Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Our new Outdoor Challenge

Avatars at the Shelton Canal & Locks
There's a pandemic going on and people have been ordered to stay home. But authorities say that getting outside for fresh air and exercise is perfectly fine as long as people maintain their distance from each other. The exception is a few towns that closed their parks and sometimes trails because people were meeting up and congregating. And the state has closed a few areas that received way too many visitors.

Our goal is to keep the trails in Shelton open, and we can do that with your help. Avoid popular areas during peak time, maintain six feet from others, and don't meeting up with people. We're asking people to explore some of our lesser used trails and open spaces. There are about 30 miles of trails in Shelton, so there is lots of room to spread out. 

And so we give you the 2020 "Getting Out and About"outdoor challenge, designed to encourage our fine residents to get outside and explore. There's much more to Shelton's trail system than the Rec Path at the Dog Park. We have three levels. The easiest level consists mostly of scenic drivebys and very short walks on gentle terrain. The hardest (the Wandering Goat level) consists of Shelton's most difficult and remote locations, mostly in the White Hills. Choose an avatar to represent yourself, visit all ten sites in the level of your choice, and take a photo of your avatar at each location. Email your photos to us and you'll be placed in a drawing. The avatars make this especially fun for the kids. Enjoy!

Our Favorite Walks Part 4: Bill Dyer

This post is part of a continuing series describing the Trails Committee members favorite jaunts along Shelton's thirty miles of trails. There are many types of trails located across the city, from the handicapped-accessible Rec Path to the rugged Paugussett Trail. 

Boehm Pond
by Bill Dyer

In the past 25 years Shelton has acquired considerable Open Space, either by purchase or via the Open Space provisions of the subdivision development regulations. It is not surprising that on much of the open space property there are existing paths created by deer, local residents and even old roadbed created centuries ago and subsequently abandoned. The Trails Committee has taken advantage of these paths and roadbeds when available and often created new paths to provide loops and connectivity to other acquired parcels. An example of this is the Boehm Pond Trail off Far Mill Street and Winthrop Woods Road.

Crossing Boehm Brook
The original 31 acre parcel on Far Mill Street had some walking paths that a local resident volunteered to maintain in terms of removing fallen branches and cutting back briars. However he requested help from the Trails Committee, especially with treefall removal and trail marking. When I first went on this trail I missed the hairpin turn at the southern end of the path and ended up in a resident’s back yard on Copper Penny Lane. By expanding the trail width and the proper blazes, we solved that problem. We created a marked return to the parking area (the white blazed trail) and subsequently a second loop (yellow blazes) on the east side of the property.
Trail Map - click to enlarge

When a builder acquired the property at the dead end of Winthrop Drive and extended it to Farm Mill Street, designating it Winthrop Woods Road, the City received 20 acres of Open Space contiguous to the original parcel, including Boehm Pond and a pedestrian easement to Boehm Circle. We could now extend the trail (blazed red) across Winthrop Woods Road to Boehm Pond. Last year we extended the trail to provide access to Boehm Circle and the local residents in that area.

Several years ago we built a pedestrian bridge across the outflow stream from Boehm Pond to facilitate getting to the Boehm Pond side of Winthrop Woods Road. After a major rainstorm, the bridge was washed about 20 yards downstream, caught up on some rocks and trees. Fortunately it was not damaged and we could retrieve it with ropes and drag it back to the proper stream crossing location. However this time we made a pier of rocks on both sides of the stream, thus raising the bridge a foot higher than before and attached a steel cable to the bridge and a nearby tree just in case this was not high enough. So far so good for the bridge.

Volunteers hauled the washed out bridge back up the hill
We have a trained chainsaw crew among our ranks that can tackle most major treefalls across our trails. One such occurred on the Boehm Pond Trail in the area just before the pedestrian bridge when a huge live tree fell across the path. The portion covering the trail was about 30 inches in diameter and maybe 12 feet from the massive root ball now sticking out of the swamp. Richard Skudlarek (who met his future wife working on the trails) agreed to use the chainsaw and I was there to assist. Due to the size of the tree, he had to cut it from both sides of the trail, crawling under it to do so. When he finished the first cut on the side of the root ball, a strange and scary event occurred. While the weight of the entire tree toppled the tree, once the weight of most of the tree was removed by the cut, the 12 foot tree stump slowly rose to a vertical position and the root ball fell back into place. Very eerie! Another cut of the remaining horizontal tree and the trail was reopened for business.

