Monday, December 30, 2019

Pondering a New Tahmore Trail Route

Existing trail in red, flagged reroute in orange
(Google Earth with vertical exaggeration)
Last fall, the east half of the Tahmore loop trail was fixed up, so our attention turns to the west half. This section of trail has not been maintained in a few years as logistics and permissions are sought for a new route. The trail is managed by CFPA on land owned by the Shelton Land Trust and the State of Connecticut (Indian Well State Park), with support from the Shelton Trails Committee. It's part of CFPA's 825+ mile system of "Connecticut Blue-Blazed Hiking Trails" and is considered a side-loop of the Paugussett Trail.

The old (existing) route always had bad footing along the southwest lobe, with some steep sections and a wicked side slope in places which was treacherous when covered with oak leaves and acorns.  A lot of people slipped and fell down. There used to be a scenic meadow there with cattle and at one point even alpaca, a highlight of the trail, but a large house in the style of a cabin replaced the meadow recently. The northwest section was much easier where the trail followed an old road, but took hikers along the edge of backyards. 

Flagged route in gray

At the same time, the nearby hilltop has seasonal views of the Housatonic River Valley through the trees and a sense of being at the top of the world. The goal of the reroute is to eliminate the steep sections of trail, pull the trail back away from houses as much as possible, and bring hikers to the top of the hill, a natural destination that's a 350-foot elevation gain from the two nearby parking areas at Indian Well. 

The hilltop has seasonal views of the river through the trees

 After a number of site visits we've marked a preliminary route with survey tape and are now waiting for review from CFPA headquarters and then the Shelton Land Trust. The old road section of existing trail would remain open as an easy bypass for locals who don't want to go up the hill, with a short connector allowing them to bypass the old southwest lobe.

Old Route (click to enlarge)
The flagged route is 0.1 mile shorter than the old route. The old route had an elevation gain of 190 feet going clockwise, a loss of 150 feet, and an average slope of 10% but with some very steep sections and bad side slopes. The new route would have a gain of 150 feet, a loss of 108 feet, and an average slope of 12% that is pretty steady.

New Route (click to enlarge)
The route that is currently flagged is a rough draft that could change drastically based on input from CFPA and the Land Trust. Stay tuned!


UPDATE January 10, 2020: CFPA has approved the reroute! Now all we need is final approval from the Land Trust.

UPDATE January 13, 2020: The Land Trust has given their final approval of the reoute. We are all set to go!

WORK PARTY: Saturday, April 4, 8:30 am to 12:00 pm, meet at the end of Tahmore Place. GPS address #30 Tahmore Place, Shelton, CT. Raindate will be April 11, same time. Great opportunity for High School community service hours.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Wiacek Hardpan Leads to Soggy Paugussett

A freshly deepened drainage channel alongside the Paugussett Trail
During our wetter seasons, waterproof boots help when hiking the Paugussett Trail near Meadow Street on the section referred to as Wiacek Woods (pronounced something like WHY-uh-seck).  There are a series of meadows on this property, all of them pretty wet, and the woods are even wetter (that's why the old farmers didn't even bother trying to farm them). Wiacek Woods is up on broad hilltop or plateau, not a low area, so it seems like it should be drier than it is.

The culprit is hardpan, a compacted layer of till left by the glaciers that water can't drain through. Rainwater can't seep into the soil more than a couple inches, so it just sits there and causes trouble. Here's a great video somebody took on a golf course showing exactly how this works. There can be better soil under the layer of hardpan, which is the case in the video. Break through the hardpan, and the water can escape downwards. 


We're not able to hire some fancy deep aerator like a golf course can, and it wouldn't work in the woods even if we could. So we're stuck trying to channel water away where possible or providing some other means for hikers to get through the wet spots, like bog bridges or stepping stones (attention Scouts!)

The hardpan at Wiacek look like a rock when dug up
The best time to dig drainage channels is after a rain. You can see which way the water wants to go, and it's possible to break up the hardpan layer. When it's dry, that hardpan layer can be hard as a brick (hence the name).

