Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Paugussett Reroute at Birchbank/Indian Well Border

Reroute location at "Burritt's Rocks"
Our latest reroute of the Paugussett Trail consists of an 800-ft section that straddles the borderland between Indian Well State Park and Birchbank Mountain. Old deeds referred to this area as "Burritts Rocks." Mr. Burritt had a lot of rocks. This is near the top of the insanely steep river bank above Indian Well Road where southbound cars have to pull over so that northbound cars can pass, there are telephone poles in the road, and every so often boulders tumble down the hill and land on the pavement. Just below the trail there are giant slabs of rock jutting out of the slope at odd angles, twenty or thirty feet across, with crevices or voids a person could fall into that can be over ten feet deep.  It's very tough terrain.

Abandoned route is a brown dashed line
The Paugussett Trail has traveled just above that mess for many years. When houses were built at the top of the hill along Hickory Lane, the old trail had nowhere to go, and as a result hikers following the blue dots walked close to several homes. Many were worried that they might be trespassing. And over the past few years, with GPS and GIS mapping, it became apparent that part of the trail was actually on private property. This was a surprise, since there was yellow paint on trees marking the northern border of Indian Well all the way up the slope to the trail. Whoever marked that border went too far up the hill.

Existing route: The trail was overlooked by houses and recent clearing

Further down the valley, away from the houses.

Connecticut Blue Trails do often cross over private property, but it's not ideal, and over the past few years we've had massive clearing along the trail (some of it extending into state land), creating an eyesore. And this year we had bowhunting just a few feet from the trail. Bowhunting really isn't a big deal along trails, except that this was the only spot where bowhunting was allowed along the trail, so hikers would not be prepared for it and dress in bright colors.

So, was a reroute possible? It seemed unlikely at first. The reason the trail veered onto private property here was the presence of a broad valley going down the slope. The existing trail was following the contours, staying nice and level, and easily crossing a small stream we've been calling "Border Brook." In order to follow the property line, the trail would need to go down the hill through rough terrain into the valley, cross the brook, then climb back out of the valley. 
The reroute. Not to scale and north is to the right.
(click photo to enlarge)

Scouting for this reroute was like being a rat in a maze. The first challenge was finding an acceptable crossing of Border Brook, because the stream was much larger down the hill, with steep banks in places, and lots of rounded mossy boulders. But one good crossing point was found with lots of big flat rocks, and a bright orange survey flag was tied to a tree. This was a lovely spot. No houses. Even with a bad GPS signal, this crossing was clearly on City property. Heading south from this point, the land was pretty level, and again, no houses. There was one tricky spot with low boulders.  Skipped over that and paralleled the property line south towards a steepening hillside. Up above, the blue blazes of the existing trail were visible, but the drop-off screened the trail from the houses above. Nice. Ahead was a lot of rock. Boulders and probably ledge. There did seem to be one possibly plausible way up. More orange survey tape was tied to a tree. Maybe it would work, maybe not. Depended on kind of rock what was below the soil. You don't really know until you start digging. 

A wall of boulders stood in the way

Then it was back to the brook to scout a route north along the property line, only to discover a giant boulder field blocking the way. There did not seem to be a way through it. It was disheartening. Returned a few days later to take another look at the boulder field, examining the ground more closely near a couple of massive oak trees. Large trees can indicate more soil and less rock below. Fallen tree tops obscured the rocks, so those were cleared out to reveal a passage through the boulder field. Yes! More orange survey tape was tied to the trees. The rest of the routing was easier, just connecting the dots. It was flagged and partly cleared. 

Digging out the trail up the Hump, the hardest part
It being January, that would seem to be the end of it for the season, but we had a freak warm spell for a week with temps getting over 60°, and the ground thawed out. Digging started on the rock hump at the south end, because this was the most difficult section with the greatest unknowns. The tread needed to be dug into the side of the hillside, but there was rock underneath. Small rocks? Boulders? Ledge? Hard to say until you start digging. In fact there were two false starts, where the route had to be abandoned after digging revealed bedrock at a hopeless angle. Fortunately, another way was found each time. Phew. 

