Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wilcox Park, Milford

It was a terribly dreary day in Shelton. Fog drifted over a covering of dirty snow. But it's been drab for, I don't know, weeks I think, so I decided to force myself outdoors. It's also that time of year where you find yourself thinking unexpectedly, "Oh no, it's past 1:00, it'll be dark soon!"

So I jumped in the car and headed south for someplace right along the shore, hoping there wouldn't be any snow. The gamble paid off and, as a bonus, there wasn't even any snow-fog, and I enjoyed watching the boats and ducks. Wilcox Park is small, located along the mouth of the Wepawaug River (I keep finding myself along this river lately). There are docks, pavilions, playing fields, and a wooded area with trails, benches, an overlook and, of course, some letterboxes.

On the way back home, as soon as I climbed up Warner Hill Road into the hills of Shelton, I was surrounded by snow and dark fog once again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Flying Squirrel

One of our hardest working trail volunteers, who asked not to be credited so I'll just say it was "RS", took this picture of a Southern Flying Squirrel eating suet at his home in Shelton (it was dark out). People are often surprised to hear we have flying squirrels. The squirrels are very small and nocturnal, so even though the they are common, most people never see them. Earlier this fall, a resident from Pine Rock Park noted a family of flying squirrels there, and said he could find them with a flashlight by listening for the sound of falling acorns. Soon after learning that tip, my son heard acorns falling on the driveway as he headed out for the school bus at dawn. He looked up, and sure enough, there was a little party of flying squirrels. A neighbor of mine also noted flying squirrels at her bird feeder a few years ago, but as much as I checked my feeders in the dark, I never saw any.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shelton Lakes Recreation Path

The grand opening of the Shelton Lakes Recreation Path Phase 1 was today, followed by a hike. This phase of the Rec Path (1.25 miles) is now 8-12 feet wide and surfaced with crushed stone.
Here are photos and a video of our ribbon-cutting ceremony, and here's an aerial showing where the Rec Path Phase 1 is located. Parts of phases 2 and 3 are now a rough hiking trail (you can pan on the aerial and switch it to street map view to get a better idea of where the route is located). Coincidentally, it was ten years ago on December 18, 1998 that the City of Shelton purchased 234 acres there at Shelton Lakes from the water company. A developer had plans drawn up for condominiums, a retail center, and single-family homes, so we are very lucky to have purchased the property as open space.

The new granite markers at the entryway and road crossings were acquired through a grant secured by the late Dick Belden.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter Greenery in Clinton

I love having four seasons. The entire world around us is transformed every few months. Our early-season snow melted, leaving the woods rather brown and stark today. But that only made the scattered winter greenery stand out. The top photo is hair cap moss.

Princess Pine (Lycopodium) along with moss (dark green) and lichens (light green). People used to collect Princess Pine for Christmas greenery and they became rare for a time.
This is Downy Rattlesnake Plaintain. They say if you step on it you'll get lost in the forest.
These photos were taken today at Peter's Memorial Woods in Clinton. The Clinton Land Trust has done a fabulous job of maintaining this land, with high quality trails, maps, and signage, and the park is many interesting features, such as rock formations and a few very large oaks.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Jones Family Farm, Shelton

Yesterday we made our annual pilgrimage to Jones Family Farm to cut our Christmas tree, followed by hot apple cider, cookies, and some shopping at the gift shop, but we had a lot of people with us and I didn't really get to walk around the farm the way I wanted to. So today, after a couple of inches of snow, I headed back just to hike around and enjoy the farm without having to pick out a tree or worry about where the kids are.

As expected, the place was mobbed with hundreds of people from Shelton as well as New York City and New Jersey. Getting a place to park is like lining up before a rock concert. Fortunately, it is also very well organized and it took me all of two minutes to get a spot near the barnyard where they have their sales, gift shop, canteen, and fire pit.

I walked through a mob of smiley, rosy-faced families, and headed west up Candy Cane Hill, aka Israel Hill. Up and up, past pines, firs, and spruce I went, finally arriving at the North Pole, which is not a metaphor but an actual place on the hill, marked by signs. I climbed a bit further, then panned a series of photos which I stitched together at home (see above). Click here to see a larger version which you can magnify to see more closely. The left side of the photo is to the northeast and the right side is towards the southeast. Pumpkinseed Hill is the cleared area in the left background. The Candy Cane parking area is in the center right, and the cleared area in the right background is the Hudak and Stearn Farms off of Birdseye Road.
I went a bit further until a sign announced beautiful tall spruce trees to the right down the hill. These trees are actually on Shelton Family Farm, which is leased by the Jones family. In addition to Christmas trees there are wide open fields and a private pond called Lake Emerson just off Rt 110 (a well-known go-cart track is nearby). In the distance are the fields of Pumpkinseed Hill, also farmed by the Jones family. This end of the farm was very quiet with only a few families looking at the trees. I know which trees I'm looking at next year.
After the hike, I stopped in at the canteen with its heated restroom and hot apple cider, and hung out to people-watch. Frosty was walking around waving to the kids, and people were sitting around the fire pit trying to keep out of the smoke.
Jones Family Farm and Shelton Family Farm have both been preserved via the "purchase of development rights," which means that they are privately owned but can never be subdivided into a housing development. I've heard a few people grumble about using city funds to buy land "rights" rather than just buying the land outright, and how the land is not open to the public. However, I'm happy the farmers continue to own the property and run their farms. Though technically not open to the public, these lands are in fact enjoyed by the public in a way that would not be an option if the City were to own the property. I've been at the farm several times this year, picking strawberries, blueberries (twice), getting pumpkins, cutting a tree, and today I simply walked around enjoying the scenery. See my photos from the hike -- this place is a series of photo ops.
Preserving land by the purchase of development rights is the most cost effective method we have available. The price per acre is lower than if the land were purchased outright. Plus, there are no public maintenance costs associated with the land, because it is privately owned.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Eisenhower Park, Milford

Letterboxing took me to some corners of Eisenhower Park that I'd never seen before. Here's the Wepawaug River. Coincidentally, I walked along another section of this river just the other day at the Wepawaug Conservation Area and Kowal Nature Preserve in Orange, 'boxing once again. The river looked much the same upstream as it does in this picture.

According to the letterboxing clues, the 15-acre Kowal Nature Preserve was donated by a mailman. Imagine that. Most conservation lands have a story behind their preservation and a devoted crew of people who worked to make it so. There's an entire book about the epic battle to preserve Sleeping Giant State Park. Here in Shelton we are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the Shelton Lakes purchase, which has grown to about 450-acres with 10 miles of trails. Before the purchase, there were well-grounded fears that the area would be filled with new houses. Anyways, I salute everyone who has helped to preserve conservation lands.

Back to Eisenhower Park. One of the fields was lined with overgrown tires which must have demarcated the parking areas at some point in time. I wonder how long the tires will last, and how some future archeologist might interpret them. As art, perhaps?

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