Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Eversource Tower Project Along the Trails

Partly dismantled old towers and the new monopole replacements
along the Paugussett Trail

Eversource's "Stevenson to Pootatuck Rebuild Project" is in full swing throughout Shelton Lakes and French's Hill, with new towers being installed and the old ones taken down. Additionally, there are plenty of newly constructed or enlarged gravel access roads and pads impacting the trails.

Gravel access road and timber matt pad as seen from Nells Rock Trail

The work stages seem to leapfrog up and down the powerline corridor, so the outsider has no way to predict what's coming next, except that the work is generally going from south to north (work at French's Hill only just recently commenced). New monopoles have popped up seemingly far in advance, surrounded by the old towers.

Timber matt and new monopoles ready to be installed.
This is a new pole location on the Paugussett Trail near 
Independence Drive
Close up of the new monopole foundation
One of the old towers

For any given location, the first step involves crews preparing an accessway and construction pads. These pads may be made of gravel or temporary timber mats (mats are used in sensitive areas such as wetlands). The accessway and pad need to be large enough to accommodate the cranes and drilling equipment that will be used. Additional space is required on the pad for staging materials. In some areas, extensive grading and chipping away of ledge had been necessary. Subsequently, another crew arrives to drill foundations for the new monopoles. In cases where the rock is particularly hard, the drilling process can take a considerable amount of time. Once the foundation is complete, yet another crew installs the new monopole. The wires are then transferred from the old tower to the new monopole, and the top half of the old tower is sawed off and left nearby in a crumpled state.

Rec Path near Great Ledge (Oak Valley/Wesley Drive)

The Eversource crews, who are actually subcontractors, have placed "trail closed" signs wherever our hiking trails intersect or follow the powerline corridor. They have also erected construction fencing across the trail, which we suggested they do because our experience shows that some trail users disregard signs and pass through the Trails Committee's active work zones, even under leaning trees that are in the process of being cut down with a chainsaw. We've encountered people without basic survival skills sneaking up behind someone using a gas-powered brush cutter with blades that can easily cut through small trees. Therefore, we warned the Eversource staff to expect that some trail users would ignore the signs.

Construction fence blocking trail was down early
(Nells Rock Trail)

And indeed, that's exactly what has happened. The construction fencing across the trail has collapsed in some spots, and clear walk-around paths have been created. Eversource crews have reported incidents of mountain bikers and hikers passing through active work zones. In one instance, someone was even using one of their survey stakes as a walking stick (note: NEVER tamper with a survey marker, as it is against state law and can result in fines amounting to thousands of dollars).

One of the later signs
along the Paugussett Trail

To be fair, most of the closed trail sections are not under active construction at any given time. And many of the 'trail closed' signs had no explanation, especially the earlier signs. People may believe that the trail closures are merely a liability precaution, similar to a warning about hot coffee, and consequently choose to ignore the signs. We have received comments from trail users expressing frustration over trail sections being closed when no actual work is being conducted there. Some people have a particular route they walk or run every day, and have been doing so for years. 

Explore our other trails!

We encourage people to explore alternatives to Shelton Lakes and French's Hill and try out some of our other excellent trails. Boehm Pond offers a couple of nice loops that are relatively easy, as does Nicholdale Farm/Willis Woods. There's also the new Woodsend Trail, along with the hilly trail systems at Birchbank, Indian Well, and Tahmore Preserve. You can find maps for all these trails on the Conservation Commission's website. Additionally, there is a custom Google Map featuring all the trails and parking areas, which can help you locate yourself along the trails or provide driving directions.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Woodsend Trail Completed

Approaching the Tangerine Squeezer 

Add another mile to our trail inventory, because the new orange-blazed Woodsend Trail is finished. This is located in Housatonic Woods Preserve above Indian Well.  Sure, there are a couple problem spots that need improvement, but that's true of most trails.  The trail map is now posted on the Conservation Commission's webpage (  Our Trails Day hike will mark the formal grand opening on the first Saturday in June (see the events link in the menu for more info.). This will be a two-mile lollipop loop hike. 

The new trail was cut during the back half of winter so that we could better see the terrain and work around all the wet spots you get that time of year. Also, no wasp attacks. So it's fun to walk the completed project and see everything green up and come to life along the trail for the first time. 

