Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Indian Well's Great Gully

"Great Gully" location at Indian Well State Park

The vast, mostly man-made gully at Indian Well State Park has cut the park in half and is getting close to  the Paugussett Trail. After every major storm, torrents of sand rush down the hillside and are dumped on Indian Well Road.

Much of the sand likely washes into Lake Housatonic, filling in the reservoir that generates hydroelectricity.  With no efforts to stop it, the head of the gully advances up the hill a few feet every year towards the homes along Village Drive. 

It's not easy walking up the gully, but you can do it. Park at the hiker lot located just across the street from the main park entrance to the beach and boat launch facilities. This is where a white-blazed trail goes steeply up the hill towards the Paugussett Trail. Instead of going up the trail, follow the utility road off to the right (north), through an open area with giant piles of sand, until you reach the normally dry streambed. Just go up that, dodging fallen trees. 
Undermined trees fall into the gully

If you're a geology geek, you'll love this. There are glacial sediments deposited by temporary glacial lakes. There's lots of unstable sand and obvious bedding. 

The lower parts almost never have water in them. 

As you proceed up the gully, it gets larger and steeper. You probably can't get out of it by climbing up the sides at this point. 

Approaching the head of Great Gully.

The rock under foot is loose, so bring a walking stick and some good boots. 

Pass under some roots next to 'the island'
Nearing the top, there is an island of sorts on the left that will eventually collapse, but for now a large Black Birch is hanging on to dear life. Duck under some tree roots to reach the head of Great Gully. 

The head of the gully

The head of the gully is constantly changing as it chews its way up the hill. As of 2023, it's now wide enough to enter from below. For a few years, it was as narrow as a construction trench and 12 feet deep. Very unsafe to enter. But it's pretty wide this year. Sadly. 

Head of Great Gully
The gully is both interesting (for geology nerds) and tragic. The way to stop it from getting worse is to stabilize the head. That's where water falls over the edge and eats away at the bottom, undermining the layers above until they collapse. There are engineering ways to do this, but the state has taken no interest. 

While there was undoubtedly always a stream channel here, Giant Gully is man-made. The houses and roads up the hill off Village Drive were built back before stormwater measures were required. If the housing developments were built today, a stormwater detention pond would probably be required so that floodwaters from the roads, driveways, and rooftops don't immediately wash into the stream channel.  The steep slope and sandy soil are no match for the uncontrolled runoff from these hard, man-made surfaces, and there is no room up above for a retro detention pond. The only solution is to come in from below and stabilize the head of the gully. It will be easier to do it now than later when it gets near the houses on Village Drive. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

Birchbank Trail Register Removed

If you're wondering why there is no longer a logbook in the Birchbank Trail register up at the overlook, this is why: blank and wasted space. Something apparently contagious began happening a few months ago.  A lot of people started skipping pages and lines in the logbook, or scrawling across the diagonally in huge letters. We used to get maybe 3-5 entries per page. Occasionally someone would waste space in the logbook, but it was the exception and not a big deal. It used to look normal, like this: 

Normal logbook entries from back in 2020

Pretty neat, right? A full logbook was our souvenir for maintaining the trail. It's no different that having a guest book for a cottage where you let your friends stay. 

And then shortly after starting the latest new logbook, several people in a row had entries with oversized writing, skipped lines, starting new pages when there was lots of room on the previous page, and even skipping entire pages. People started to think everyone is entitled to use one full page for a few lines of text, and the next person should start a new page. This was a new, leather-bound logbook we volunteers placed there on our own time and with our own money, so that was a little sad. 

But maybe people were simply not familiar with trail register logbooks and what the tradition is. These books are normally in the back country, so they crammed with ink (small print) and very little blank space. I started leaving notes in the book asking people not to skip pages and so forth. Every time I got to the logbook, the note was stuck in the back and the new entries were just a ridiculous as before. 

Lots of blank pages between entries
Lots of half-filled pages

Why write so big? Leave space for others.

Two entire pages for one group of hikers 

So I gave it one last shot. I taped a typed message to the cover pleading with people to not leave a lot of empty space and to finish each page before starting a new one ("please please please"). Then I clamped the earlier pages shut so people couldn't use those as an example. It didn't work.  Soon after, Stephen asked people if they were planning on following the rules on the cover "asking for a friend." And then unironically says "Spread love, be kind." The next entry skips to the next page. The one after that starts yet another page. It's all mostly blank space.  

The response to our request to not leave a lot of blank space.

What is so strange is that we didn't used to have the problem, and suddenly we did. I think a lot of people visiting this trail register have no experience with them and were just copying what other people did. So long as the first several pages were done by people using common sense and respect for the volunteers who maintain the trail they were enjoying, this worked. But then when a bunch of people in a row started setting a bad example, it was all over. 

The bottom line is that we've given up on maintaining a logbook for now. It was nice while it lasted, and our 2020 logbook is a real keeper. This one, not so much.