Saturday, December 9, 2023

Rigging Up These Lights

Bill Dyer had a bright idea to put holiday lights on the Trails Barn, so Saturday we did.   We added lights on the Old Barn too.

Bill, Mark, Ellen, Val, Luis, Mike, Mark & Terry fiddled around with lights, unrolled extension cords, plugged in plugs, set time on timers, didn't fall off ladders, hammered nails without hitting thumbs, ate some doughnuts, and did whatnot to put lights on the 2 barns and the trees this morning.

The New Barn and the winterberry bush were very festive looking.

Hank the Hiker was spinning on the cupola this morning.  The wind was unsettled with the storm coming up from the south.

Mark was tacking in some nails for lights, and Mike was steadying the ladder so it didn't tip over.

Luis, Bill, Ellen and Val were also stringing some lights on the Old Trails Barn.

It was a busy morning around the barns; a lot of folks were using the dog park, and Allison, Paul and other volunteers were working to put the flower gardens to bed for the season.

Came back at dusk and the timer was working.  The Parks & Rec folks are going to hang some additional lights along the Barn fascia next week, and some wreaths should be going up too.  It should look nice for the holidays.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

2 Cycle Gas Preparation

We use a variety of power and hand tools.  The power tools really help with maintaining all of Shelton's 31 miles of trails; particularly given the limited number of core volunteers. 

When we were first starting out we had a variety of tools that used different mixtures: 50:1, 40:1, 32:1 and it was hard to keep things straight.  We standardized on using a 50:1 gasoline: 2 cycle oil mixture for all the tools to make our tasks simplier and avoid confusion.    Keeping the fresh, proper 2-cycle fuel mixture is the first step in starting and using our trail tools.  The typical 50:1 mix we use is:

  • 1 gallon 89 Octane Gasoline (high test, but not super hi-test)
  • 1 small container of 2 Cycle Oil (pre-mixed for 1 gallon of gas)
  • 1 oz. of SeaFoam stabilizer

The 2 cycle oil is generally dumped into the empty gas can before adding the gasoline to help with mixing.  The 89 Octane was suggested by Bill Girard; CFPA's chainsaw instructor, and it seems to work well for us.  The stabilizer helps keep the gas fresh for a few months.  We generally have two to three 1 gallon cans that we rotate to use up the older gas first.

Note of Caution:  Most of the little 2 cycle oil containers are pre-mixed for 1 gallon of gas, but check the label.  We have a few containers that are pre-mixed for 2 gallons of gas.  Don't put two much oil in or the tools will sputter.  And don't put the 2-Cycle oil in the Gator or DR Mower - those take the regular gas in the larger gas containers.

Use the little mixing shot glass to pour out the SeaFoam stabilizer and add it to the gas can.  Make a note on the label of the date it was mixed up, so we can use up the older gas first.

Trail Safety Tip:  Don't use that shot glass for drinking.  SeaFoam may be good for engine innards, but not so sure about your innards.  And that goes for any of the other measuring containers on the fuel/chemical area of the Barn.

There you have it; another valuable trail maintenance guide from your friendly neighborhood Shelton Trails Committee.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Turkey Trot Hike

The 2023 Turkey Trot Hike went off without a hitch.  A dedicated group left from Shelton Intermediate School to work off some of that holiday stuffing and gravy.

It was a brisk start, but we warmed up quickly.  We were able to do the outer loop on the Turkey Trot Trail now that Eversource was done with construction along the powerlines.

The oak leaves were a little slippery on some of the slopes, but it was a fine hike.  Wish I'd taken a few more pictures.  The route crossed the powerlines, out to Willoughby Road, and back over to Silent Waters and the school.  There were a lot of fellow walkers, hikers, and families out enjoying their post Thanksgiving outing.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Stockmal Bridge Successfully Replaced

The bridge over the stream on the Stockmal Trail was falling apart - literally falling apart.  Despite recent emergency patch repairs by Teresa Gallagher, this bridge was one fat butterfly landing on it while someone was walking their dog across it from collapsing into the brook.  It was in sad shape and needed to be replaced.

And today it was.  The rain forecast from yesterday looked like it was going to hold off, and it did, until we got about as far out in the woods as we could, and THEN it rained.  But we had our raincoats and muddled on.  We dropped off lumber and materials and wheeled or carried them in with a great group of volunteers and high school students (2 students - thanks Jason and Jevu) who hauled in the lumber along with Luis, Val, and Ellen.  


