Saturday, February 22, 2020

10 Winter Workers on Oak Valley Trail

Getting it done
This February has had some erratic weather; cold, rain, cold, ice, warm, rain, cold.  Not much snow though.  Normally there's 6" to a foot of snow on the ground now preventing brush trimming along the trails (it's good to cut the stems close to the ground to avoid a lot of  "spears" sticking up.  But we took advantage of the nicer weather this weekend to clear out along Oak Valley Trail, and clean up some storm blow-downs.

Ten volunteers came out on a brisk Saturday morning at the powerlines along Rt. 108.  One group went in from the road and cleared out briars and other brush along the trail.  Cutting it now makes our job a lot easier in late Spring when everything is bursting out and it's hard to keep up with trail clearing. 

Owen using one of the brushcutters near the trail entrance along Shelton Avenue.  It was great to have help from someone on the cross country team that runs the trails regularly.

Another group went over to clear this multiple blowdown near Pine Street.  One dead pine tree fell over in a storm, knocked over a second, and the pair of them knocked over a maple, which shattered the top of another tree before getting hung up in a swamp.  It was a mess that people had to walk and bike around on one of Shelton's more popular trails.

The first step was clearing out some areas to work around the blowdown so we had a safe way to walk away when we had to.  Jim cleared out a stone ramp that some mountain bikers had built over an old fallen log next to where the trees had fallen.

Trail Tip:  Next time bring a crow bar when the ground is frozen.  The trail hoe worked pretty well though.  Or, wait till the ground thaws.

Terry and Jim remove one of the logs across Oak Valley Trail.

Mark & Jim cutting up the last of the fallen pine trees blocking the trail.  Mark had actually bought a longer bar and chain for his saw so it would be easier to cut the larger logs.  That worked out pretty good.  We were able to cut those from one side of the blowdown without having to go from side to side.  Which was a good thing because the trees moved and rolled some when they were cut free.

Three down and one to go.  We then had a long and thoughtful chat about how to cut the last tree that was hung up.  We were not sure how the tree would roll, slide or move when it was cut.   There was now room to get under the tree safely and it didn't appear to be going anywhere.  So after much debate we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and left that one up for now.  We may come back and try it again if it's a problem.

Oak Valley Trail is now open again.  Mind your head if your mountain biking.

The other members of the crew cleared out a lot of bush along the trail; particularly under the powerlines.  This is an area that grows fast in the spring and this should help with early summer trail maintaining.

Mike Flament did a lot of wire brushing on the bog bridge over the stream just west of the powerlines.  The bridge was growing slippery due to moss buildup.

We got a lot done.  It was great that we had a good turn out.  Thanks to Kristel, Owen, Graham, Luis, Ellen, Val, Mike, Mark, Jim & Terry for coming out to help.

Does anybody know why coyotes like to poop on rocks and logs?  This little tidbit was just in the woods near the bridge.  Does anybody know why they do this?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

New Shelton Trails Google Map

If you use Google Maps on your phone, you can track your location along our trails while hiking using a custom Google Map of the trails.  All of the official Shelton Trails are on it, including the parking areas, as well as the Monroe Trails that link up with the Paugussett Trail just across the border. That includes Webb Mtn Park.

Phone screen shot
Blue dot is current location

A link to the Google Map is located on our webpage for trail maps maintained at  We still have all the standard trail maps for printing or viewing online. The Google Map has the advantage of allowing you to see where you are on the trails, and can be used while driving to find the trailheads. 

People using a chrome browser on their phone seem to have the easiest time. You must have a smart phone with the Google Maps app loaded onto it. Try clicking on the map link from your phone browser and see what happens. You must be signed in to your Google account. 

So far, we've had the follow results on various phones when someone clicks on the link for the first time:

1. Map starts up immediately in the Google Maps app and that's it. Super easy. 

2. Map opens up in a web browser. You can see the map, but can't see where you are on the map. If you are using Chrome for your browser, look for a menu on the upper right, open it, and select "View in Maps." You're done. If you're using a different browser and can't see "View in Maps," try to star the map while viewing in a browser (see photo below). That saves it to Google Maps (see below on how to open the saved map). 

