Saturday, April 23, 2022

They say it's called "Spring".

This past Saturday was weird.  We had a work party and the sun was shining, with no rain, impending thunderstorms, no sleet or ice, the wind wasn't howling, the birds were chirping, it got warmer as the morning went on, and the flowers were blooming.  Not at all like our last few events.  Weird.  Not sure what to make of this odd weather.  They say it's called "Spring".

Bill and Mark were organizing the troops.  We had a great turn-out of 24 volunteers to cut brush, plant trees, and remove thatch from the RecPath at Lane Street.

Mark went over our objectives and safety rules.  There was a discussion of what to cut (things with thorns, invasive plants), and things to save (wildflowers, native plants).

It was a Blue As Could Be morning with some of the trees flowering along the edge of the Means Brook floodplain.  This might be a shad bush tree in flower.

The volunteers stretched out into various groups cutting or digging out old grass on top of the crushed stone Recreation Path.  Another group went up to the end of the meadow to plant tree dogwood trees that Bill Dyer donated along the RecPath.

Mike brought his own weedwacker.  We had a lot of tools but it's usually fun when folks bring their own gear too.

A lot of folks were out enjoying the RecPath too.  Strolling, running, walking dogs, pushing baby strollers, etc.

Lots of friendly dog walkers going thru the work areas.  Volunteers stopped to pet the pups, when OK'd by the owners.

The hayfield always encroaches on the crushed stone surface later in the summer, so we were trying to remove a lot of the thatch so people will be able to enjoy an 8 foot wide RecPath in June, instead of a 2 foot wide path thru the hay.

A lot of high school students were working on removing brush as part of their community service efforts.  Their work was much appreciated.

Some large thickets of briars were removed along the RecPath, which should make things more enjoyable later in the summer.

Thanks to everyone who helped out: Samuel, Anne, James, Mike, Ilaina, Matt, Val, Ellen, Noah Ethan, Tamia, Derek, Serenity, Joseph, Steven, Danielle, Minnhi, Zach, Jahneil, Mattheiu, Julien, Terry, Mark, and Bill.

Maybe if we're lucky we'll get some more of this weird "Spring-like" weather to enjoy the trails on the weekends.

Monday, April 18, 2022

New Eversource Towers are Coming with Major Impacts


New Eversource towers, grading, and road at Black Rock S.P. 

Electricity is a good thing, so Eversource is planning to replace their old towers in Shelton, including the ones at Shelton Lakes and French's Hill where we have trails. We're accustomed to work along the powerlines, but the scale of this proposal is unlike anything we've seen before. It will have major impacts on our trails, both during and after construction. 

Similar Project at Black Rock State Park:
We were told that the work in Shelton would be very similar to the work done last year at Black Rock State Park, which I happened to hike during construction in 2021 as part of the DEEP's Sky's the Limit challenge, following CFPA's blue-blazed Mattatuck Trail and the park's Red Trail to follow the popular loop to a scenic overlook specified in DEEP's challenge. I had some difficulties there, losing the trail due to the construction, but I'll get to that later. More important is what the long term consequences will be to the trails, so I took a drive up this spring to see what that area looks like now that construction is complete. This is what Eversource plans for Shelton Lakes. 

Access Roads: Eversource plans to upgrade existing access roads and build new ones in some locations along our trails. The existing utility access roads at Shelton Lakes are mostly goat paths we have to mow. They feel like the natural ground surface even where they might not be.  The new roads would be 20-foot wide graded roads covered with crushed stone.

Existing access road and Paugussett Trail

At Black Rock State Park, crews were granted permission to use a portion of the 42-mile Mattatuck Trail that is outside of the easement area, and this is what the hiking trail looks like now:

20' wide access road built over Mattatuck Trail

Surface of upgraded access road, Mattatuck Trail

In 2021, some of the blazed trees marking the hiking trail had been removed for the new road, so I only knew I was on the Mattatuck Trail by stopping to check the Avenza Map app on my phone.  I then missed where the trail turned off of the access road because it was overgrown and not marked, and continued walking up the access road with trucks going by and kicking up dust.  Eventually the road curved away from where the trail was supposed to be, and I realized my mistake and hunted around with trucks going by until I found the overgrown trail junction. 

Revisiting the access road a year later, I found it unchanged. I was surprised that the Mattatuck Trail had not been relocated to get it off of the access road. 

Tower Pads:  The existing towers in Shelton do not have pads. They were plunked down on the existing grade for the most part, with four concrete footings providing stability.  The new system calls for large "pads" to be graded out. At Shelton Lakes, the pads will be as wide as the clearing. Where there is ledge and hills, those are to eliminated to make for the level pad. In places, the pad will be on two levels. This is what that looks like at Black Rock, which is also rocky and hilly like Shelton Lakes: 

Ledge was pulled down and the area graded flat for a pad

Access road curving around a two-level pad

Rock cut with pad on top, road and 2nd level pad on bottom

Two-level pad

Access Road/Mattatuck Trail coming in from left;
two-tier pad in center

Imagining Shelton Lakes after construction: Compare those new graded pads at Black Rock State Park to the more natural terrain around Shelton's existing towers. The old towers were molded to the existing grade with minimal disruption of the terrain. In the future, instead of molding the towers to the landscape, the landscape will be altered for the towers. Heavier installation equipment also requires better access roads than was needed in the past. 

Existing tower at Nells Rock Trail

Existing tower at Nells Rock Trail

The Iroquois Gas Pipeline is another complication. In the picture below, the existing access road travels along the pipeline, as does Nells Rock Trail. This is outside of the Eversource right-of-way. Any kind of construction near a major pipeline increases red tape. Therefore, Eversource plans to build a second parallel road between the two sets of towers in the photo. Some of this road will be in wetlands, so it will be on a temporary heavy timber matt that will be removed. The two ridge tops that anchor the existing towers (and Nells Rock Trail) will be leveled out for new pads. We don't have the details, yet, but have asked Eversource for a grading plan. 

Would it make sense to relocate Nells Rock Trail off of the powerlines? The trail route was a lazy one utilizing existing woods roads that connected to the powerline road. Maybe there is a better way. Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, the Shelton Trails Committee is hoping to minimize disruption to the landscape where we have trails that cannot be relocated. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Well, Nobody Got Hit by Lighting

An overcast Saturday morning with storms in the forecast.  Another great day for our second work party at French's Hill.  We had another great turn-out for the work party.

I have no idea what Bob is doing with his arms though.

One crew started clearing the remainder of the brush around the parking lot off East Village Road.  Others headed down into the woods to remove saplings in the trail and brush along the edges.

The Three-bladed knife on the brushcutter worked well on removing the barberry.

The Spicebush was just starting with it's yellow blossoms.  The spicebush is one of the native shrubs that is crowded out by invasive species like barberry.  That's one of the reasons for removing the barberry along the trails where we can.

One section of the cutting crew was heading back to the parking lot as the rain was hitting.  There was also a lightning alert, and since we were near the top of a big hill we decided not to chance it.

The storm came thru, got everybody wet, then the sun came out.  On the plus side nobody was struck by lightning.  And some volunteers saw a herd of 9 deer.

Thanks to everyone who helped out today; James, Thomas, John, Madeus, Jeff, Nat, Joe, Devin, Bob, Sam & Myishaylo, Ellen, Matt, Graham, Mike, Mark, & Terry.