This massive trunk as it was starting to rotate back to the upright position
In the past several months, Boehm Pond has become the home to some new residents, namely beavers. They have built a 50 foot long crescent shaped dam 4 feet high near the stream underpass of Winthrop Woods Road backing up the water and greatly expanded the size of the pond. The dam is easily seen from the road and notice the stumps of trees that the beavers cut. The pedestrian bridge on the upstream side of the original pond is now underwater, as is much of the land next to the path on that side of Winthrop Woods Road. So far the path is totally dry and no man-made structures or septic systems are threatened. When you follow the red path where it splits to the left toward the water, look slightly to the right to see two parallel yellow blazes on a tree which was on the original pond bank.

Beaver have recently enlarged the pond

I highly recommend this trail, which is the only one located on the west side of Shelton. It is far from all major roads so that once in there you can’t hear any traffic noise. The two clearly marked loops, white and yellow, and the red path that leads to Boehm Pond and Circle are easy to follow. While the trail footing is generally good, in the spring there may be some muddy spots and there are lots of rocks and tree roots in the paths, so I recommend hiking boots. The addition of the beavers adds to the other woodland creatures that one often encounters. Each season has its own features of plants, flowers and animals. Parking is available across from 98 Far Mill Street and at the road stream crossing near 64 Winthrop Woods Road. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Our Favorite Walks Part 3: Mike Flament

This post is part of a continuing series describing the Trails Committee members favorite jaunts along Shelton's thirty miles of trails. There are many types of trails located across the city, from the handicapped-accessible Rec Path to the rugged Paugussett Trail. 

A Trail for Three Seasons, by Michael Flament

Judging by the frequency of my hiking it, my favorite Shelton hike begins at the Abbey Wright entrance to Nells Rock Trail, located across from Chordas Pond and the L’Hermitage condominiums (GPS #160 Nells Rock Road). There are many options starting at this trailhead, from a quickie 25-minute loop when you are running late to a multi-mile hike over trails less traveled by. I started hiking this trail many years ago, when I had two dogs to walk in the morning before work. Now that I am retired, the longer hikes have more appeal.

Five minutes out from the trailhead, the white-blazed Nell’s Rock Trail arrives at “Four Corners” and your options begin...

Four Corners, many possibilities 
  • To the left and right is the blue-blazed Paugussett Trail, which spans a distance of 13 miles from East Village Road in Monroe in the north to Buddington Road at the southern-most part of the Shelton Lakes Greenway. The Paugussett is part of CFPA's 825-miles system of  "Connecticut Blue Blazed Trails." Turn right to visit Eklund Garden, where a wide variety of native flora are on display about fifteen minutes from the trailhead. Thirty minutes from the trailhead will get you to pine-tree-lined Hope Lake with its picnic tables and fishing access. Hope Lake is stocked with trout each spring and also supports native largemouth bass and sunfish.
  • Hikers and bikers can quickly -- within five to ten minutes -- continue straight to jump on Shelton’s four-mile Rec Path, at roughly the halfway point between Pine Lake and Huntington Center. The Rec Path is wheelchair accessible, and mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, and even road bikes can manage the terrain, except in icy or snowy weather.
  • Looking for a quiet hike, you can continue following the white blazes of Nells Rock Trail around the loop. You just might spot deer in the mornings or the occasional coyote at dusk. A little further down the trail is the junction with Basil Brook Bypass, which travels an equally quiet, if a bit more rigorous, hiking path that in some years at least provides a  view of a mini-cascade as the snow melts in the spring.

