Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Nicholdale Farm: Preserved by a Pipeline

If not for the Iroquois Pipeline, Nicholdale Farm would probably have been converted into a housing development in the early 1990s.  The farm is now a popular place to walk and relax with nature.

The pipeline stretches from Canada to Long Island

When their pipeline was built, the Iroquois Company paid property owners directly when they needed an easement, but also compensated the greater community for environmental disruption. With 8.3 miles of new pipeline, the City of Shelton received $972,000 from the Iroquois Land Preservation and Enhancement Program (LPEP). The money could only be used for the purchase and preservation of open space or public recreation. City leaders at the time were planning on using the funds to pay for the new Community Center, but this use was denied and a new plan was needed. 

It so happens that the old Nichols family dairy farm known as "Nicholdale" was coming on the market in the White Hills. The price tag for the core 52-acre farm was $1.3 million, so additional funding beyond the City's Iroquois allotment would be needed. A group calling itself "Partners in Protection" was created to work on the project. A tremendous amount of time and energy was devoted towards the complex partnership. Terry Jones estimated he personally spent 500 hours pulling all the pieces together. 

Nicholdale Farm meadow

In the end, four property owners agreed to donate all the money they received from Iroquois (due to easements crossing their properties): The Shelton Land Trust, Bridgeport Hydraulic Company (BHC - now known as Aquarion), Jones Family Farms, and the City of Shelton. The project funding was still short until the Shelton Conservation Commission added another $100,000.  At that time, the City of Shelton did not yet have a system for maintaining open space, so the property was placed into the hands of the private Shelton Land Conservation Trust. 
The little stone bridge is on water company land

This 52-acre core properties included several meadows and what became a Youth Camp. (The property is no longer farmed). But Nicholdale Farm wasn't done growing. A few years later, a 7-acre property was transferred from Iroquois to the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company with a deed restriction that required passive public recreation so long as the Nicholdale Farm was open to the public. The State of Connecticut later purchased an easement for recreation and preservation on the BHC property as part of the new Centennial Watershed State Forest. Hikers familiar with the Nicholdale Farm will recognize the stone bridge on it. 

The Crown Tool property

The 13-acre Crown Tool property was acquired by the Land Trust in the late 1990s, along with a 3-acre parcel where the overflow parking lot is located.  The Crown Tool land is directly across the street from the Land Trust's Willis Woods property, providing linkage between Land Trust properties. 

Nicholdale Farm properties

The Nicholdale property seems larger than its 75 acres due to the surrounding lands being undeveloped. Some of these lands are permanently protected, while others are not. The Iroquois gas pipeline crosses the property, crossing Rt 110 at Willis Woods, cutting through the woods, and heading south towards Pearmain Road. The Pearmain Path south of Nicholdale crosses the pipeline twice. 
Trail Map

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Snow Walk

Got a chance to get out as the snow was falling Sunday.   Went up the Dog Paw Path from the Trail Barns.

Not a lot of people out on the trails, but you could see their tracks.

The walk thru the spruce trees was surprisingly quiet despite the location near Rt. 108.  Snow quiets everything.  The trees were frosted by the falling snow.

Walking down the RecPath it was good to see the improvements from yesterday's work party.  It's hard to believe that it was pushing 60 degrees yesterday.

It felt a little like The Shining in some spots.  Wonder what it'll look like in June when all the Mtn. Laurel are in bloom.

Left the RecPath and followed Oak Valley Trail.  Some crazy mountain bikers had been out with their silly wide fat tires in the snow along with all the hikers and dog walkers.  Interesting choice of tracks near the Sheep Pen crossing.  You could barely hear the cars on this side of the ridge.

Cranberry Bog looked good.  Lots of animal footprints in and out of the swamp.  This is one of the few times of the year when you can explore the swamp on the ice.  Don't fall in.

Walking along Rt. 108 you could hear more cars.  It's a narrow path between the road and the swamp, but it's interesting to see the different lines that the bikers and the walkers chose.  Crossed the powerlines then followed the blue/white trail back toward The Barns.  The stone walls were hi-lighted with a little snow along the way.   I'm always impressed about how much work went into building all these stone walls when these woods had been cleared for agricultural land.  It makes you stop and try to picture what it used to look like way back when.

Coming back into The Trails Barns as it was getting darker.  The snow was still falling and the wind was picking up but it was comfortable to see Hank the Hiker leading me back toward the parking lot and a warm car.  It was an nice hike, a lot slippery in the new falling snow, but well worth the effort.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Trimming the Laurel

We finally got in a trail work party after all the snow, ice storms, and freezing weather the last few weeks.  It was an incredibly warm & sunny day for February; upper 40's headed toward 60!

A good group of 14 Volunteers showed up at the Trail Barns on Nells Rock Road.   We loaded up the gator with loppers, bow saws, and other cutting implements to trim back some of the brush along the edges of the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path.  Our goal was to get a head start on the brush before it started growing so there would be less work in June.

