Sunday, January 31, 2010

Long Brook, Short Beach, Stratford

What's the best way to prevent cabin fever? Get outside! We bundled up and went in search of treasure in Stratford, starting out at Long Brook Park. Hey, no crowds! The stone work, which I understand was quarried from nearby Roosevelt Forest, is especially striking in the winter. The picture below shows an arch bridge, walk, and built-in stone bench.

A flock of mallards clung to the last bit of open water on the brook.

Biscuit, who was on a flex leash, seemed a bit intimidated by the ducks when they didn't flee. She never even tried to charge them. Ha!

There's also a walk up above the dam. This park was created in the 1930's using stimulus funds, also known as the WPA, to create a park out of a 34-acre swamp and put people back to work.

After a stop at Wendy's to warm up (the car's heat was busted) we stopped at Short Beach. Again, no crowds! Just a vast empty (and cold) shoreline. We found what we were looking for (in a hurry to stay warm) then went for a brisk walk down the beach.

As the sky began to turn pink one small plane after another headed into Sikorsky Airport.

Here's the playground at sunset. You can see the Stratford Lighthouse in the distance. It's the white building with the reddish roof.

Although it was nippy with no heat in the car, we were content to get off the computer and TV and out of the house for a spell.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shelton Community Garden?

Shelton is on track for building a new Community Garden this spring, similar to Milford's garden at Eisenhower Park, where people can lease small garden plots for a nominal fee. Most likely spot: Klapik Farm Open Space just south of Long Hill School. Last Tuesday's crazy warm weather was the perfect time to walk the site and check the soil. The picture below is looking south towards the end of the Longview Road cul-de-sac. The field is at the crest of a hill, in this case a glacial feature called a drumlin.

State maps classify the soil here as "prime farmland", but drumlins often have nasty hardpan a few inches below the surface, so I tried digging a hole. One would expect to hit ice and rock this time of year. Instead, the shovel slipped through the soil like butter, going down a full 12". And it had rained an inch or two the day before, yet the soil was not muddy. Very nice!

Here's a pan of the field (stitched together with Canon Photostitch). You'll need to click on this to zoom in. You can see that the field is surrounded on all sides by trees (the north side is actually an old pentway with another field beyond it).

Here's an aerial with the open space map overlay (the green is city property). The lower left field is where the garden is may be going, off the end of Longview Road. Long Hill School is in the upper right corner of the photo.

Pre-registrations are being accepted by the Community Garden Committee and will be used to demonstrate need to the Board of Aldermen. There is no obligation or fee for preregistration, but you will be notified when plots are available and receive priority. Plots will be around 20x20 feet, and the fee will be about $20.

The new Community Garden Committee meets the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month at 9:00 am in City Hall room 104. They will be working out all the details, then forward their recommendations to the Board of Aldermen for approval and funding. Agendas and minutes can be viewed here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Paine Open Space, Easton

Paine Open Space in Easton is on the one hand a nice patch of woods and on the other hand really is a bit of a pain. Getting a map is the first hurdle, because the Aspetuck Land Trust requires an obnoxiously detailed registration before they let you look at their maps online. Since I've drawn trail maps and provided them free online (no registration required!) since 1995, I find that very irritating.

Or you could just take a picture of this board map at the trailhead and refer to your camera from time to time. Won't help much, though.

The online map doesn't help as much as it should, either, because as attractive and detailed as it is, there is no real trail identification system (like a "red" trail and "white" trail identified as such on a map). And there are sooo many trails, too, many of which are not shown on the map. I started to feel like I was in a corn maze rather than a nature hike.

Easton doesn't know how to mark trails. Occasionally a random trail marker will pop up, like this one below, a flimsy and tacky-looking thing that kids will probably pull down in a heartbeat (hey, maybe that's what happened to all the trail markers).

But mostly there was nothing. Hey Easton, there is a universal system for marking trails with color-coded rectangles of paint on trees. This system has withstood the test of time. It works great, give it a try! Here's the guidance book you need to do it right (use the right paint, not too many blazes, etc): AMC Guide to Trail Mainenance.

There are a series of distinctive ponds in the park, the largest called "Island Pond." The bridge was almost as big as the island.

I was looking for a seven-year-old series of letterboxes that had not been logged "found" in nearly four years (this is probably in part because the old clues refer to a trail color system that no longer exists). I knew that even if I were able to find some of these old boxes, they would likely be in rough shape, so I stuffed my pack full of maintenance gear: papertowels, heavy-duty double-zip freezer bags, and spare logbooks. Good thing I did! I found five of the boxes and four were soaked. Two boxes leaked because rodents had chewed holes in them. I've never seen that happen before.

One of the boxes was a big ice cube inside. I removed four soaked logbooks on this trip - a record by far (yuck!). Letterboxers are encouraged to provide this kind of maintenance to the boxes they find.

This tupelo tree was really getting worked over by a woodpecker. Tupelo are known for providing hollows like this.
There were lots of well-build stone walls, including this one below. The cedar post is a reminder that these lands were pasture not too long ago (as was nearly all of Connecticut).

On the way out there were some people riding horses in the field next to the parking area, as there were the last time I was here. Horses are also ridden on the trails, so if you bring a dog, be sure to leash it -- a dog can startle a horse and cause a rider to be thrown and injured.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Halaby Nature Preserve, Trumbull

Halaby Nature Preserve is in Trumbull near the Shelton border, just off of Isinglass Road. I've driven along Isinglass Road many times and had no idea there was a preserve back behind those houses. Access is at the end of Red Fox Lane, and you don't even have to be a Trumbull resident.

I came in search of treasure, this time a geocache. I'm usually looking for letterboxes because I like the hand-carved rubber stamps they contain, a form of folk art, but this particular geocache had a puzzle that called out to be solved, and I was curious about the preserve.

The Trumbull Land Trust has done some nice work on this preserve, most of which is low and moist. There's an unmarked trail with a couple of sturdy boardwalks across the wet areas. Christmas Ferns were peaking out through the melting snow along one of them.

Although the preserve is only 27 acres, it nearly connects with significant water company lands around Trap Fall Reservoir in Shelton, which are teaming with wildlife. The diversity of plants and animals in this preserve may therefore be greater than if it were in isolation, a situation biologists referred to as 'fragmentation.'

Friday, January 15, 2010

General Tom Thumb

It's easy to forget that Bridgeport was once a powerful and rich industrial city, but Mount Grove Cemetery, with its forest of towering prestige monuments, is a testament to more prosperous times. The cemetery is just off of I-95, and a few of the monuments are listed as roadside Americana attractions, including General Tom Thumb's memorial.

Born Charles Sherwood, he was inducted by P.T. Barnum into the circus at age five in 1842 and renamed after an old English fairytale character. He was the most popular act of the entire show. His adult height was just 3'4", and the figure on top of the monument is reported to be life sized. Nearby is Tom Thumb's employer, P.T. Barnum, who also happens to have designed the cemetery.