Friday, August 27, 2010

A Coke and a smile

To follow up on my last post about Coke’s “Vote for Your Favorite Park” campaign...

I was at Sleeping Giant today, and met a seemingly sane young woman. During our short conversation, I happened to mention Coke’s marketing contest that will give $100,000 to the State or National Park that gains the most votes on their website. And that I thought it was a cool thing for the company to do.

And then I got hit with a verbal two by four - Didn’t I realize that the reason America’s kids are overweight is because of companies like Coke! How could someone like me, who purportedly lives a healthy lifestyle (I hike therefore I am) even think of supporting this campaign to make Coke look better??

First I had to clear something up. I enjoy a good hike. I also enjoy a bacon cheeseburger and a bottle of Yuengling. Guess that makes me tough to pigeonhole.

Next I turned her around, pointed out toward the mountain, and said “Coca Cola, a 30 billion dollar multi-national corporation, is going to drop 100 grand on a single park. Why not this one?”

I fully agree we drink too much soda, I think we pay way too much for bottled water, and I don’t touch ‘energy drinks’. I may not be Coke's prime target as a customer. I prefer Coke over other colas, but I won’t go out of my way to get one. I drink water at home and on the trail. If we go out I'll order ice tea. I'll have a beer anytime, anywhere. At the same time, I am happy to point people to Coke's website and get them to vote in this contest if it means some park gets to add a big chunk of change to its budget and people start to think about a park they really do enjoy.

There’s a lot of good that can be done between the extremes of any argument. Let’s not get hung up on the fringes.

Here’s a suggestion for my new friend. Take the money.  Open a new section. Build a new trail.  Fund a program to bring elementary school kids into the park. Get them to hike, run and play and work up a thirst. Then show them how you drink tap water run through a Brita filter in your reusable water bottle. Show them there’s a better way. But take the money!! 

Spending the money on "Coke is the Devil" t-shirts may not get you taken seriously.  But on something encouraging a better lifestyle? Now we're talking.

OK, climbing down off my soapbox, I'm reminded I was on a hike today.  It was a beautiful day - warm, sunny, a nice breeze to keep the bugs away. I zigzagged across the mountain on the red trails (Diamond, Hex, Triangle and two thirds of the Circle) and took the White back to the park's main entrance. 

The rivers that, in spring, run down cascades and waterfalls were nearly dry.  Teresa wrote a good post about that a couple of weeks ago in her blog "In the Field" - and she's got pictures.

Everyone I passed seemed happy and friendly, all with a smile and kind word.  Then near the end of the hike on the blue trail, a doe and her fawn were making their way down to and across the river - much to the delight of three kids walking down for a swim with their Dad.

A nice healthy seven mile hike.  And as with any good hike that ends on the north side of Sleeping Giant, I finished it with an ice cream cone at Wentworth's.

I’m just a walking contradiction.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spend Coca Cola's money on your favorite Park

Let's help Coca Cola spend some money!!

The Coca Cola Company has supported America's National Parks for years.  And now they are running a contest, offering a $100,000 grant to the park that gets the most votes.  Click this link to check the contest website and vote for your favorite State or National Park. 

Last time I looked, Sleeping Giant Park had 18 votes, and Bear Head Lake State Park in Minnesota was slightly ahead with 1.3 million votes.  Come on, Sleeping Giant fans - we can do it!!

screenshot from Coke's

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quinnipiac River State Park

This section of the Quinnipiac Trail is a thru-hike from the trail head (and start of the Quinnipiac Trail) on Banton Street in North Haven, through the end of the park at Toelles Road, back into the woods ending at the entrance to Sleeping Giant State Park on Chestnut Lane in Hamden (total distance approx 6 miles).

Update - as noted in one of the comments below, this part of the Blue Trail was closed and is no longer maintained by CFPA.  See their notice here.  The new southern end of the Quinnipiac Trail is Hartford Turnpike - so start here.

State Park website        Get a copy of the Connecticut Walk Book West for a good trail map.

Starting from the south, the trail begins along an old road - Banton Street - and then turns right into the woods toward the Quinnipiac river. It follows the river the rest of the way north.

Imagine a trail meandering through forest and brush, maple stands and pine knolls, following the winding river.  As it crosses muddy creek beds, deer, racoon and otter tracks show you what else shares the woods.  The trail breaks out onto the river bank - a heron flies just above the treetops, and a hawk takes flight as you pass.  Ducks and frogs dart off the shore along the way.  Now imagine the jungle has completely taken over the trail again - Trail Guys 0, Nature 1.  Welcome to Quinnipiac River State Park.

There were so many places where I lost the trail, or it became so overgrown as to be impenetrable, a lot of time was spent backtracking to find a way through the brush and then find the trail again. At a couple of points it was easier - when I hit the river I was too far east, when I hit the old power line clearing I was too far west. Somewhere in between - hey, there's a faded blue blaze...

Poison ivy, vines, shrubs, grasses have all grown up along the trail, blocking it and hiding blazes. There’s some tree or shrub with a faintly orange scent – I don’t know what it is, but I bashed my way through a few times.

