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. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Turkey Trot Work Party - Starting Again

The Trails Committee had our first work party on the Turkey Trot Trail this summer. Actually it was the second, but the first was part of an Oak Valley Trail workparty that got ambitious, and then there were wasps. This section of the Turkey Trot has been closed due to Eversource Transmission Line Construction most of this summer. Now they are starting to wrap up the southern end of their project, and moving into restoration. So the trail may be closed from time to time this August and September, but we were able to get out and do some badly-needed cutting on Saturday. It's amazing what a summer of sun and rain will do for briar growth out in the open. But we had a good crew of 13 volunteers who came out and got to choppin.
Derek used one of the brushcutters clearing out the trails. Nothing like a little quality time with hot, messy machinery.
There was one older blowdown on the Turkey Trot Bypass that needs to be sawed, but the rest of the trail was cleared and cut back.
Hopefully Eversource is able to remove their bridge and leave a good crossing for us to use mowing the trails in the future. We have to appoligize that we did not get more photos of all the folks who came out and worked. Thanks to Annie, Mike, Matt, Declan, Val, Ellen, Niko, Lorenzo, Matteau, Mark, Derek, Luis, and Terry for helping out. Hope that whoever got hit by the wasps near the footbridge was OK. Some of us went through there, quickly, and managed to not get hit. We got a lot done along the Turkey Trot, powerlines, and portions of the RecPath. These were areas that would ordinairly been maintained earlier, but due to Eversource's construction, have been off limits technically to the public. The trails in this area were very busy today however, and we got some nice comments about how the trail work was appreciated. It was really pretty out, and it was fun to be able to work on some of Shelton's trails that have been closed during all the powerline construction this summer.
The Woodland sunflowers were doing great along the portion of the RecPath at Silent Waters. Try to find time to go exploring and enjoy them while they're in bloom this August.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Field Walk with Eversource - Restoration Tasks

The Trails Committee had a field walk with Eversource representatives to confirm restoration measures by Eversource on the portions of Shelton's open space and greenways that were disturbed during their construction.  Eversource is completing most of their new transmission line construction in the south end of Shelton.

Here we are north of Derby Junction at the Maybeck Open Space.  It was a big group; the Eversource team outnumbered us 9 to 7, like earlier meetings.  We covered a lot of ground from north of Constitution Boulevard North down toward Buddington Road.  

Eversource has finished their work here and said they will remove the timber platforms placed over the wetlands and allow the area to re-vegetate naturally.  The crushed stone roads will be feathered back down to match existing grades so we can maintain some areas with our newly-repaired Gator and mower. 


We requested that they replace stone wall boulders where the stone walls were broken to create construction accesses, so that dumping and ATV's do not damage the open space.  We think that they agreed to that, but it was tough to tell sometimes.  It was not clear which members of the Eversource team were deciding on which issues at times.

This is one of the areas along the Paugussett Trail that we have not been able to maintain well this summer due to the powerline construction.  These timbers are to be removed over the next couple of months.

We then went south to Wellington Court and reviewed the construction and Paugussett Trail restoration there.

At Independence Drive we had a long discussion about reducing the access road widths, and regrading where Eversource has raised the grade, sometimes by several feet, at existing trail junctions.  The roads need to remain in place while they complete demolition of the existing transmission towers, but we did not think they needed to be as wide as they are now that construction is completed.  Eversource may add a gate on the north side of Independence to control dumping.  The gate on the south side of Independence Drive will be restored.

Finer material will be added over the top of the crushed stone roads to remain so it's not a tripping hazard to hikers and bikers.  The tower pads will also be covered with compost and be seeded with a native wildflower meadow mix to make the pads and roadways look less industrial.

Going up the steep roads South of Independence Drive they will add a number of waterbars to divert runoff from the road and prevent erosion.  We asked that the sides of the roads be composted and seeded to reduce the visual impact from City streets.  We'll see what they do.

We also discussed restoring the disturbed areas to lessen the visual impact from City open spaces.  The haul roads were a special area of concern, as was the view of the large crushed stone pads around the towers on the City-owned property.

We went over to Rt. 108 and reviewed the Turkey Trot Trail, Paugussett Trail, and restoration of the old timber bridge crossing the brook.  We explained that this was a busy area in the summer with a lot of public use along the trails and the haul roads by hikers, bikers, and the cross country track teams.  We asked that the roads be grading down at the bridge so we can drive our Gator over it again to mow the roads and trails for trail users. 

It sounds like they will be seeding by the end of the September, which will help prevent the spread of invasive plant species in the disturbed areas.  Cutting invasive plants is turning into a major task for trail volunteers, and we didn't want to see it get worse following Eversource's construction.

Ellen, Val, and Bill were going over restoration of the drilling debris and haul roads following demolition removal.  We also requested clean up of the fill piles from blasting and foundation work, narrowing of the haul roads, composting and seeding of the disturbed areas.  Eversource said they would seed once in the fall and come back and reseed bare areas in the spring.   Hopefully this is enough to stabilize all the disturbed areas on City open space.

We then went south of Rt. 108 and looked at restoration of the junctions with Oak Valley Trail.  The issues there were the same; regrading filled areas, removal of timber platforms, composting and seeding, narrowing haul roads, resetting our trail kiosk, restoring visual impact from roads and open spaces, etc.  Eversource volunteered to add a 4x4 sign post at the junction of Oak Valley Trail and their haul road.  The issue there is that their roads are now so big that some of the public may follow the roads rather than the trails by mistake.

We then went down to Great Ledge at the end of Oak Valley Road to go over restoration of the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path.  This is our main handicapped accessible multi-use path that was damaged by the haul road construction.  We requested that it be regraded going between the monopoles, left at 12' wide with shoulders along the wetlands, and topped with the 3"-4" layer of the 3/8" minus fine crushed stone mix.  

Eversource will remove the timber platforms and haul roads from the wetlands, but they do not propose any seeding or plant restoration in Spooner Swamp or the wetlands near Great Ledge.  

Bill, Bob, and Mike wore modeling the latest in Eversource safety vests.  The neighbors were probably enjoying the high visibility gang walking up and down the powerlines.  Nobody was lost during the field walk.

There was a lot of disruption to the mountain laurel and swamps further south along Nells Loop Trail.  We requested that the gravel haul roads be covered with compost and seeded following removal of the timber platforms to stabilize the area and reduce the visual impacts on City open space.  We think they agreed to this, but it was tough to tell with so many people on the field walk - we'll see.

The last remains of one of the former towers that marked our trail coming out across the powerlines.  Eversource crews are cleaning these up as they work their way north.

The Nells Loop Trail crossing coming out onto the powerlines.

Teresa pointing out a possible re-route for the Paugussett Trail.  These are some of the big bridges and haul roads to be removed and restored in and around the wetlands.

Teresa and Ellen as we worked our way out thru Spooner Swamp.  The timber matting is to be removed by Eversource.

Eversource demolishing the old towers and foundations along Oak Valley Road as we were leaving.

Eversource said that they anticipated completion of this southern area by end of September - give or take a little.  Work on the northern area of town near the French's Hill Open Space will continue through the winter into Spring 2024.