"BEFORE: Southern reroute terminus looking north
(top of the Hump - old trail heads to the left)

"AFTER": Southern reroute terminus looking north

At one spot near the bottom of the hump, newly exposed bedrock began seeping water across the tread, which by the next day had turned the new tread into a treacherous morass. Directly up the hill, the existing Paugussett Trail also was a messy mudhole that a passing trail runner mentioned. It was the same bedrock. One big long seep. This was a serious problem. How does the trail get past that seeping ledge? Good thing trail conditions were at their worst and the problem was revealed immediately. 

Getting down off  "the hump" was tricky with a seep
The next day that tread was shifted over several feet (lots more digging) in hopes of better conditions. This would make the trail steeper, but hopefully avoid the seep. But the seeping bedrock was hit once again. This time it was better, though, because the bedrock was stepped horizontally and vertically, making it less hazardous. A drainage channel was created by digging out at the base of the bedrock and placing a thin flat stone vertically against it, then installing two stone steps. Hopefully the water would drain into the void behind the steps and not out onto the tread. So far, so good. 

Passage cleared through the boulder field
Once the trail tread was roughed in along the hump, the rest was easier. There was still a lot of digging into the side of the hill, but the entire project now seemed more realistic. The hump had been solved. The rest was just a lot of digging and moving rocks, still taking advantage of the unfrozen ground. By the time the deep freeze had returned, the trail tread was good enough to open up the new section. It does still need some tread work, but that can wait until the spring. This section of trail has more up and down than the old route, but hopefully the improved views will make up for that. Since the tread will suffer from New Trail Syndrome for awhile, and a few more sections need to be dug in, the old section remains open for those who might prefer it. 

Middle of the new section, away from the houses
A final note on the property line between Indian Well and Birchbank. No one knows where this line is. The City Engineering Department never entered a property line into their master CAD maps for this reason, which in turn has created inaccuracies in the GIS mapping systems, which show Birchbank and Indian Well as one giant property owned by the City of Shelton. The filed land deeds were searched for the properties on both sides of this line, but it was little help. Going back to the 1800's, the deeds simply referred to neighboring properties without any other descriptions, not even a reference to a pile or rocks or a chestnut tree. For example, the 1927 deed for the purchase of Indian Well from the Ousatonic Water Company described the line this way: "thence running northwesterly along said land to land of John H. Hill and Bertha Wakelee Rogers; thence running northeasterly along said land to the northeasterly corner thereof."  John Hill and Bertha Rogers owned the southern part of what is now Birchbank Mtn. Deeds for their property, in turn,  just referenced the owners to their south. The only helpful deed was one from 1889 when the Housatonic Railroad Company purchased a 15-ft wide strip of land from what is now Birchbank Mtn. That 15-foot notch in the line is still there and should mark one end of the line. Meanwhile, the state has been contacted but so far has not been able to shed any light on the subject. We do know that the line is close to what we call "Border Brook." Which is good enough for trail work.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Shelton Winter Hike at Nells Loop Trail

We finally had snow yesterday just in time for our Winter Hike.  We schedule these events far in the future and hope that the weather will play along.  This year's hike was at Nells Loop Trail on Nell's Rock Road across from L'Hermitage Condominiums.

Thanks to Emma Gallagher for re-painting our snowman sign for the event.  It came out looking great.

After the snow the sun came out and it warmed up to around 40.  The snow wasn't quite enough to snowshoe in, but we did get in a good walk.  We had a great turn out of about 2 dozen hikers and 3 happy dogs.

We did the loop counterclockwise out to the powerlines, stopping at various trail junctions along the way.  The snow was soft but slippery in some of the steep sections.  It pays to have a trekking pole, walking stick, or micro spikes for differing snow conditions.

We didn't see any coyotes, but we did see a lot of coyote tracks along the trails.  We looped back crossing the Paugussett Trail (blue), and turned left (north) just before John Dominic Drive.

Winter Hiking Tip:  You can park in the cul-de-sac at John Dominic Drive off Buddington Road to access the trails in this area if the parking lot at the trailhead isn't plowed out.