When we first put the trail through, the water didn't seem too bad, but as the trail aged and the soil compacted along the treadway, the trail sank and became the low spot for water to accumulate and just sit there.  Tree roots also became exposed and are tedious to walk over. Over the years there have been many discussions about how best to remedy that. Bog bridges can be attractive and easy to walk on, but eventually rot out and need to be replaced. "Hardening" the trail with rocks is hard work, but lasts longer. The rocks can be slick and hard to walk on, though, especially if they are uneven or covered with freshly fallen leaves. A third option is to build up the treadway with mineral soil or crushed stone, especially in low areas with lots of roots that aren't all that wet yet.  A combination of all three may ultimately be used.

Another drainage channel dug to direct water off the trail
For now, if you walk this section during the wet season, wear some good boots!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

2019 Turkey Trot Hike

The 2019 Turkey Trot Hike was post-poned until December 8th due to inclement weather after Thanksgiving.  Today's weather was brisk and clear, which made for fine walking weather.

Sixteen well-bundled, but adventurous souls, left from Shelton Intermediate School on Constitution Boulevard North as part of the annual event.  There was no road race encountered while crossing the street to the kiosk at the trail.

We proceeded down the Recreation Path and turned right up the hill on the Turkey Trot Trail.  The footing was great due to all the maintenance activity done during the last couple of weeks.  Bob Wood was acting as Sweeper making sure we didn't loose anybody.

 Eversource and Iroquois Gas are getting ready to do some work along the powerlines near one of the streams that we crossed.  The footbridge was icy.  We were able to get up the newly re-routed section on the west side of the powerlines with no problem.

Walking along the trail we looped around the swamp out to Willoughby Road and came back parallel to Rt. 108.

Mark Vallaro lead the advance group as they pushed ahead trying to keep warm.  The trail along the powerlines and back along Rt. 108 was mostly clear of snow, but there were some icy patches.

A one point a plane above us seemed to be circling and searching for someone.   Possibly looking for Bob?

Nope they're not lost.  The remainder of the pack was coming up a little slower minding the icy patches.

Bill & Luis were leading the second group.  The air was crisp and invigorating - just keep moving along.  It was a good way to enjoy the open spaces after the holidays.  A lot of folks were out hiking, walking dogs, or enjoying a family event along the trails.

The bridge at Silent Waters was icy from all the earlier foot traffic packing down the snow.  Using the fence and railings was recommended.  Remember the micro-spikes for hiking later in the season.

Silent Waters is always picturesque.  Winter scenes are no exception.  Remember to stop and take it in when you're walking by.

Everyone heading back along the RecPath to Shelton Intermediate School and warm cars.  It was another fine event, and there were no traffic jams on Constitution Blvd..

After the hike, starting near the Jolly Woodsman, crossing the road, heading toward Willoughby Rd. and the mug, back along Rt. 108 & around Silent Waters, then back to SIS by the Woodsman.  Another successful hike and no one lost.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Boehm Pond's Very Busy Beaver

Map showing how much larger  Boehm Pond has become

Boehm Pond keeps growing and growing, thanks to some very busy beaver. The Red Trail is almost a shoreline path, and hikers can see the edge of the pond through the trees as they ramble down the path.  The surface area of the pond has perhaps quadrupled in the past few months.

Beaver art
People have strong feelings about beaver, and reaction has been all over the place. For example:

Announcement: "We have some beaver here."
Response #1: "Why do you need to kill them?!" (no one ever said anything about killing them)
Response #2: "Beaver, cool." (exactly)
Response #3: "What are you going to DO about the beaver? They're damaging the trees" (that's OK - it's open space and beaver are just part of the ecosystem). 
Response #4: "I trap beaver if you ever need help" (thanks, hope we don't need that)
The extended beaver pond is full of trees
Yes, sometimes beaver need to be killed if they are causing significant damage to human structures. They can flood out basements, roadways, and septics.  But Boehm Pond is completely surrounded by open space, and so far we don't see any serious problems caused by the beaver. They can be left in peace. There used to be a wooden bridge on the north side of the pond, little used, and that appears to be underwater, or maybe it floated away. That's the extent of the known damage to human structures.

Beaver dam located above a box culvert at Winthrop Woods Road
The beaver are, however, continuing to build their dam bigger and bigger. The dam is located just before a box culvert that takes Boehm Brook under Winthrop Woods Road, and is easy to access if anyone wants to see it. If the beaver were to block the culvert and cause the road to flood, that would be a serious problem. So far that doesn't appear to be a problem, however. 