We headed South from the Dog Park.  The RecPath was icy in spots, but it was mostly clear.

Hope Lake was still frozen, and the Dam was sporting some interesting icy seeps.

People spread out thru what we call the Mountain Laurel Tunnel near the powerlines.  Some folks used power equipment, but there was a lot of limited hand cutting and hauling brush.  We needed to cut back some growth, but keep the arching effect thru the Laurels for June when the flowers bloom.  Got to get the Fung Schway just right.

Some of the cleared out edges of the RecPath near the Mtn. Laurels.

The trails, while muddy and icy, were pretty popular this morning.  There were a lot of folks out walking their dogs.  Here's one happy family of customers out enjoying the trails.  Enjoy today's weather because it's supposed to snow tomorrow.  But Spring is around the corner.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Leave the White Pro Keds Home Tomorrow

The footing tomorrow along the RecPath will be highly variable.  In some places there will be mud, in other places ice, in other places it will be ice covered mud.  If you're coming to the work party tomorrow leave your nice kicks at home.

So the air temperature will be excellent, for February; 50's, the ground will be a mess.  And it depends on if you're in the shade or out in the open.

You might want Micro-spikes working in woods.

Or LLBean Boots out in the open.

Or Ice Skates coming down the hill from the powerlines.

So, Be Prepared for a Nice Day in February.  Leave the nice shoes at home.  You've been warned.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Walking the Shelton Canal & Locks

New map (click to enlarge)
Take a walk with me along Shelton's historic canal & locks to an overlook of the Derby-Shelton Dam. It's an easy half-mile round trip. This is not something the Trails Committee maintains, but it's open to the public and most people have no idea it's there, or what the canal was all about. 
Back in the day, the canal supplied water power
to the factories on the right. This was all filled in.

Start by driving north up Canal Street as far as you can go. Notice all the old factory buildings like "the Birmingham" on the right, now being reinvented as apartments or condos. They used to stretch south all the way to Route 8. Those factories were why the dam, canal, and locks were constructed back in 1867 before electricity was a thing, so remember them. The canal powered the factories.  It was mostly filled in over the years, but it used to run along Canal Street (that's why it's call Canal Street, of course) for a long ways. You'll get past the refurbished part and come to a more gritty part of the street that is slated for redevelopment....eventually. Park at the end of the road (#300 Canal Street) and walk through (or around) the gate. It's open to the public. 

The locks are right there at the entrance. Check it out. They are in disrepair and the old wooden gates are rotting away, but they used to allow boats to get around the dam. 

Locks: The old wooden lock gate is rotting away 

How a lock works. Shelton's was a series of three locks.

The Shelton Locks

Kayaking the lower lock at high tide

There used to be a good water flow from above the dam into the canal and locks, but that was blocked at some point when it was no longer needed. Now the water you see cascading down the locks is from Curtiss Brook, the same brook that flows out of Pine Lake at the beginning of the Rec Path. 

Post card showing the locks in working order

When you're done gawking at the locks, walk north along what's left of the Shelton Canal up the hydroelectric access drive towards the dam. It's about a quarter mile to the end. As you walk, notice how much higher in elevation the canal is compared to the Housatonic River down below. That difference in height was the source of water power for the factories you drove past. Each factory had a canal sluice they could open or shut to allow water to power a turbine as the water flowed downhill to the river. 

A walk along the hydroelectric access drive towards the dam

Typical factory showing a water turbine
By 1867, efficient steel turbines had replaced wooden waterwheels as the Industrial Revolution gained speed.  But it was still the same concept as a water wheel.  In the above sketch, the canal would be on the right of the building and the Housatonic River would be on the left. Water would fall from the canal to the river, running through a spinning turbine located under the building. The turbine was connected to a complex set of belts that turned factory equipment.

Stairs provide shoreline fishing access near the base of the dam

Keep walking along the canal and the Derby-Shelton Dam (more properly called the Ousatonic Dam, but no one actually calls it that) and as you get closer to the dam, you'll come to a  wood staircase leading steeply down to the river. This provides good fishing access (use caution on the stairs). The river is tidal here, and fish such as stripers (striped bass) come up the river and stack up at the base of the dam. People often fish from boats there, but if you don't have a boat, this is one way to get near the action. 

Near the dam

There's a fence at the end of the public area, and beyond that is the hydroelectric facility owned and operated by McCallum Enterprises. So the dam was built to generate power and it still does. The turbines are now located at the dam, however, instead of beneath factories, and the power generated is converted into electricity instead of being used to turn factory belts. Either way, it's pretty impressive.

On the way back, notice the hillside on the other side of the canal. That's Riverview Park, Shelton's first park. It was donated by the canal company in the 1880s, and the Bluff Walk was the first trail (more of a carriage path at the time). 

The land you've been walking is open to the public under McCallum's federal license to operate their hydroelectric facilities. The City of Shelton also purchased a conservation and recreation easement over the property which allows the city to extend the Shelton Riverwalk to the canal and to stabilize or refurbish the historic locks.