are the cars on Route 8 (if you have eagle eyes).

Indian Well overlook (Mile 5.3)
The next several miles of trail follow the river bank, near the top. It's three full miles between Indian Well Road and the next road crossing. This section of trail is closer in character to hiking trails in Northwest Connecticut. Although the first part can get noisy with the crowds at the beach or live bands playing on the other side of the river if you're there on a Saturday afternoon during the summer. But normally you hear nothing but the hum of traffic on Rt 34 across the river. There are some ups and downs and stream crossings. You'll eventually get to a sign marking Birchbank Mountain Open Space, the next pearl on the strand. It will soon get very rocky.   A hiking stick is recommended.

Birchbank Mountain - "The Boulders", a short scramble (Mile 6.6)
You'll need to do a bit a "scrambling" (using your hands) to get over "The Boulders".  Again, good practice for the type of thing you run into if you're hiking up north. Shortly after that are some ledges and huge boulders where you would find several "caves" if you stopped to explore.

"The Caves" (Mile 6.7)
There is more rock underfoot for a ways and you'll need to slow down and pay attention to your feet (and don't do this in wet weather), and then you reach the Birchbank Mountain overlook. First, stop to sign in at the trail register and have fun reading the other entries.

Birchbank overlook trail register (Mile 7.1)
From this point it's mostly downhill to the Webb Mountain campground.

Birchbank overlook - Housatonic River
Heading down the hill you may notice a broad mound trailside on the left as the trail turns onto an old roadbed. This is the remnant of an old charcoal mound from back in the 1800s when the copper mills of the Naugatuck Valley needed charcoal. You'll find bits of charcoal in the mound.

Charcoal mound from the 1800s (Mile 7.2)
When the trail crosses Upper White Hill Brook, look left to see the old chimney from the Monroe Rod and Gun Club, which burned down many years ago.

The chimney at Birchbank (Mile 7.4)
It's a nice walk through Birchbank out to Round Hill Road. After a brief walk on pavement (look for blazes on telephone poles and curbs), and a climb up some winding steps, you'll reach a section of trail call the Poet Path. Enjoy the artwork.

Poet Path slate (Mile 8.3)
Then there's another short roadwalk on Thoreau Drive before you descend into a deep ravine with Round Hill Brook at the bottom. This is the town line. Congrats! Warning: This stream can be very difficult or impossible to cross during times of high water. We hope to find some Scouts willing to build a bridge. No trouble getting across this day, however.

Monroe town line at Round Hill Brook, entering Webb Mtn (Mile 9.0)
Welcome to Webb Mountain Park, the next pearl on the strand. To reach the main part of the campground from the Paugussett, you'll need to take a detour onto an unmarked trail that follows a brook going upstream, with the path becoming orange-blazed. Cross a bridge and continue straight on the red trail and the camp will be right there. This is simpler than it sounds and it's not far at all. But be sure to have a Webb Mountain Park trail map with you to find the camp.

Nice campsite at Webb Mountain
Camping is by permit only, which can be obtained by visiting the Parks and Rec Department at Monroe Town Hall. And be aware they close down early on Fridays, so don't wait too long to get that permit if you want to camp on the weekend. The cost is only $10. Sites #2 through #5 are closest to where the trail crosses into the park. Site #1 is off on its own but is much further up the Paugussett Trail, and you won't get the quick Goat Rock views from Site #1. You need to choose your site when you register.  I'd go with Site #5 if it's available. And note that they DO come in at night to check for your permit! So have that within reach. Facilities at the campground include a port-o-let, picnic tables, fire rings. And there was free fire wood as well.  There is a nearby stream if you have water-filtering capabilities or need to wash up.

Goat Rock, near the campsite
After setting up camp, a short walk up the Red Trail to Goat Rock is a must. This is the best overlook of the entire hike. The view is actually on the violet trail, a spur to the right off of the red trail. The junction is marked by a huge boulder.

No other campers showed up.
This area can get pretty busy with non-camping people walking their dogs or checking out the views. It was a Saturday afternoon and people were walking through the camping area being loud and obnoxious and parking at the campsites even though they weren't camping. It would be nice if the camping area were restricted to campers only. But as luck would have it, a light rain started up and before long everyone left. Nice! So peaceful.

Fancypants tent has lights

The next morning was incredibly peaceful at Webb Mountain. Not a soul around. After throwing the gear in the pack, it was back to the blue blazes, which followed scenic Round Hill Brook for a spell before winding mostly uphill through the park.

Day 2: The trail follows Round Hill Brook
The trail passed near campsite #1, which was in use, then crossed the park road and ascended to the base of an impressive rock ledge. Thus begins the most difficult part of the trail: a scramble up this rock face. This is one of those sections that young, thin people bound up with joy while those who are less fit will not be able to get up no matter how hard they try. But most people can get up it eventually.