An alternative to killing beaver is to install a piping system under their dam which drains the pond. This can work in some places, but it's very tricky to do correctly (a professional is needed, and it's not cheap), and the water conditions need to be just right. Otherwise the beaver will hear the water going into the pipe and just build a dam around it. Beaver compulsively build dams in response to the sound of running water, so it's useless to just remove their dam. They'll rebuild immediately. 

Water now covers this spot on the north side of the pond
Beaver have been part of the ecosystem for thousands of years. They create great habitat for fish, heron, wood ducks, muskrat, and other aquatic species.  Nature is dynamic and ever-changing. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sharpening a Hedgetrimmer

Sharp tools work better than dull tools.  Over time, all tools get dull with use.  Occasionally you have to bite the bullet and sharpen things.  This week it was an electric hedgetrimmer.

This was a Black & Decker 20 volt electric hedgetrimmer.  Originally I thought this was a whimpy tool, but with the larger battery packs it's surprisingly good and versatile.  Step one is play with the trigger to expose the slanted cutting teeth.

Then take out the battery pack so it doesn't accidentally go off while you're holding it during sharpening.

Get a medium sized (10") single cut file.  You can sharpen the bar with the blade on.  It proved to be much easier to take the blade guard off (it's just undoing 2 screws) to get at the last half dozen teeth near the saw body.

 Have the hedgetrimmer under some good light so you can see what your doing and file the angled cutting teeth.  File in one direction away from the cutting edge.  Take even, long strokes.

File both sides of each tooth.  You'll have to stop, plug in the battery, and burp the trigger a couple of times to expose all the teeth where you can get a file into them.  Remember to take the battery out before you start filing, and wear leather gloves to hold the end of the bar steady while you file.

It should take 4-6 strokes per tooth face depending on how worn the teeth are.  There are 4 sets of teeth faces to sharpen, and you have to flip the bar over from time to time.  It takes a little while to get the right angle, but once you get the hang of it, it moves quickly. 

After you're done put a little oil on each tooth and wipe some on the bar to lubricate it.  It'll help the trimmer cut easier and prolong your battery life.  Put the blade guard back on, plug in a fresh battery, and listen to the difference.  It's good to have two or more batteries with you when you cut.

All sharpened, oiled, re-assembled, with a fresh battery pack.  Ready to go around the yard trimming hedges or along the trails cutting brush.  It cuts a lot better after the blade has been sharpened.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Birchbank Mtn. Work Party, or Why Do I Keep Hearing Bells?

There have been a lot of trees and branches knocked down in recent storms.  The trails at Birchbank Mountain had not gotten a full clean up in a while so on a crisp Saturday morning a work party was scheduled to clear up a number of blowdowns across the trails.

We had a great turn out of 15 volunteers to tackle the trails in the park.  When we met at the trailhead next to the railroad on Indian Well Road we were greeted by flashing lights and clanging bells at the railroad crossing, but no train.  Everyone stopped, looked for the train, then crossed the tracks to the parking area and walked back.  Still no train, the signal apparently was malfunctioning.

So while the railroad signal kept clanging away we signed everyone in, enjoyed some doughnuts from Royal Bakery, and headed off into the woods to the sound of  bells.

There was a number of trees down across the trail.  Some small, some quite large.

We split up into 3 groups with multiple chainsaw teams and worked along the White trail.  Helpful Trail Tip #1: A sharp chainsaw cuts much better than a dull chainsaw.  Sharpen your saws on Friday night.

Helpful Trail Tip #2:  A fresh chain cuts better than a dull chain, but only if you put it on the bar with the teeth facing forward.  

The teams then proceeded along Birchbank Trail, then up along the brook to the Paugussett Trail, up above the stone chimney, and then worked their way back down the hill.  Meanwhile, another team was tackling some large blowdowns at the bottom of the hill.

One big tulip was too high to get over easily, and a decision made to notch out a step thru the tree instead.  Here's Mark Vallero with Jim, Luis, and Graham notching out the tree.

Then, with the help of several wedges, and some persistence they were able to wedge out the block of wood.  Actually, it was a lot of persistence, various wedging tries, more sawing, with some prying and hauling.  But they're a stubborn lot and eventually they got it out of there.

Success!  The trail is much easier to walk now.  The log also acts as a barrier to keep vehicles and  ATVs from damaging the trails.

Other blowdowns and tree tops were removed from the trails.

The clearing made it easier to follow the trails without having to zig zag around all the blowdowns.  The trails were pretty busy too.  We had multiple residents and hikers walking past or around us as we worked.