From the Four Corners junction,
there are many possibilities to choose from
For people new to Shelton’s trails or new to hiking, Nells Rock Trail is a good jumping off point to the wide range of hikes available on thirty miles of  trails in Shelton. Maps of these trails can be accessed at www.sheltonconservation.org/recreation/shelton_trails.html
Plenty of parking for the Nells Rock Trail is available at the trailhead.

Caveat Hiker: The area near the Nells Rock trailhead tends to be damp in the spring and it gets quite buggy in late spring and summer months (summer is the season to avoid). The quicker one gets out to the Four Corners meeting of the Paugussett and Nells Rock Trails, the fewer insect bites you are likely to get. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Our Favorite Walks Part 2: Val Gosset

This post is part of a continuing series describing the Trails Committee members favorite jaunts along Shelton's thirty miles of trails. There are many types of trails located across the city, from the handicapped-accessible Rec Path to the rugged Paugussett Trail. 

Val has two favorites depending on whether she's looking for a walk or wants to jog. Both are centrally located in the popular Shelton Lakes Greenway near the schools and dog park.

Val's Turkey Trot loop with her alternate access off Independence Drive

Walking Favorite: Turkey Trot Trail via Independence Drive. "When I need to get out in nature and stretch my legs, the Turkey Trot Trail is my go-to hike. It's easy for me to access from the Paugussett Trail crossing on Independence Drive. I love the variety -- the sunshine under the powerlines, the shade of the woods, the spring peepers (at the right time of year) in the Southwest corner, and the multiple views of Silent Waters. There are enough ups and downs that it's more than "a walk in the woods," so I feel like I've had some exercise. And even though I rarely see other people -- and very few houses -- I'm always close to civilization so I feel completely safe. Lovely solitude!"

Silent Waters overlook

This is a moderately easy loop of 2.3 miles. The official trailhead for Turkey Trot Trail is located on Constitution Blvd North near the Intermediate School. But the trails often have alternate access points which may be more convenient depending on where you live. Val likes to access Turkey Trot Trail via Independence Drive at the powerlines (for GPS use #81 Independence Drive). There is no dedicated parking area here, so you need to park along the street.

Walk around the gate on the gravel utility road heading south up the hill. You'll be following the blue blazes of the Paugussett Trail to reach Turkey Trot Trail. While under the powerlines, there are no trees, so the blue rectangles have been painted on rocks, powerline towers, and gate posts.  After the crest of the hill, look carefully for the Paugussett Trail to take a sharp left off of the utility road and head into the woods. Continue following the blue blazes until you come to a junction with white blazes. Your loop begins here. Take a right turn and follow the white blazes of Turkey Trot Trail.  Cross the powerlines, head back into the woods, and up another hill. Keep following the white blazes. The trail will gradually loop back to the left, with Willoughby Road and then Shelton Ave close by on the right.

Turkey Trot Trail will come out under the powerlines once again near Shelton Ave (an alternate access point). Turn left to follow the powerlines (look for white markings on the rocks but they fade quickly) and then turn right to go back into the woods. Shelton Ave will continue to be on the right and soon the pond known as Silent Waters will be on the left. Keep following the white markings to the left as the trail rejoins the Rec Path and goes along the top of an old dam from the late 1800s. A bridge over the old spillway is a favorite stopping point. Look for heron and wood ducks. Continue along the top of the old dam and follow the wide crushed stone path.

Take this left to head back up towards Independence Drive

There are now blue blazes in addition to the white blazes. Follow those blue and white blazes as they take a hard left off of the gravel path and head up the hill, bringing you back to where you started the Turkey Trot loop. Take a right to follow the blue blazes back to the powerlines, turn right and follow the utility road down the hill to your car.


Rec Path between the dog park and Wesley Drive

Jogging Favorite: Shelton Lakes Recreation Path (Hope Lake to Wesley Drive)."For a quick jog, my favorite part of the Rec Path runs from the bench overlooking Hope Lake (the walk up the hill from the Dog Park is my warmup!) to Wesley Drive and back again. It's a nice 3+ miles, not too hilly, and for the most part, houses and streets are out of sight. In June, the mountain laurel in bloom under the powerlines is spectacularly beautiful." 