3. Some people have multiple Google accounts open on their phone. If that's the case, you'll need to click through an annoying series of screens, but if you're the kind of person that has multiple Google accounts on your phone you'll probably figure it out. You'll be prompted to select which Google account you want to open the Maps app with. 

4. Alternatively, view the trails map on a PC and star it to save it for future use (you must be signed into the Google account that will be used on your phone).  See above screenshot. Then you can access it directly from the Google Maps app (see below). 

While on the PC or using a non-Chrome browser on your phone, try to "star" the map.
That saves it to your Google map account.

Viewing a Saved Map:
If you were able to open the map on your phone, Google automatically saved it for you. Alternatively, you may have starred the map while viewing on a PC, which also saved it.  On your phone, open the Google Maps app and look for the menu on the bottom (touch the screen if necessary to make the menu visible), select "Saved", and then scroll right to "Maps." (See photo below. It may not be obvious that you can scroll right to find a category for maps.) Select "Maps" and you should see the Trails map listed there. 

SCROLL menu to the right to view saved maps

Using the Map:
Your current location will be shown on the trail map with a blue dot and a margin of error around it depending on the strength of your signal.  But wait, there's more!  We've added a few icons with info such as critical trail notices, including the 2020 closure of the bridge at Indian Well. Touch the icon for more info (see screenshot below). 

And if you want more information about a trail, like the blaze color, name, or length, touch the trail and then select "More Info" to find that info. It was automatically generated from the City's GIS system, so it's a bit awkward, but the info is there. Note that the lengths will not be accurate for the Paugussett Trail because that line was entered in multiple sections. In the screenshot below, the trail name is Gristmill Trail, it's blazed white, and it's 0.3 miles long. Note that the line colors on the map are close to the blaze colors where possible. Black lines are used for white-blazed trails. Brown lines signify a trail with no blazes. 

Want to report a trail problem like a fallen tree? Take a screenshot of your current location and send it to us so we know exactly where the problem is.

Dead spots: There are some cell phone dead spots on the trails, including the lower elevations at Indian Well and some areas around Nicholdale Farm. Open up the map while you have a good signal and keep the app open. It will continue to track you even without a cell phone signal. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

"At a Place Called Burritts Rocks"

Google Earth view of Burritts Rocks with the Paugussett Trail (blue)
and the trails of Birchbank Mountain
"Burritts Rocks" is another one of Shelton's old place names that goes back to the time of the first white settlers, in the same vein as Nells Rock and Great Ledge. The name eventually fell out of use and was only recently rediscovered while researching past deeds. The rocky river slope that was once called Burritts Rocks gives the Paugussett Trail much of its rugged character.  The trail here feels like the Appalachian Trail in Northwest Connecticut.

Deed from the 1800s for what is now the southern tip of
Birchbank Mountain Open Space (click to enlarge)
Back in the day, land deeds gave a description of a "certain piece of land" by specifying the  neighborhood the land was located in, or maybe a nearby landmark.  The deeds from the 1800's for land located on either side of the Birchbank Mtn/Indian Well State Park boundary were described as being "at a place called Burritts Rocks."  The spellings for Burritt varied through the years, but "rocks" was always plural.

Survey area of "Burretts Rocks" (in red)
The Shelton History Center found an old surveyor's page titled "A field book and table of Burritts Rocks, including David H. Booth....and Agur Hubbells land." The survey included multiple properties and may have been commissioned by the Ousatonic Water Company. The above marked-up trail map shows where that land is believed to be located based on the bearings and distances listed in the survey table (see original notes). It's immediately north of the properties mentioned earlier as being part of Burritts Rocks. The "place called Burritts Rocks" seems to have covered, at a minimum, the river slope from the north part of Indian Well State Park up to about the Birchbank Mountain overlook.

