Sunday, February 28, 2010

Indian Hole Bridge, WPA Project

This is Birchbank Road in Indian Well State Park in Shelton. Many people drive over the bridge and barely notice it. It's located just after the parking area designated for the Paugussett Trail and for the waterfalls that give the park its name. The photo above was taken from the very beginning of the Paugussett Trail, where I was trying to match up blue paint for some reblazing at Shelton Lakes this spring.

I meant to walk up to the falls, but found the bridge more interesting. This bridge, as well as other stone work at the park, was a WPA project, the 1930's version of "stimulus spending." The Paugussett Trail was also created during the Great Depression by using CCC workers.

Indian Hole Brook is shallow, even today after all the rain we had a few days ago, so it's possible to walk underneath and admire the effort it must have taken to build this bridge by hand.

Over the past 75 years or so, stalactites have formed. Some are six inches long. Bridge stalactite are made of gypsum, and form much more rapidly than cave stalactites, which are made of limestone.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Birchbank Cascades

Water, water everywhere! What better time to visit falls and cascades than after the 2010 'snowicane'. Here's a little known cascade on Upper White Hills Brook, just off of Birchbank Trail.

Part of the fun of visiting Birchbank Mountain is the journey getting there. You drive north on Birchbank Road past the state park and onto this insane stretch of roadway.

And here's your view of the Housatonic River if you're a passenger (drivers are too busy trying to avoid collapsing pavement and oncoming cars).

Look for parking where the road descends and crosses the railroad tracks.

Birchbank has a flat part along the flood plain and the 'mountain' part, which is the river bluff (click the pan shot above to enlarge).

Lot's of water was coming down the river bank, flooding the trail in couple spots. Water proof boots were a necessity.

Today the floodplain was living up to its name, collecting all the water gushing down the bluff.

We followed the old roadbed past the turnoff for the white trail and came to White Hills Brook. A short climb up the stream brought us to the cascades.

Immediately below the cascades the stream breaks into two during high water. The pan above is looking down from the cascades (click to enlarge).

We saw surprisingly little sign of life - no tracks, not even ATV tracks (ATVs are strictly prohibited but are still a problem).

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Snowicane" at Gristmill Trail

The big "snowicane" turned Gristmill Trail in Shelton into a series of beautiful postcards today.

The first half of the storm gave us a full day of steady rain, and the Far Mill River was really roaring. This was no 'silent snow' type of walk.

This park has a lot of invasive species. Above are some berries from a Burning Bush.

And here is some Japanese Barberry, also an invasive plant. Turkey are known to eat the berries, however.

Near Judson Street, the water spread out over the flood plain, right up to the trail.

And then the hike was cut short by water raging across the trail (that's the trail straight ahead in the picture above, where the old canal crosses under some rockwork).

It was a world of black and white.

Back towards Judson Street, the river drops down towards the falls at "The Villa", a favorite of regional kayakers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Grows at Pine Lake

Pine Lake in Shelton is becoming a popular place for people to linger and enjoy the sunshine, as I did today. Here are some fuzzy cattails just below the bridge.

I think this is Swamp Milkweed.

Red Osier Dogwood is a classic wetland shrub that wildlife loves. See the bright red stems?

This red Dewberry was easily overlooked in the leaves. Seems like a cross between Poison Ivy and Strawberry.

Gray birch is often mistaken for White or Paper Birch. But White Birch, which is much more common up north, peels.

Watch out for those Poison Ivy vines growing up the trees near the bridge. This one still had some berries.

This poison ivy vine at the bridge is growing so vigorously, people assume it's part of the tree.