Here's the Trails Committee Proof-Loading the new bridge after construction.   Not only do we stand behind our work we also stand on top of it.  If it's safe enough for us it should be safe enough for the public.

Here we are setting up to remove the old bridge.  Note the recent patch boards in the far end.

The causeway had been extended by Teresa earlier in the week.  This was the approach across the floodplain to the bridge.

The old bridge was used as a bed to construct the new bridge.  Here is Mark working on the new stingers.

So, we glued, screwed, and bolted the 16 foot long beams together.  Mark is applying the construction adhesive.

Mike and Bill cut the spacing blocks for the bridge undercarriage.

The new bridge frame was assembled, and then shifted off to the side so we could move the existing bridge out of the way.  It was heavy so we tried to lighten the weight of the existing bridge by taking off some of the lumber.  Mike removed some deck boards from the existing bridge to lessen the weight when we moved it.  The bridge was pretty heavy due to the soggy boards.  Luckily, the existing bridge did no collapse into the stream when Mike removed the rotten deck boards, but Mike really tried.  Note that Val was standing close to one of the abutments, just in case everything went south in a hurry.

We got the old bridge dragged out of the way, put the new bridge back into place and started screwing 2x6 decking boards back into place.  Jevu and Jason helped Mike and Terry screw them in, along with Bill and Mark.  Everyone got a turn.  We had a great time lining up the boards, stripping driver bits, dropping things into the stream; in short, a real trail work party.  But we got it done.  And lowe and behold, the new bridge is much sturdier than the old bridge.

Mike and Luis reattached some boards to the old bridge section so it was safer to walk on.  There are a lot sticks and mud scattered in the muck.   We left the old bridge in the swamp temporarily for elevated footing during flooding.  We plan to replace it with a proper section on bog bridge in 2024, but this should hold for now. 

It was a good, if wet, work party.  Thanks to Jason, Jevu, Luis, Mark, Annie, Val, Ellen, Bill, Mike and  Terry. And Thank You to the Bennett and Stockmal families for hosting the trail on their property.

There was a lot of pre-planning and materials assembly by Mark, Ray, Ellen & Bill, but it all made things go smoother in the swamp on Saturday.  The sun came out and it wound up finishing as a nice Saturday Afternoon.  The Stockmal Bridge is replaced and we can check this one off the To Do List.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Stablizing the Old Barn

Bill Dyer and Mark Vollaro met Dan & Dave Construction at the Old Trails Barn to see if something could be done to stabilize it before it falls down.  The Barn dates back to the 1800's, and time and the elements have taken their toll.

Dan & Dave checked the barn and the timber foundation was pretty shot.  They tried to tie straps around the Barn and pull it back to vertical, while jacking up the foundation.  The Barn started to shift a bit, so they did some quick work.

They were able to shore up the northeast corner of the Barn and add some rocks under the sill to give it some more support.  They also added some interior bracing to the post and beam timber frame inside the Barn.

When the Barn shifted Dan & Dave had to make a few minor adjustments to the door frame in order to close them again.

The Old Barn looks better.  Now we'll be able to store our supplies and lumber out of the weather.

The Barn still has a littttle curvature to it, but the doors open and close.  Maybe we can get another 100 years of it. 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Fall Full Moon Hike

We were blessed with some uncommonly warm and dry weather for our Full Moon Hike.   The hike started on the RecPath at Lane St and proceeded along the RecPath to Great Ledge.  It was about 1.5 miles each way, total 3.0 miles.


There were a lot of flashlights and headlamps, which made it look a little like the movie Close Encounters of a Third Kind at the beginning.  We think that we started with about 22 people.

It was a beautiful night out.  The moon was clearly visible throughout the hike - this photo was taken at the Land Trust Meadow on the Hawley Preserve.

The views of the moon were really good when we came out to the powerlines by Great Ledge.  Everyone took in the night sky.  I think it was Saturn that was just below the moon.

And we had a pleasant walk back.  We think we finished with about 12 people.  Some turned back earlier near Huntington Woods.  So we were batting .500, which was good.  We had wanted to have another night hike for a while, and this one turned out really well.  Thanks to everyone who came out.

Hey It's Not Raining Today; Clearing Brush on the RecPath Oak Valley Rd to Great Ledge

We had a great turnout of volunteers at Oak Valley Road this morning.  We had been rained out a lot of Saturdays this fall, but not today.  