Paugussett Trail at "The Caves" near the top of Burritts Rocks
And that area does have a stupendous amount of rock, most of it slick and covered with moss. There's bedrock ledges, giant boulders the size of small buildings, swarms of boulders the size of various kitchen appliances, and hillsides of small rocks jammed together so tightly there is no soil between them, just voids. The rock presents a special challenge for trail designers and hikers alike. The Paugussett Trail doesn't go directly through the worst of the boulder field, but skirts the edges. Going through the middle of the boulder field would be impossible. In addition to the slick, mossy boulders, there are deep crevices and voids, some deep enough to swallow a person.

Hikers must use their hands to get through "The Boulders"
We'll probably never know precisely what Burritts Rocks originally referenced. Was it the ledges, perhaps seen by ships sailing up river? Or the combination of the ledges and the ridiculously rocky slope? No matter. Today we're using it to describe the super rocky area between the Paugussett Trail (up above) and Indian Well Road (down below).

The Paugussett Trail north and downhill from "The Caves."
The hillside is a pile of smaller rocks, with little soil in between.
Where does the name Burritt come from? An old Stratford map shows a very long swath of the Housatonic west bank north of downtown Shelton labeled "Burritts Ground." Indian Well Road was originally called Burritts Road and Birchbank Road was called Burritts Ground Road. The latter road climbed the riverbank to connect to East Village Road. Part of Birchbank Trail follows this Burritts Ground Road as it switchbacks up the slope. This was a way for farmers up in the White Hills to get to the river, which was still tidal and functioned as a primary means of transport. There was a shipyard down by Indian Well.

Burritts Rocks near the Indian Well/Birchbank border,
down the hill from the Paugussett Trail
So who was Burritt? The Burritt family was one of the first to settle Stratford. One of the early descendants, Peleg Burritt, appears to have settled in Shelton when it was still part of Stratford, presumably somewhere along the west banks of the Housatonic River that were called Burritts Ground. Peleg's descendent Blackleach Burritt was born in Shelton and was interesting enough to merit his own Wikipedia entry. Besides having a super cool name,  Blackleach Burritt was a mover and shaker in a religious movement called the "Great Awakening" in the late 1700s.  

Alas, the Burritts all seem to have moved west, leaving behind only their place names. One wonders if "Burritts Rocks" was a name meant to troll the Burritts, an elbow in the ribs so to speak. Also, did people insert an expletive between "Burritts" and "Rocks?" Just asking for a friend.

This is a trail. 
There is some serious geology going on here that explains all the boulders. Underground is a rock formation called  the Straits Schist Basal Member (Stb). This formation contains layers with carbonate, variously called marble or limestone, and at one time there was a marble kiln located nearby. This is unusual for this part of the state, but common in the northwest hills, which is one reason why hiking through Burritts Rocks can feel similar to hiking in Kent.  Carbonate minerals dissolved out of the rock and created weaknesses so that it breaks easily into slabs and chunks. The formation can also contain metals like silver and tungsten. Here's a previous post  about the rock formation, which also outcrops at Old Mine Park in Trumbull and also across the river at Laurel Lime Ridge in Seymour.

The Housatonic River, meanwhile, has been undermining the slope for thousands of years and washing away everything that isn't a rock. The steepest part of the slope is at the outer bend of the river, which has the strongest current.

"Blowdown Brook" marks the southern end of Burritts Rocks
If you are hiking northbound from the Indian Well beach area, you would walk for half a mile through easy terrain, mid-slope, until you arrived at a scenic stream that what we call "Blowdown Brook." That's an outlier of Burritts Rocks, and you may notice how many of the rocks are broken into flat slabs. That's typical of these rocks. You would use the stepping stones to carefully cross the brook. The trail then starts heading up the river slope because a wall of rock is just ahead and the trail can't go through it. So up and up and up the trail goes, arriving at the crest of the steepest, rockiest part of the river bank. Down below is a stretch of Indian Well Road where boulders occasionally roll down onto the road. 

Bedrock near the top of the hill, just below the trail.  
The trail here is squeezed between the rocky slope and the houses that are at the very top. We try to bring the trail down away from the houses wherever possible, but mostly it's impossible. It's not just the steepness, or the rock surfaces. It's the deep crevices. The photo above is maybe 50 feet downhill from the Paugussett Trail where it's close to some houses. The rock is bad enough, but take a closer look at the crevices. They're quite deep.