The CFPA Walk Book notes this section of the Q Trail is impassable after heavy rains or periods of high water on the river. There's no question this is a flood plain - the sandy soil, piles of twigs and branches that flood waters have moved around all point to that. The trail crosses dry (or mostly dry) streams that might be knee deep after spring rains.

The Walk Book “recommends planning this hike for the cooler seasons, after the shrubs and trees have dropped their leaves.” I’d have to agree – a machete and chain saw would have been handy today to clear the trail again. Though cooler seasons are also hunting seasons; this area is open to turkey hunting spring and fall, deer hunting in the fall and winter (but never on Sundays).

There's the blaze, but where's the trail??
Series of wooden bridges over a creek

Once you reach the end of the park at Toelles Road, be very careful! You have to hop over a wall and walk up the road a quarter mile to reach the woods again. There is no sidewalk or clearing, so you’re on the road with drivers who may still think it’s ten extra points to hit the hiker so he does a full somersault before landing again. Of course, other drivers do slow down and wave, so maybe there’s still hope for mankind.

Anyway, back across Hartford Turnpike and into the woods, the trail is well marked and cleared all the way into Sleeping Giant State Park. I hooked a right at the yellow trail to find my car just where I left it – at the Chestnut Lane parking area.

I'll be back in winter, I just hope the trail is too.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Maybe it’s just me, but when you hike with a group is there always somebody who should just keep their mouth shut?  They probably mean well; there might be a shade of truth to what they say, but still…

Aimed at the guy who just asked we take another break – “No problem, pal. Before I lost that 20 pounds I couldn’t go a hundred yards without stopping like you.”

You're right – While I stand here trying to catch my breath, I’ll just make a note to call Jenny Craig as soon as we get back.

To the person who brings up the rear on that quarter mile uphill climb - “You should try hiking poles like mine.  Maybe they'll help you keep up.” (And no, he wasn’t offering a short trial of his.)

Thanks, man.  I’ll try that next time.

Then I complain about the bugs – the swarm of mosquitoes that didn’t realize OFF was supposed to keep them away.  “Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide.  Maybe you give off a lot of CO2.”

Pause to think of an appropriate response…


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lillinonah Trail - Newtown, CT

and who in the world is Al?

5.7 mile loop hike through the upper Paugussett Forest along Pond Brook and the Housatonic River. Moderate to difficult. It’s a little tough to rate – much of the trail is level and easy, but there are sections of steep up and downs, rock scrambles, and slippery eroded trail sections.  But it's a beautiful area and a great hike.  Hike time - including the hike, a few photo stops, and a panic stricken slap-dance (keep reading, I’ll explain later) – just under 3 hours.

     Trail Map            

Don't miss this parking lot
Check out the Connecticut Walk Book (West) for directions and trail description. The parking lot is small and unmarked. Coming from the south, I went right by it – if you come to Pond Brook Rd and the Boat Launch, you’ve gone too far.

The blue-blazed trail starts out on Hanover Road, and the first trail marker you see says “Al’s Trail – Northern Terminus”. Yes, you’re in the right place. The trail is named for Al Goodrich, one of the many people involved in creating a 10 mile walking trail through Newtown. The first 4 miles of Al’s Trail overlaps the Lillinonah. Follow the blue blazes and the yellow Newtown Trail signs.

Part of this trail – a marked 3.1 mile Scenic Trail – is closed between December 15 and March 15 as the river section is a winter nesting area for Bald Eagles. As the rivers up north freeze, limiting the eagle's ability to find food, they fly south to feed and nest on the Housatonic. There’s an observation center on the Shepaug Dam, open during the winter.  But since this is mid-August, no problem, I keep on hiking.

The trail runs near the river edge, but not close enough to see much through the trees. There are a few spots you can cut over and out to the water’s edge. It’s a beautiful area – along the water, then up a steep climb into the forest with varied terrain - open forest, ferns and mossy boulders.

Lake Lillinonah

At the trail peak, find a big gnarly oak tree with a letterbox. One entry from a few weeks ago reads “Never been mountain biking before. Might not survive this one. SO DIFFICULT.”   Dude, there’s no biking on the blue trails!!  Maybe he came in on the white trail from the Upper Gussy, but from all the bike tracks I see, my guess is there’s more bike traffic than this trail can handle. There are trail sections worn away where erosion makes the footing difficult and probably treacherous when it gets wet.

Maple tree tapped for Syrup

The trail goes back down toward the river, up again and then back down. Near the Shephaug Dam, the trail turns west to the Echo Valley Road parking area, and then north back through the forest to the loop’s starting point. Along the way, the trail cuts around and through stone walls, and past a grove of maple trees all strung together with white and blue tubing. The DEP runs a maple sugaring operation in the spring – collecting sap, making syrup, and managing the forest to make sure the sweetest trees thrive.

And here’s where I forgot the first rules of hiking –
   1. stay on the trail
   2. if you do forget #1 and go off trail, don’t backtrack getting back – pick a looping route.

Why? Cuz if you go off trail and walk through a yellowjacket nest and stir them up, you don’t want to walk straight back through the swarm! There was much slapping, running, stinging, and yes even a little whimpering. And my arms and legs were burning from the half dozen stings all the way back to the parking lot.

