Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ghosts of Pleasure Beach

If you take a drive down Rt 113 Main Street in the Lordship area of in Stratford, passing Short Beach and the Sea Wall, and take a left onto Oak Bluff Ave., you come to the Long Beach parking lot. Start walking west along the narrow sandy peninsula, which feels more like an island. And walk. And walk. This is why they call it Long Beach. There are no facilities, but there are lots of shells - no one else seems to be picking them up. This time of year you may not see a single person. After 3/4 mile of beach walking, the island widens and you will start to see abandoned cottages. Stratford recently evicted the cottage owners, who were leasing the property from them. It's a ghost town.

Keep walking. When you reach the first radio tower, you've entered Pleasure Beach, Bridgeport, and the ghosts of a former amusement park. A bridge once connected downtown Bridgeport with the island, but it burned. There is no way to get here from Bridgeport, except by boat. Most of the rides and buildings are gone, but some remain, like the carosel shown above. The postcard below shows what the place looked like about 80 years ago.

This is a fascinating place. It looks like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may buy the property for a wildlife refuge and would certainly remove the old structures. Until then, anyone can take a nice long walk down the beach. If you walk the entire route and back it's almost 3 miles.

Update 3/7/2008: Last night 3 of the cottages burned down, and the two men who called 911 after seeing smoke were given $94 trespassing tickets for walking down the beach, according to the CT Post. I called up the Stratford Recreation Department and was assured that the public is welcome to walk down the beach - just stay away from the 45 cottages - they are strictly off limits. But you can walk past the cottages, staying down by the water. When you get to the Bridgeport side, and Pleasure Beach, I saw no signs prohibiting entry to the park.

Update 3/16/2008: How quickly things change! Stratford has officially closed all of Long Beach past the parking lot and there are no trespassing signs up. However, under state law, the public is guarenteed access to the beach below the mean high tide line. I was surprised to learn this law originates from Roman times. Apparently there is a very long tradition of shoreline property owners trying to keep everyone away, so that laws were passed to allow the public to fish, hunt, gather shellfish and, more recently, just recreate along the shore. This time it's the City of Stratford trying to deny public access, ostensibly worried about someone damaging the abandoned cottages that need to be demolished (I'm not exactly sure why that is such a catastrophe if they're going to remove them anyway, but what do I know?)

3/26/2008: Per the CT Post this morning, someone stole the 'no trespassing' signs, and due to lots of angry residents calling the Mayor, the new signs will say 'no trespassing near the cottages'. How surprising that people might get angry about a mile of beach being closed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Migration of the Frogs

Here comes spring! The annual amphibian migration to their breeding pools has commenced. Woodfrogs and Spotted Salamanders are the easiest to spot. They often migrate en mass on the first few warm rainy nights of the season, and can be found crossing roads near special vernal pools.

I spotted this cute little woodfrog on the upper end of Wesley Drive and Scotch Pine in Huntington Woods, a location where I've previously seen dozens of frogs and salamanders on the pavement at once. Woodfrogs do not live in water - they live in the forest, and only return to water to breed. They will only breed in "vernal pools" - tiny ponds that have no fish and which tend to dry up in the summer. There is a substantial vernal pool on the west side of Wesley Drive, fortunately saved from development and now classified as open space.

One spot on Buddington Road, east of Grace Lane, has a MAJOR amphibian crossing. When conditions are right, literally hundreds of frogs and salamanders will be hopping and waddling across the street. The cars zoom by, crunching large numbers of them. The next day, the birds have a feast.
Woodfrog breeding ponds can be located in the spring by the sound of quacking where there should be no ducks, like in some thick but wet brush. The sound will stop as soon as you approach. That is the mating song of the woodfrog.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Grumpy Neighbors

Some letterboxing directions lead me to Beach Memorial Park in Trumbull today, where I was greeted with this nasty sign: "Park permit required year round" and "Trumbull residents only".

Year round? There wasn't a single car in the parking lot on a Sunday afternoon with spectacular winter weather. What are they afraid of? Hoards of out-of-town hikers in February?

Here in Shelton our trails are open to everyone, and there's no fee.

I ignored the sign, hoping the Trumbull police wouldn't haul me off to jail for hiking in the Trumbull woods.

The letterboxing clues brought me to an engraved outcrop in the woods, which said:

Trumbull is a town dedicated
to matters of the spirit
It's a town to live in
It's a town to remember
It's a town to love
If you're a resident

OK, I added that last line. But really, if Shelton, Monroe, Fairfield, and other towns in the region can share their parks with non-residents, why can't Trumbull?