Crevice is 6-8 feet deep. 
At some point in time, the hillside suddenly pulled away from the lower sides of rocks, and the rocks themselves were fractured and pulled apart, leaving a series of deep parallel crevices. Possibly this was the top of a landslide, or the beginning of a landslide that never quite happen (but still could). The point being that it doesn't seem entirely stable. 

New trail section near the park border
This is why the Paugussett Trail unfortunately needs to stay up near the houses, although the very worst section was recently rerouted near the park border, where the trail now descends into a valley and crosses "Border Brook" to enter Birchbank Mountain. It's a nice spot. From here, you would follow the trail back up the hill and then the trail is surprisingly easy and rock-free for a short spell until you are confronted with "The Boulders." These are the boulders you need to use your hands to climb over. This is the start of the really rocky part for hikers, and is not recommended in wet weather. Shortly after that are "The Caves." Not real caves, just a bunch of rocks big enough to have overhangs that form small shelters. Then you descend steeply on lots of smaller flat rock. Take it slow. Over the years, trail managers have positioned some of these rocks to form steps, but it's not consistent and you may need to pause and think about where to step next. The trail then cuts across the rockfall slope, a reroute down a few years ago. Still very rocky, but easier. The rockiest section for the hiker ends soon after that, although there is plenty of rock on either side of the trail all the way to the overlook.

Walking Fern, an unusual plant growing on a boulder
The plant community at Burritts Rocks is distinctive. The calcareous rock has basically limed the soil, so it's not as acidic as we usually find in Shelton. And water seeps out of the cool, dark, northeast-facing slope. That's created very different growing conditions, and the lower parts of Birchbank Mountain are known for the spring wildflowers and plants like Maidenhair Fern that only grow in these sweeter soils.  Mostly what seems to grow on the rocks is moss and Marginal Woodfern, but you never know what you might find if you were willing to risk breaking a leg and take a look. Walking Fern was discovered growing out of some boulders, anchored in boulder crevices where carbonate rock has dissolved. Walking Fern is uncommon and said to grow in exactly this type of habitat. This tiny plant doesn't look like a fern. It gets its name because the leaf tips form new plants, which take root, allow the plant to "walk" across the rock. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Balmy February Morning at Pine Lake

It was 65 degrees Fahrenheit in Antarctica today, and nowhere's near that in Shelton, CT.  A few brave and intrepid trails volunteers ventured out to take advantage of the snowless (so far) winter and cut briars along the RecPath behind Pine Lake today.  The wind was still kicking up from last night's storm.  The wind speeds hit records (80 MPH on Cape Cod) last night.

 It was very pretty, but the wind across Pine Lake along Rt. 108 was pretty ear-chilling this morning, so we decided to get into the pine trees and start cutting right away.

With a variety of saws, loppers, hedgetrimmers, weedwhackers, chainsaws, bow saws, and other instruments of destruction we attacked the briars, poison ivy, Japanese knotweed, burning bush, barberry, and other invasive species growing into the RecPath.  We wanted to do a pre-emptive strike before everything bloomed out and started growing this spring.

Once we got out of the wind, into the trees and started working it warmed right up.  The sun came up and the pines looked great in the early morning sunlight.

We split up into teams and worked our way up to Constitution Blvd.  (and Val went to Hope Lake), cutting briars and invasive species growing into the RecPath.  A lot of people were out using the trails; dogwalkers, joggers, mountain bikers, and one really hard core biker wearing shorts.  He must have a robust circulation system.

We got a lot done, but there's more to do.  We have another work party coming up in two weeks on Oak Valley Trail if people would like to enjoy a brisk outing in the morning.  Thanks to Graham, Luis, Bill, Val, Mike, Mark, Jim & Terry for helping out today.

We didn't get a lot of good action shots of people working.  For some reason everyone just kept moving.  Val did get a picture of putting stuff away after the work party.  Thanks to everybody who came out. See you in a couple of weeks.