The hike actually went quicker than anticipated (about 1 hr. for 2 miles), and everybody had a good time, fresh air, and seeing friends.  Thanks for coming out.  Now off to the football and hockey games on TV.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Before the Storm

Saturday morning, cold, mixed sky; some clear blue with wispy crescent clouds ahead of sheet clouds from the storm rolling in.  We're getting snow, but how much?  Will it stick?  There'll be rain, but will there be ice?  Gil Simmons where are you when we need you?  Or even Hilton Kaderli.   

People, and dogs, were not hedging their bets.  They were out hiking, dog walking, running, and biking before the storm hit.

 At Lane Street in Huntington Center, the bridge reconstruction project was quiet, but residents and trail users could still use the temporary pedestrian bridge to bypass the construction and reach the RecPath trailhead.

The pedestrian path wraps around the construction site and you can walk down Lane Street to the trailhead kiosk for the RecPath.

You can also enjoy an up-close-and-personnel view of bridge reconstruction that you seldom see while driving past a typical construction site.

 Hey look, the bridge foundations are finally getting completed.  Means Brook flows under and thru the bridges.

There was a lonely Mallard drake hanging out in some open, unfrozen water upstream of the bridge.  It was a reminder that wildlife has to cope with the upcoming cold weather just as humans do after an unseasonably warm December and January.

Further downstream, the Far Mill River was flowing along at Gristmill Trail on Mill Street.  Water levels were low following flooding last month along the trail.

Typically more of a summer destination, Gristmill Trail is still very striking in mid-winter.

The RecPath along Silent Waters had a number of hikers and runners along it.

The RecPath going downhill to Meadow Street had a lot of leaves and debris on the paved portion, but was being used by a number of runners and dog walkers.  This will be the site of a future trail work party to clean up The Path, but it was open and used by a lot of people on Saturday.

Kylo was taking his family out for a walk on the Turkey Trot Trail & RecPath Saturday too.  Dogs have to make sure everybody gets out for an invigorating walk in the winter.  It was good to see everyone out enjoying Shelton's Trails & Greenways before the storm hit.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Trail Evolution at Indian Well

Existing and abandoned trails at Indian Well
(click photo to enlarge)

Indian Well has some really difficult terrain sandwiched between the triple attractions of the beach, the falls, and the overlook. That's one reason the trail system has evolved over the years. We recently obtained a copy of a 1966 Indian Well deed map showing the trails existing at that time, and added those trails to a layer of former trails on the City's GIS mapping system. The above map is the result.

The Paugussett Trail originally came in from Rt 110 (Leavenworth Road), at the southwest corner of Indian Well. This was back when the Paugussett crossed the entire city and ended at Roosevelt Forest in Stratford. Southbound hikers followed Leavenworth Road for a bit and somehow ended up near Means Brook Reservoir before turning south towards what is now Aspetuck Village. Subdivisions caused the Paugussett to be abandoned south of Indian Well, however, so the trail between the falls and Leavenworth Road was abandoned.

1966 map
(click photo to enlarge)

The Paugussett originally crossed Indian Hole Brook at the Falls and headed up a very steep slope, but the Park Service asked for the trail to be moved away from the Falls. There were too many problems with visitors exploring the top of the falls and the precipitous north slope, including kids jumping off of rocks into the pool below the falls. The terrain was hazardous. So the trail was shifted to cross Indian Hole Brook on Indian Well Road.

There are a number of old routes going up the hill towards the overlook. That is very steep terrain with slick bedrock just below the surface. After a bit of erosion, the rock would become exposed and was slippery when wet. Hikers sometimes chose to slide downhill on their butts. In 2017, CFPA created an ambitious reroute up the hill that avoided the steep rock. The trail was cut into the side of the hill for easy walking.

There will be more changes in the future. The stepping stones across Indian Hole Brook placed in 2017 washed out, so CFPA is looking at having a pedestrian bridge installed further upstream. And a giant gully is about to destroy the trail just north of the beach access trail, so a reroute will be required there within the next few years. Stay tuned!