The trails are much clearer now due to all the work.  There was also a lot of brush along the trails that was cut, and fallen branches and logs hauled away.

It really does help to have a big crew when there's this much work to be done.  Thanks to Clay, Gary, Ryan, Vince, James, Tommy, Bill, Bob, Val, Graham, Jim, Luis, Mike, Mark, and Terry. 

When we were got back to the trailhead about 3 hours later, the railroad bells were still going off at the crossing signal.  We phoned Housatonic Railroad to let them know and they said that they had already gotten calls.  A very pleasant woman said she was trying to get someone down to look at it, but everybody was in Mass. and since it was Saturday they didn't have many people working.  Hopefully the signal has been fixed by now and the bells have stopped ringing.

Helpful Safety Tip #1: Remember to look both ways before you cross the tracks on the way to the trails.

Helpful Safety Tip #2: Yield to oncoming traffic when leaving Birchbank going South toward Indian Well State Park.  The road is rather curvy and there are some tight bends where only one car can pass at a time.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Where's the Yellow Trail at Boehm Pond??

"BEFORE": No idea which way the trail goes
The Yellow Trail at Boehm Pond got pretty hard to follow recently. It's a twisty trail through very open woods, and it doesn't seem like many people walk it. A lack of hikers makes a trail harder to follow. So then even fewer people walk the trail. It's a viscous cycle.  In the first photo, the way forward was impossible to tell, even by the seasoned trails crews.

Just added a blaze. Bet you still can't tell where the trail is. 
A yellow blaze was added, but it was hard to see. And who wants to stand there hunting for the next blaze, right? In this case, a quick clipping of a beech branch fixed that problem. The tree in this spot is dark, so the yellow blaze stood out. For much of the trail, however, the trees have light-colored bark (like beech trees and white oak), so the blazes don't really grab your eye. And they tend to fade fast on those types of trees, too. A lot of additional blazes were added yesterday, while the old blazes were resized and freshened. Even then, depending on the season and trail conditions, it can be hard to follow a twisty-turning trail through open woods.

Trimmed a small beech branch.
The blaze is now visible, but you might not notice it immediately.
So the next step was to rake out the trail, which normally should not need to be done, but there were a few years worth of leaves and sticks on the tread and the footing was tedious. If more people walked the trail, that shouldn't be a problem. The foot traffic pulverizes leaves and sticks. Leaf removal can make a trail erode faster, so it not something that would normally be done unless there's a specific reason for it.

AFTER: Raked out the tread and cut two saplings.
The way forward is obvious.
Finally, some of the saplings were cut along the edges to make more of a visual gap through the woods and draw the eye towards the trail. That way, even if there are fresh leaves or snow cover, and the next tree with a blaze gets knocked over, following the trail should be easier and more intuitive. Hopefully that will lead to more foot traffic, which will in turn make the trail easier to follow.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Tahmore Trail Overlook Reroute

Reblazed Tahmore/Paugussett junction, northbound
The east half of the Tahmore loop trail has just been re-opened and expanded. The blue/yellow loop had not been maintained for several years pending rerouting decisions. The west half of the loop remains in poor shape, but will be rerouted in 2020.  Hikers can use the red-blazed connector trail to complete a loop of the east half of Tahmore Trail.

Updated map showing Tahmore Trail looping out to the scenic overlook
One goal of the reroute was to re-use a part of the Paugussett Trail that had been demoted a few years ago during a major reroute of that trail. A portion of that old route was being maintained as an unmarked spur to the scenic overlook. Another part of the old trail along the top of a cliff had been abandoned, although that hasn't stopped people from trying to walk it. This part of the trail follows the property line between Indian Well State Park and the Shelton Land Conservation Trust.
Closeup of the rerouted section.
The reroute also enlarges the Tahmore Trail loop and adds interest to the trail. The cliff top is a fun walk.

Heading up the old Paugussett towards the overlook
The overlook
New Blue/Yellow blaze at the overlook

Still on the old Paugussett, a former overlook.

New trail section
If you are hiking the loop clockwise, once the trail turns away from the cliff, you are on Land Trust property. It's a nice, gentle grade. One surprise when clearing this new section was finding a very old blue/yellow blaze.

Surprised to find an old blaze on this new route.

The trails in here have been rerouted multiple times for various reasons, including landowner wishes and concerns over safety and erosion.