Val's favorite jogging route (out and back)

Our Favorite Walks Part 1: Mark Vollaro

This post is part of a continuing series describing the Trails Committee members favorite jaunts along Shelton's thirty miles of trails. There are many types of trails located across the city, from the handicapped-accessible Rec Path to the rugged Paugussett Trail. 

Mark's favorite hike is at Birchbank Mountain in the White Hills part of Shelton. It's a scenic two-mile "lollipop loop" that features an overlook of the Housatonic River. There's an elevation gain of about 350 feet, which will get the heart pumping."You will get in your exercise for the day on this hike, but the views and rushing water are worth it."

Hike route shown in orange
(click to enlarge)
The hike starts at the main trailhead for Birchbank Trail on Indian Well Road one full mile past the turnoff for the Indian Well State Park beach area. A sign kiosk and space for two cars marks the spot. The road jogs to the right to cross the railroad tracks where there is lots of additional parking.

Pay attention to the color of the blazes painted on the trees. For this hike you will start out on white, then turn onto blue, then blue/white, and then back onto white.

From the parking area, follow the white blazes of Birchbank Trail along the bottomlands for half a mile, cross over a footbridge, and start up the hill alongside a tumbling brook. "Water running down the 'chute' from Upper White Hills Brook is loud and quite spectacular," says Mark. "There are many small waterfalls that funnel water between large boulders and create some interesting white water around you. This is not something you expect in Shelton, but it is one of the gems on this hike."

The Chimney
Continue following the white blazes up the hill to the junction of the blue-blazed Paugussett Trail. You'll be turning left here. An old chimney overlooks the brook. This is the site of the old Monroe Rod and Gun Club before it burned down.  Follow the blue blazes across the brook and on up to the Birchbank Overlook. There is a great view of the Housatonic River looking south. Mark says he likes to sit on the rock outcropping, take in the vistas over the tree tops, and have a few sips of water. There is also a trail register near the overlook where people can leave notes for other hikers to read.

Continue along the Paugussett Trail southbound and watch carefully for the junction with the blue/white trail (if you start to go up a rocky hill, you missed it). Turn left to follow the blue/white blazes down the hill. There are some steep sections here that can be slick with leaves in the fall. The trail comes to a "T" ending with Birchbank Trail. Turn right and follow the white blazes down the hill to another overlook of the cascades and chutes of Upper White Hills Brook. Shortly after that, the trail joins an old road that settlers once used to bring their crops to ships on the Housatonic River. It was called Burritt's Road and there was a shipyard near Indian Well. When the trail reaches the bottom, turn right and follow the old road back to the parking area.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Spring Trail Clearing Season Has Begun

After a mild winter it looks like we're in for an early Spring in 2020.  It's not even Saint Patrick's Day & the Red Maples are flowering.  Or so my allergies tell me.  So to get a jump on the Spring season a group of trail volunteers split up into two parties and cleaned up the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path at Silent Waters.

Here's Evan, Ben, Natalia, Jim & Mark after the work party.  We didn't get many photos of people actually working this time, but we had a good turn out.

The greenbriar was already leafing out.  We started cutting back anything with thorns along the RecPath so it wouldn't be in the way later in the season.  We also tried to cut back invasive species like Burning Bush, and Japanese Barberry; which can harbor ticks. 

There was a variety of brush just starting to bud out along the trails.  In general we tried to clean up the sides of the RecPath for spring.  Volunteers also raked and blew off leaves and debris from the Path.

Some sections of timber rail fencing were replaced along the north dam.  One post had rotten over the winter and it wasn't practical to replace it when the ground was frozen.  Some of the rails were also replaced. 

Elsewhere people were clearing out along the RecPath down to the schools toward Meadow Street.  Thanks to everybody who came out to help; Owen, Ellen, Mary, Evan, Ben, Graham, Natalia, Jim, Mark, Bob, Bill & Terry.  You can get a lot done quickly when you get a good turn out.  See you again in two weeks at Independence Drive.  Check out the work parties and events section for the upcoming trails schedule.