Here's some Japanese Knotweed that managed to find it's way to the bridge. It's an evil invasive plant. There's not much there yet, but we better get it quick before it takes over.
This Cranberry Viburnum (Highbush Cranberry) was planted next to the bridge. It's probably a cultivar of the native plant.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Turkey Trot Trail, Shelton

Back to Turkey Trot Trail, a local favorite. I headed up the powerlines, leaving the trail and climbing all the way to the top. Wild Yam, a native species, was growing alongside the powerline road, with these really distinctive seed pods. The roots of the plant look just like the the yams you can buy in the store, but taste nasty. Or so they say, I haven't tried them.

Here's the sun glistening off of some fuzzy Sumac, with the Wild Yam growing below.

Here's a pan that includes 5 photos stitched together. Youl'll need to click it to see anything. On the left is Silent Waters and on the right is the powerline corridor stretching south past Route 108. The Trails Committee is clearing the "Northwest Passage" along this route north to property near the High School.

Here are some parasitic Beech Drops. The plant has no chlorophyll because it just steals food from Beech trees. That's why you only see them growing next to Beeches.

Near the top of the hill there is plenty of Sweet Fern, which is not a fern but a small shrub. The leaves are fragrant in summer, but here they are curled around the seeds.

The powerlines were teaming with birds. I heard a Rufous Sided Towhee, which I don't remember ever hearing in the winter before. And nearby there was a flock of Robins, which have become a common sight in winter as the climate warms.

Goldenrod, a classic winter weed.

There weren't many tracks along the powerlines because most of the snow had melted. Heading back towards Silent Waters, there was a tiny track, probably left by a deer mouse who crossed the trail and climbed up a tree.

And here's evidence of a tunnel, perhaps left by a shrew.

Silent Waters was lonely and much colder than the adjacent powerline corridor (where I was hot in the sun). I walked around the shoreline a bit but the snow was deeper and tracks were rare.

Near the dam you can really see the old foundations for large piping (there are 3 pair in the photo below) that once served the reservoir at Silent Waters back in the 1800's.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Old & New at Wellspring

I don't know of anywhere else in Shelton where the contrast between old and new is as striking as it is here at the Wellspring open space, just a few hundred yards from Route 8, exit 12. Parking is on Farmill Crossing near Old Stratford Road, near the sign in the photo below (there is no pull-off). See map. Be careful how you park, and do not block the drive.

A quick stroll down the access drive will bring you to an old corn crib.

Corn cribs were built with large gaps between the boards so that air could circulate into the building and dry out the corn.

And now for something new: There is some impressive graffiti under the modern Farmill Crossing bridge. Good place for it, in my opinion. I suspect it's not bothering anyone.

Going back up to the access drive, you want to walk along the gravel emergency access road shown in the picture below (it's on open space). The big modern homes will be to the right, and the river will be visible down below. The developer did a nice job with the large stone retaining wall - it looks like old New England. We have new, old, and new that looks old.

When you get to a couple of telephone poles you have reached the old dam used to power the Beards' sawmill (hence the name of a nearby road: Beard Sawmill Road). The dam has washed out, but there is plenty of rockwork still evident. Just upstream from the dam the river rushes through a series of chutes and rapids as it drops radically in elevation.

And for contrast, just across the Far Mill River is a big modern corporate office building, currently home to Health Net.

And here's the abutments for a bridge that washed out some time ago. This is located immediately south of the washed out dam. Instead of Farmill Crossing, we had Beard's Sawmill Road, and this was the crossing near the sawmill.

The photo below is looking downstream from the bridge. I believe the large stone walls were related to another mill as shown on a map from 1868.

The gravel emergency access road ends, but you can continue along the river on an unmarked dirt fisherman's trail to a sharp bend in the river. The rough streamside trail enters private property at the bend for a ways, although it is not posted and people apparently use it. Very scenic, with waterfalls and a deepening ravine. Eventually the trail reaches City of Stratford open space known as Far Mill River Park, which is very beautiful.

The map below is from 1868. The main road going from left to right is now called Bridgeport Avenue. The river is the Far Mill River, with Mill Street and Beard Sawmill Road alongside. The river crossing near the bottom of the map is where the old abutments are.