On the way out, I was going to stop at the Blue Colony Diner  for lunch – all chrome and art deco, the food’s got to be good. But since my legs and right arm were still on fire, I didn’t have much of an appetite. Maybe there’s an ER around here instead…

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quinnipiac Trail - Mount Sanford

I had planned to hike the northern section of the Quinnipiac trail, but time was short so I settled on a shorter route – from Route 42 in Cheshire south around Mt Sanford, and then back north on the blue trail.  A quick loop hike, moderate with some steep inclines, about 3½ miles taking just about an hour and a half.

The starting point was a small parking lot for the Quinnipiac Trail on
Bethany Mountain Road
(Rt. 42) in Cheshire, near the northern tip of the  Naugatuck State Forest.  Hiked south into the woods, down and then over a bridge over Sanford Brook – two cut logs, a little bouncy and more encouragement to lose a little weight. Soon after the bridge, the trail splits with the blue/red blazed Sanford Alternate Trail heading east away from the Quinnipiac.  This trail leads down into Nettleton’s Revine – a 14 acre property part of the Cheshire Land Trust.

The Sanford trail comes out of the woods onto an old camp road.  You soon pass a dirt trail into a group camp area, with a signpost honoring George Cromie - former new haven city forester and strong advocate for forest maintenance.  This was his land, where he experimented with planting different conifers along the trail as you see here.  (Read the CFPA Connecticut Walk Book and you get a little history along with your trail maps.)

The forest was quiet – a few squirrels and chipmunks running through the leaves, and this toad hopping across the trail.  Hiding in the leaves – good camouflage.  Hiding under a spider web – not quite as effective.

Letterbox Trail Notes
A little farther down the trail, the sounds of the forest are replaced by that of kids playing – the trail comes to the YMCA's Camp Mountain Laurel.  Summer camp is in full swing, swimming lessons, arts and crafts and a game of kickball on the ballfield.  The Sanford trail meets back up with the Quinnipiac Trail here, and I turned north to loop back.  The trail does a couple of switchbacks up the south face of Mt Sanford.  Up a moderate grade, the trail opens up to views west into Prospect.  This isn’t the summit, but it’s good place to stop, take a break and enjoy the view.  There’s a letterbox nailed to the tree nearby with some entries poetic and eloquent, others that might help explain why some species eat their young.  And at least one hiker is a dog loving artist – who seems to travel with her own colored pencils.

The true summit is another quarter mile away, again with views off the cliff into Prospect.  Hike down the mountain another ¾ mile, and you’re back at the Sanford trail intersection.  Back over the bridge, up the hill and back to the parking lot. 

Boulder up to the Mt Sanford summit

The view west into Prospect

The Quinnipiac Trail heading back down Mt Sanford

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Round Top Mountain - Kennebec Highlands, Maine

Off for a few days vacation in Maine...

Maine Quilts 2010. Augusta, Maine. A really Big Quilt Show – 810 quilts, classes, etc. Can’t miss it! Well, my wife couldn’t miss it. After I dropped her off at the Augusta Civic Center, I went a few miles north and hiked Round Top Mountain in Rome, Maine. Part of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance land and the Kennebec Highlands.  It’s a 4 mile loop hike, moderate with some steep climbs to the 1100’ summit of Round Top Mountain.

Link to  Trail Map 
Trailhead parking on Watson Pond Rd, about 4 miles south from its junction with Route 27

The trails are well marked with blue blazes and trail signs, and very well maintained. From the trailhead, the Round Top trail takes you through a pine grove, up the east face of the mountain, and into a Birch forest that opens up to wide views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. It starts with a easy climb, through granite quarried for a foundation, and through the pine grove – the trail is all pine needles and tree roots.

One website described the Highlands area as home to moose, dear, bear, coyotes, bobcats, foxes and turkeys. I met a couple of trail runners on the way in. Nice guys, but with the clomping, talking and laughing as they ran ahead of me, there was little chance I’d run into anything bigger than a chipmunk on the way up!

The Round Top trail meets Kennebec Highlands trail, a signpost points your way. Stay on Round Top, up an old logging road to begin a steep climb. As the trail works its way up and through the woods, it opens in several spots to views of the lakes below – Round Pond and Watson Pond. Near the summit, an outcrop gives views southeast to the big lakes nearby. A spur trail takes you up to the mountain summit; there you look out to Mt. Phillip to the northeast, and the lakes below.

The trail climbs back down through a rocky area – and a log bench looking out to the east, a great place to stop for lunch. Farther down, the trail meets up again with Kennebec Highlands trail, a level dirt road, taking you back to the signpost and back to the parking lot at the trailhead. The trail map notes a ‘goat path’ as a trail back to the road, but staying on the blazed Round Top trail is a better bet.

Good hike, great views!
Long Pond and Great Pond in the distance (3 photos pieced together for a panoramic view)

Watson and Round Ponds
Granite Quarry, rock fall or hiking trail?  You decide.
Rocks along the trail -   must..  climb..  boulder


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