Trail goes up just to the right of this big ledge (Mile ~9.8)
Several times the backpack had to be hoisted to the rocks above before attempting a scramble.

Going up the ledge, needed to remove the pack.
Once at the top, though, it levels out in an area of chestnut oak and blueberry, a real contrast to the lower part of the park.

Top of the world
You pass through some beautiful areas. Sadly, it looks like some heavy equipment is perhaps getting ready for a new subdivision to be built next to the trail.

A lot of recently activity with heavy equipment - subdividing? :(
There used to be a great overlook of Zoar Lake in here. Not sure if the trail was rerouted or the overlook is overgrown. You can still get a glimpse of Lake Zoar just before reaching the powerlines by bushwhacking a short ways to the top of the powerline cut.

Lake Zoar in the distance
The next section isn't super great, but remember, it's a strand of pearls. You follow a utility road, then go down by railroad tracks on a section heavily impacted by ATVs. Then you come out on pavement, and take a left past a gate onto an old road. At this point, as you head up hill, the sounds of Rt 34 recede and you've found another one of the pearls. This is the ravine through which the Boys Halfway River runs. The ravine is a gorgeous and very quiet walk.

Following the Boys Halfway River on an old roadbed (Mile ~11.25)
The brook eventually rises to the level of the trail, and off to the right is what's left of an old silver mine. Looks like modern day rock hounds have been scouring through the tailings. 

Old silver mine
The last stretch before Barn Hill Road looks like a former pasture, now full of invasive barberry and burning bush that are continually growing into the trail. Monroe doesn't have a Trails Committee to work on the trails like Shelton does, so it's just Bob, the CFPA Trail Manager for the Monroe section of the Paugussett. Keeping that stretch open has got to be a lot of work for one person.

Christmas Fern (Mile ~12)
After crossing Barn Hill Road, there's an old mill dam on the right and a dry channel on the left that used to be the head race. Water from the dammed area would run down the head race into a mill, probably the nearby hoop skirt factory.

Old mill dam (right) and tail race (left)
Just before the end of the trail is a series of massive log piles. That was from Hurricane Sandy. I remember seeing the photos of CFPA volunteers clearing the trail. Sandy blew down almost all the pine trees standing there at the time.

Storm Sandy dropped most of the pine trees in this area
Not many people walk that stretch because there is no parking at the end of the trail on East Village (there is a spot on Barnhill Road, however). It was pretty overgrown, but that happens.

End of the trail on East Village Road (Mile 12.9)
Reaching East Village Road (Mile 12.9) around 10:00 am, it was a quick walk to the intersection of East Village Road and Barn Hill Road, which is a good spot to be picked up (four-way stop signs). This is one of those quaint New England historic areas with a lot of character.

Maps: CT Blue-Blazed Trails are mapped and described in the Connecticut Walk Book, published by CFPA. However, there have been a lot of significant changes to the Shelton side of the Paugussett that are not shown in the 20th edition of the Walk Book, so you're better off using maps on the Shelton Conservation website. There are maps for the Shelton Paugussett Trail, Shelton Lakes, and Birchbank. For the Monroe section, the Walk Book is the one to use. There is also a map of Webb Mountain Park available online or from the Town of Monroe when you get your camping permit.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Making Trail Signs

Image result for where am i, forest

We wanted some trail signs at Nicholdale Farm and Willis Woods to help hikers find the right trail. These are Land Trust properties, but the City has a couple of grant-related trails nearby that connect to the trail system: Pearmain Path and Stockmal Trail. We want to help hikers find our trails, so with permission from the Land Trust, a trail-making assembly line was set up. Of course, trail names are only useful if you also have a trail map :)

Projecting the lettering onto a board
After cutting some cedar boards to length and printing out what the signs should say, a simple projector was used to beam an image of the lettering onto one of the boards, and a pencil used to trace the lettering.

A Sharpie darkens the letters
A Sharpie was then used to darken the lettering, because it can be hard to see while routering.

Hand-held router gives character
A hand-held small router was used to trace over the lettering (no template). The router tends to go off-track once in awhile, which gives the lettering that hand-crafted charm.

The background stained brown
A coat of brown deck stain was then applied to all sides, carefully on the front so it wouldn't drip down into the lettering (the front was facing down when the stain was applied). The lettering really popped after that was done.

Lettering painted white
Finally, some white trail paint was used in the lettering. This part takes the longest and cannot be rushed. All that's left now is installation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Birchbank/Webb Mtn Overlook to Overlook Route

Route from the Birchbank trailhead to Webb Mtn overlook
If you're up for a 5.5-mile hike with lots of ups and downs and two great views, try some version of the Birchbank/Webb Mtn Overlook to Overlook Hike. A one-way version of this hike was offered on Trails Day last June (above map), but requires spotting cars. The version described below is the same except it involved a walk back on a slightly different route.