On group when N. along the RecPath, and the rest went S.  We were cutting back brush along the side of the RecPath some of these areas were closed during the Eversource powerline construction.

There were also mundane tasks, such as finding, and clearing, drainage pipes under the RecPath and channels on on either side of the Path.

We cut back a 2' wide shoulder on each side of the 8' wide RecPath.  Some native shrubs such as these Winterberries were preserved.  Winterberry provide food for birds in late fall and early winter.


Cutting out around the corners too, for better sightlines.

Eversource had restored the portions of the RecPath that had been damaged.  They mulched the crushed stone RecPath for some reason.

The stones along the edge with Spooner Swamp were a nice touch.  The top course of stone needs to be checked.  It looks like Eversource used coarser stone than we specified - something to be discussed for the final punch list with Eversource.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Eversource Trail Closure Status

(updated Oct 18, 2023):  The trails at Shelton Lakes are open! We are still fixing up some of the trail crossings, so hikers may encounter sections under the powerlines that are unblazed or that have uneven footing. 

French's Hill remains inaccessible due to active construction, probably for the remainder of the year.  Typical construction hours are 7AM-7PM Monday through Saturday.  See this previous post for more info about the project. Consider exploring our other trails such as Boehm Pond,  Nicholdale Farm, Birchbank Mountain, Tahmore Trail, and Woodsend Trail at Housatonic Woods.  

Saturday, October 14, 2023

RecPath Work Party at Lane St

 We managed to squeeze in a work party at Lane St. before the rain hit.  The meadow had grown in so much that our 8' wide RecPath was down to 2' in some places.

Mark had the crew clear out the briars and stubs around the Sycamore Tree.

Val and Annie cutting brush and raking along both sides of the trail.

Dora & Jason cutting brush.

The crew clearing out debris.

After:  the RecPath edges still need work, but they are a lot better than they were.  Thanks to everyone who came to help out.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

French's Hill Eversource Update

Wood matts cover the main trail at French's Hill

While Eversource is in the clean-up and restoration stage over at Shelton Lakes, their work at French's Hill is still in the construction phase, with some of the new towers not yet installed. The trail has been marked as "closed" all summer and we've skipped the trail maintenance for that reason. Eventually, though, we'll need to have a work party and clear it out even if the trail isn't open for public hiking. So a quick check on the trail was on order and here are some photos from that walk. 

New millings on the parking lot
The parking lot was nice and dry thanks to some work done last spring by the Shelton Highways & Bridges Department. They graded out the muddy lot for drainage and put some millings down. Previously, there were some pretty fierce mudholes and people needed to be careful not to get stuck. The entryway and drive are a bit shaggy with tall invasive mugwort and other vegetation which could be could be cut back, but it's not terrible. 

This is the trail
The very first 100 feet or so of trail is by far the worst. It looks like a deer path through tall meadow vegetation and seriously needs a brushcutter. People or deer have been going through it. Hard to tell which. Except that both of the Eversource "Trail Closed" signs have been ripped out and tossed aside. Don't do that, people! If you want to ignore the signs, that's on you. But don't remove the signs, which alert other trail users and explain why the trail is in such bad shape. 

Eversource "Trail Closed" sign

New tower, old tower

Once in the woods, the trail isn't too bad. Clearly, people have been removing sticks from the trail, and there are no big blowdowns across the trail. Coming out to the Eversource powerline corridor, there's a short overgrown section, and then a stretch of heavy timber mats covers the trail for a bit. All our trail markings seem to have survived (thank you, Eversource). 

The trail crossing the powerlines where there are no towers, so the only real hazard is any equipment that could be traveling back and forth on the timber mats. After construction has been completed, the timber mats will be removed. We're happy that there won't be a big new gravel road to mar the scenery.

After the trail crosses the powerlines, it becomes a loop. This part was in pretty good shape. Again, a bit shaggy and some spots could use a hedgetrimmer or hand pruners where stray barberry shoots have crossed the path, but not bad overall. 

Shaggy trail, but passable

The bigger issue in here is the terrible footing (mud-rock-roots) and the fact that a lot of wheeled traffic has been making it worse. The trail is for foot travel only due to the vulnerable trail tread. But there were lots of fresh dirt bike tracks churning up the mud.  So it was time to check the security camera and harvest photos of these guys. They may have been coming in via the powerlines. The photos will be forwarded to the Police Department. City ordinance allows for the PD to seize any quad or dirt bike that's been ridden on City property.  