The trails were very popular this morning from some reason.  It could have been the excellent spring weather, or possibly folks were getting some fresh air and exercise as a response to the Coronavirus.   Whatever the reason, you may not be able to find any toilet paper at Walgreens, but you can find 30 miles of trails in Shelton that are free and open for business.  Great for nature observation and social distancing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

RIP Little Gatehouse

Kim Edwards took this photo just moments after the gatehouse slid into the water.
The Pine Lake Gatehouse became history at 4:45 on March 2. Kim Edwards had just started her trail run at Pine Lake when she heard a loud noise that sounded like a car accident. It was the gatehouse sliding into the water. It sank fast. The above photo shows the water surfacing still churning just moments after the building sank. Notice how the concrete base has tilted.

Pine Lake gatehouse in 2017
This gatehouse has been an eyesore for years, but there was no easy way to access it. The building housed a valve that at one time could be turned to release water from the reservoir, but the valve has not been operable since at least the 1980s.

The gatehouse in 2013, note missing concrete at waterline
The building itself was the least of the problems. The concrete base had spaulded away terribly at the water line. You could see daylight all the way from one side to the other. Very little was holding it up. In order to repair the concrete, the reservoir would need to be partly drained, but since the reservoir valve was stuck shut, that wasn't an option.

Most of the concrete at the water line was gone
It's likely that the concrete finally gave way and the building immediately slid off. RIP, little gatehouse.

The new landscape

Sunday, March 1, 2020

2020 Marshmallow March Madness

It was a clear, cold, and blustery March First - perfect day for a walk in the woods, and for toasted marshmallows.  The wind was a little chilly, but that didn't stop anybody from hiking the trails at Nicholdale in the White Hills of Shelton on Sunday.

Dozens of families showed up.  We think it was about 60 people and 10 dogs, but after a while it was hard to keep up. 

Bill lead the pack seeking warm and food into the scout camp.

Where Mark & Jim had the fire going and ready.  And that's when The Marshmallow Madness began.

Families were having a great time toasting marshmallows.  Bob Wood brought graham crackers and chocolate.  Somebody brought hot chocolate.  Bill Dyer brought hot coffee.  I think that we even remembered to bring cups.  It was a great pit stop.

In a magnificent effort to up the sugar ante this year; Ryan & Joe Welsh brought locally-made maple syrup and mini-pancakes for everyone.  And, they were delicious. 

Joe even labeled some of the syrup with the Shelton Land Trust Logo since some of the trees that were tapped were at Nicholdale on the Land Trust's property.

The hike was good for families of all ages.  It's never too young to get the next generation of hikers outside.  The strollers were good in the open fields.  The blue trails were a little rougher.

All the doggies were well behaved and everybody got along fine.

Young Remington was on his first Marshmallow March, but he was here last year too.  He was born on the same day as the hike last year; so we feel that he should count as a repeat participant.

A number of the younger hikers kept coming over to Jim and Mark and asking if it was OK to add more wood to the fire.  The guys said "sure, go ahead", what could go wrong.  Well we did have to stomp out a few small leaf fires on a blustery day,  but everything turned out fine.  The Land Trust's property survived intact.   The gang was having a great time running around with flaming marshmallows, s'mores, hot chocolate, and maple syrup and pancakes.  I'm sure all the parents had a nice quite afternoon, once the sugar high wore down.

We had a great turn-out, possibly our most successful Marshmallow Marches ever.  We're glad that all the families had a great time getting outdoors enjoying open spaces and walking, running, and hiking.

Eventually we did complete the blue loop along Nicholdale Brook and back to the parking lot.  Other folks headed back thru the meadows.  Jim, Mark & Bill put out the fires.  And everyone made it home.

It was another get event on the Shelton Land Conservation Trust property.  They are a great local charity if people are interested in joining.  Nicholdale is a fine location to enjoy and observe scenic vistas and wildlife throughout the year.  Thanks to all the volunteers who came out,  and who the participants who got to explore the preserve.

Daylight savings is one week away and Spring is around the corner.  There's plenty of chances to come back again.