Take a virtual tour of the lollipop loop in early spring. There's lots of variation on this hike, from open woodlands, to cliffs, to overgrown pastureland filled with dense shrubs. We'll start at the junction of Woodsend Ave and Cynthia Drive (gps address is 50 Woodsend Ave.) Follow the orange trail markings past the guardrail and head gradually down the hill. You're above Route 110 and will get some road noise. 

The hillside below Woodsend Avenue

Eventually the trail levels out and joins an old road used by charcoal-makers back in the day, then climbs modestly to a plateau with seasonal views of the Housatonic River. There's a circular mound surrounded by a ditch marking the spot where colliers made charcoal from logging the surrounding trees. In the center of the mound are bits of charcoal. An info sheet was tacked to a tree nearby with a sketch showing what the area would have looked like. 

Charcoal mound site

The charcoal plateau has seasonal views of the river

This trail is moderately difficult and therefore not for everyone. It's mostly not that bad, however. There are hills to go up, brooks without bridges, and uneven footing. A walking stick or trekking pole may help. There is really only one spot that gives some people pause, especially those with shorter legs, and that's the Tangerine Squeezer. You have to squeeze between a large tree and some ledge, with the ground dropping off steeply on the back side of the tree. It's actually not as bad as it first looks; you just need to know where to put your feet. Most people find it fun, especially after they pass through it and find it's not as bad as they thought. 

Tangerine Squeezer

Once through the Tangerine Squeezer, you are in The Passageway through a series of cliffs that rise up above Indian Well and Route 110. To the left, the cliffs drop down to Route 110 and there are more seasonal views of the river. To the right, the cliffs rise up the backside of Cynthia Lane, although you cannot see the houses. Upon exiting The Passageway, the trail switchbacks down the hillside and crosses a shallow brook that descends a boulderfield. We creatively call it Boulder Brook. 

The switchback coming down out of The Passageway

This area took a LOT of work. Multiple work parties with crews of teenagers helping to dig and move boulders.  The end result was better than expected when the route was first flagged. 

Coming up on Boulder Brook

There are a lot of invasive plants throughout Housatonic Woods Preserve, including acres and acres of Japanese Barberry, Burning Bush, and Bittersweet. But if you arrive at Boulder Brook in early spring, you may see some Dutchman's Breeches or Trillium. 

Trillium and Wild Leeks

Woodsend Trail comes to a junction with the Woodsend Connector, blazed blue/orange) shortly after crossing Boulder Brook. This is 0.5 mile from the beginning. This is where the one-mile loop begins.  Continue straight, following the orange blazes. (If you were to go left onto the connector trail, you would quickly arrive at the Paugussett Trail near Rt 110 and could cross the highway and enter Indian Well State Park). 

Junction with the Woodsend Connector Trail (blue/orange)

The trail now heads gradually but relentlessly up the hill away from Route 110, leaving the road noise behind you. Near the top of the hill, the landscape looks much different than the open woods you were walking through previously. This land is an overgrown pasture infested with invasive plants. Japanese Barberry is a thorny shrub that livestock will not eat, so it tends to invade pasturelands and then really take off when the pasture is abandoned. The trees are younger and smaller here, and under assault by Bittersweet vines large enough to require a chainsaw to cut. 

Heading through the Barberry section, an old pasture

The trail brushes the backside of Sinsabaugh Heights, then comes to a "T" with the blue-blazed Paugussett Trail. From here, you could follow the blue blazes right to Shelton Lakes and Buddington Road, or left all the way to Birchbank Mountain or Webb Mountain Park in Monroe and beyond. For this lollipop loop, we'll go left down the hill for just under half a mile. 

Paugussett Trail

The blue blazes descend the hill gradually as the trail heads towards Indian Well State Park. There are seasonal views of the Housatonic Valley, along with the houses on Housatonic Rise. In the summer the trail feels more private. The woods become more open as you descend, although there are still many invasive plants in through here. 

Paugussett Trail

Keep an eye out for the junction with the blue/orange connector trail on the left and take that when you get to it. (If you miss it, you'll come to Route 110). Follow the blue/orange blazes across the hillside just 0.1 mile back to the junction with Woodsend Trail. 

Blue/orange Woodsend Connector Trail

When you get back to the orange-blazed Woodsend Trail, you've completed the loop portion of this hike. Take a right and head back across Boulder Brook, The Passageway, Tangerine Squeezer, and past Charcoal Plateau. Climb the hill back to the parking area. This last climb may feel like the hardest!