The Red Trail crossing point
There's a short red-blazed access trail that leads to the big meadow on a hill. This trail is very overgrown and passes right next to the existing towers, which have not yet been replaced. The long-term goal was to have the trail go onto the new gravel pads that would be constructed around the new poles. But it's not clear if Eversource's plans have changed, since we see timber mats there instead of gravel. Bottom line is that we'll wait until they are done and then determine where the exact trail crossing should be. It's a very wet area. 

The old farm road
The hayfields have been cut, along with the old road that the trail follows for a bit. Overall, it was a pleasant site walk with the only real problem being the dirt bikes damaging the trail. The goal for the Trails Committee is to get the summer overgrowth cut back so that when Eversource is done working, the trail will be immediately open and ready to hike. Stay tuned for a potential September work party there. 

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Birchbank Deer Exclosure Removed After Completing Its Mission


June 2015 Birchbank Trail - a sea of invasive Japanese Knotweed
This is story about Birchbank Deer Exclosure #1, which was located near the trailhead parking area off Indian Well Road. A deer exclosure is a fence designed to keep deer out (an enclosure would keep them in). Back in 2015, a vast sea of invasive Japanese Knotweed would block the hiking trail each summer until crews could get to it with a brush cutter. The Knotweed patch was 250 to 300 feet long and maybe 100 feet wide. With help from a summer intern, the Knotweed was cut back repeatedly all summer. 

June 2015 - The knotweed is cut repeatedly all summer
Later in the summer, we decided to install two deer exclosures along the trail to see what impacts the deer might be having on the native vegetation.  The first exclosure was placed right on the edge of where the Knotweed had been growing, at the toe of the river slope. The second was further down the trail, beyond where the Knotweed had been growing, but both exclosures were in areas that had blankets of Dutchman's Breeches and Red Trillium every April. 

August 2015 - Deer Exclosure #1 to the left of the trail

Upon identifying some of the unusual plants and looking at the geology, it became apparent that this spot was a "Rich Mesic" forest with unusual growing conditions for our area. There is a lime seam in the bedrock, sandy, well-drained subsoil with rich topsoil, and water seeping out of the 350-foot slope. Bladdernut is a shrub that only grows under these conditions. Over the next few years, the shrub began to thrive within the exclosure. But as soon as a portion of the shrub grew through the fencing, it would be nipped off. Turns out that Bladdernut is a deer favorite.

June 2017 - lots more growth inside the deer exclosure

Over the next few years, the battle with Japanese Knotweed continued with lots of digging and pulling. The plants within the deer exclosure grew quickly. Red Trillium plants grew larger each year, blooming and setting seeds, as did the Dutchman's Breeches. Outside the fencing, these plants became more stunted each year, failing to set seeds as deer nipped off their blooms. The annual wildflower hike was even canceled because the vast blankets of blooming Dutchman's Breeches carpeting the forest floor were a no-show. But inside the deer fencing, the Breeches were blooming fine.

June 2022, second year of using deer repellent
Outside the deer fencing, invasive plants quickly overtook the area where Knotweed had been removed. Mugwort, Garlic Mustard, and Japanese Stiltgrass were impossible to keep up with, and the Japanese Knotweed continued to resprout. In 2021, after six years of this losing battle, it was noted that there were no invasive plants inside the deer fencing. The lush native plants were outcompeting the invasive plants. A decision was made to start spraying deer repellent throughout the area where the Japanese Knotweed has been, and to transplant a few vigorous native species where mugwort was a problem. The invasive plants continued to be removed, while the deer repellent gave protection to the native plants. 

August 2023 after removing the deer fencing
After a few years of using deer repellent, the deer exclosure became surrounded by lush native plants.  Goldenrod, asters, grasses, Jewelweed, Horsebalm, Clearweed, and others took over.  In August of 2023, with a large dead ash hung up and ready to crash through the exclosure at any time, it was time to remove the deer fencing. 

The deer exclosure had served its purpose. It not only demonstrated the degree to which an excessive deer population was damaging our native plants, but showed also how the lack of competition from native plants then created an opportunity for invasive species to take over. 

The second exclosure remains in place. It's located in an area that is shadier and not so lush, and to the untrained eye it might not look much different inside the fence than outside. However, if you look closure, you'll see that the wildflower plants like Trillium and False Solomon Seal inside are larger, bloom successfully, and set seeds, while the ones outside do not.