Birchbank Trailhead on Birchbank Road (aka Indian Well Rd)
Start at the Birchbank Mountain trailhead on Birchbank Road. To get there, head down Indian Well Road one full mile past the Indian Well beach entrance. Follow the white blazes until the white trail splits, with one option being a left turn up the hill. Take the left past an overlook of the beautiful water slides of Upper White Hills Brook until you reach a junction with the blue/white connector trail. Go left on that up the hill pretty steeply at times until you reach the blue-blazed Paugussett and take a right. Soon you'll arrive at the first overlook, about 350 feet higher than where you started.

Birchbank Overlook. 
Be sure to sign the trail register and read some of the entries while you catch your breath.

"The Chimney" along Upper White Hills Brook
Continue following the blue blazes north down the hill, crossing Upper White Hills Brook at the chimney that was formerly part of a Rod and Gun Club.

A nice walk through Birchbank
It's a fairly easy walk through a nice part of Birchbank and then you'll come out onto the junction of Round Hill Road and Okenuck Way (a road). Follow the blue blazes  left onto Okenuck Way and then right onto a road called Boulder Path. It's not long.
Okenuck Way blazes on phone pole indicate a right turn ahead
At the end of Boulder Path, cross Princess Wenonah Drive and head up the new stairs to the Poet Path.

New steps on the Poet Path

Poet Path slates
There are five painted slates with sayings from five poets whom streets in the area are named after, along with some painted rocks below that relate to the sayings. Take time to enjoy the trail art. Leave some painted rocks behind if you're so inclined.

The Poet Path
The Poet Path squeezes between houses that look pretty close together on a map, but the terrain is such that you often can't see the houses up above, and the houses below are pretty far down through the trees.

Road Walk sign
As you approach Thoreau Drive, the trail follows a narrow pedestrian easement on private property and the houses feel a lot closer. A sign gives you a description of the second road walk (both road walks are about 0.3 mile long). When you get to Thoreau Drive, take a right and follow the blazes on phone poles and curbs.

Thoreau Drive road walk
It's not a bad road walk along a very quiet street. Enjoy the change of scenery, and be on the lookout for the double blazes indicating a left turn (a sign will be added soon to make this easier to find). As always, if you stop seeing blazes, back track until you find them and try again. The trail goes down the hill between houses #178 and #182.

Going down from Thoreau Drive 
This section squeezes between houses in a narrow open space corridor that is only 20 feet wide. The City recently had it surveyed and a part of the trail turned out to be on one of the neighbor's property, so it was shifted back into the open space. Sadly, the neighbor on the other side was unhappy about that and has been causing a lot of problems for the trail. We're working on that. In the meantime, just follow the blue blazes and rest assured you are on Shelton Public Open Space property.

Follow the blue blazes between two houses. 

Once past the houses, you decide quickly into a deep hemlock ravine and cross Round Hill Brook. Hey, Scouts, we could use a bridge! If the water is high, this may be impassible. Now you're in Monroe. Once across, you will be leaving the blue blazed Paugussett Trail.

Tributary of Round Hill Brook

Follow the unmarked (but well-worn) path along a tributary of Round Hill Brook, going upstream, until it becomes orange blazed, and then follow the orange blazes across the tributary on a new bridge.

New new bridge
Once across the bridge, follow the red blazes uphill. You'll pass a campground.

Webb Mountain campground
Backpackers can camp here, but you need to obtain a permit for $10 a night from the Town of Monroe. Continue uphill on red, crossing the park road, until you get to the huge boulder and junction with the violet trail. Turn right to follow the violet blazes.

Turn right onto Violet
And there is very soon a great view of the Housatonic River from Goat Rock. Enjoy!

Goat Rock - Webb Mtn Overlook

An unmarked trail goes down the backside of Goat Rock for some alternative views.

Goat Rock
When you're ready to head back, retrace your steps. If you want to vary your route, you can take a left off of Thoreau Drive at Rodia Ridge, but it's a pretty long road walk that way. But maybe you'll luck out and stumble upon a lemonade stand like I did. Rodia Ridge bends to the right eventually and become Princess Wenonah, so you just follow it until you see Boulder Path on the left and go that way.

Rodia Ridge Road, an alternate route
Back at Birchbank, it's easiest to take the first left onto the white-blazed Birchbank Trail and follow that along Upper White Hills Brook as the stream descends through first a small gorge, and then a series of falls, slides, and chutes.

Upper White Hills Brook
Follow the white blazes across a Scout bridge and then down the old road through the flood plain.

Upper White Hills Brook
There used to be a ton of spring wildflowers here, but the flowers are in decline from too many deer.

Lower part of Birchbank
Here are a couple maps you should have if you do this hike: