Sunday, May 29, 2011

Four Seasons on Sleeping Giant

I've read a lot of "why I hike" blogs and contests recently.  I wrote this article for the February edition of Giant News - the Sleeping Giant Park Association newsletter.  You can read that beautifully edited version by becoming a member and picking up a copy.  In the meantime, scroll through this one - I've put links to some of my favorite Sleeping Giant photo pages at the end...

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I want Candice’s autograph.  If you remember the last issue of the Giant News, Candice hiked all the trails on Sleeping Giant in one day to earn the distinction of Giant Master Marathoner.

I started hiking again last year just to get off the couch and do something.  And since Sleeping Giant was nearby, it was a great place to start.  I checked the web site looking for hike dates, and read about the Giant Masters program, recognition for hiking all the nearly 30 miles of blazed trails.  Great, I thought – a goal (and a neat looking certificate at the end!)  As it turned out, there was so much of the mountain I hadn’t bothered to explore before, the hikes were really enjoyable.  I got the exercise, and I got to see a lot more of the park.  Along the way, I met a great group of people dedicated to bringing out the best of Sleeping Giant.

Near the end of spring, I filled in the hiking log with trails and dates, sent it in and soon received that certificate and Giant Master Patch, along with a beautiful letter of congratulations and encouragement.  And then the chatter started – “Congratulations, that’s great. But you don’t really know the trails until you’ve hiked them in both directions!”  That led to another round of hikes, proving on the Giant’s head that there really is a difference which way you go – I found that up the quarry trail is a lot easier than down!  Another log sheet, another certificate – and even more chatter: “good for you, but hiking in fall and winter you really get to know your way around the mountain”. 

So I set another goal – the Four Seasons Giants Master, hiking each trail in each season.  But there was one more classification in the program, the Giant Marathoner.  All the trails in one day?   My head (and knees) said there wasn’t a chance I could make that.  But just to make sure, I hiked all the trails over one autumn weekend.  I want Candice’s autograph – she’s a rock star!  Because hobbling around stiff and sore on that Sunday I decided the two day hike had been a crazy thing to do. 

By now, I had started to notice the little differences in the trails and the mountain.  Waterfalls and streams swollen in the spring were nearly dry in summer.  Trails that were impossible to miss in the summer were hidden under the fallen leaves in autumn.  I saw where a new tree blaze might be a good idea since the snow had covered the ones on the rocks.  I had the opportunity to test what’s better for climbing rocky trails on an icy day – microspikes, YakTrax®, or maybe crampons and an ice axe.

But the part I really enjoyed, and what I missed as I hurried through that autumn weekend power hike, was stopping to talk with other hikers along the way. 
  • Meeting a proud Eagle Scout candidate as he put the finishing touches on a set of stairs at the Yellow Trail, and his dad, prouder still. 
  • Finding a couple of kids arguing about the bird they just saw – was it a hawk or an eagle – and holding an impromptu birding lesson for them on the under-wing design of turkey vultures and red tail hawks.  Then reminding them as they hiked away to look down at the trail, not up in the sky as they walked! 
  • Meeting a couple crossing one of the red trails, trying to figure out which way it was back to the main entrance – and jealously looking at the photo of a three-point buck they were just able to shoot.
So I’ll leave the marathons to others, and stick with a more leisurely pace.  You may find me on the trails, hiking along, taking photos or enjoying a view.  If you do, stop and say hello.  Don’t worry, there’s no rush - I’ve got the time.

Spring    Summer     Autumn    Winter

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Paugussett Trail

Every trail guide I’ve read calls out the length of the trail.  Did you ever wonder how those measurements are taken?  GPS – right?  But trail guides have been in publication far longer than hand held GPS units.  OK, so we just pace it off and do the math?

For this Paugussett Trail trip, I was lucky to meet up with a group on a joint AMC / CT Forest and Park Association hike.  And along the way, the CFPA was rechecking the trail for the next edition of their guide.  So out comes the wheelie road measurer, and the GPS.  Somebody wheels the trail, and then at the end they’ll check the GPS and see how close the two measurements are.  For today, the Paugussett Trail is 9.1 miles.  Tomorrow – who knows?

We dropped cars at Indian Well State Park in Shelton and then drove to the other end of the trail on East Village Road in Monroe.  The CFPA guide (from the Walk Book West) has the trail starting across from this parking lot on Indian Well Road, but there are blue blazes heading south of the park through the fields.  I guess I’ll have to check that out when we get back…

Update 3/19/2016 - Now a few years later, the Paugussett Trail has been extended about 10 miles south of Indian Well leading to Shelton Lakes.  There's been a lot of great work by the Shelton Trails Committee to maintain and extend the trail.  Check on the CFPA website or Shelton Conservation website for information.

Our route took us from East Village Road, northwest to Lake Zoar near the Stevenson Dam, and then southeast parallel to the Housatonic River back to Indian Well State Park.  And there are a few side trails along the way for kicks.  The Paugussett starts through open, flat forest land, white pines and hardwood, and passes an old stone foundation – the remnants of the 1800’s Cargill Hoopskirt Factory.  It crosses Boys Halfway River (there’s got to be story behind that name) and then follows the river for about 1 ½ miles, through an hemlock forest, and then gradually descends to Cottage Street.  There’s an old silver mine through here somewhere, but we didn’t stop to look around.

Tricky crossing on Boys Halfway River

The rest of the group was using this hike to begin training for a Vermont backpacking trip later in the summer.  So we moved along at a pretty good pace.  Across Cottage Street, and up along the railroad tracks, there’s a blue/yellow contactor trail that leads down to Route 34 and Lake Zoar.  It’s a really nice spot for a break – maybe an ice cream cone at the Lake Zoar Drive In.  In summer, this area will be hopping with beach and boat traffic.  Today, it’s pretty quiet and we crossed back to the Paugussett for the first hill run (remember that training part?)  Up the hill, across the power lines and into the forest again, there’s a little clearing at the top of the hill with a view through the trees down to Lake Zoar

Scenic Lake Zoar - a few more weeks it will be full of boat traffic

After heading through a Mountain Laurel grove, the trail leads over 100-foot Ledge, a pass down though a rock cliff.  Next, it heads into Monroe’s Webb Mountain Park – the main park has 170 acres of hiking and camping, the adjoining 171 acre Webb Mountain Discovery Zone has hiking, scavenger hunts and outdoor education for kids.  You’ll cross a woods road and several of the Webb Mountain trails.  After crossing the Orange, the Paugussett leads down along Round Hill Brook, an absolutely beautiful section of the forest.  The brook cascades down through pools and waterfalls as it runs into the Housatonic.  It’s a very peaceful spot for a little break, and is about the halfway point on the trail.

Down the 100 Foot Ledge

and across Round Hill Brook

Connecticut’s blue blazed trails run through state land, power and water utility-owned land, and privately owned land.  Sometimes with easements, other times with just a handshake between CFPA and the land or homeowner.  The next section of the Paugussett leads through roads and neighborhoods, through backyards and side yards – so keep to the trail, stay quiet, and keep your eyes ahead – let’s play nice with the neighbors.  The trail comes out of the woods and up the steps to Thoreau Drive.  Watch for blazes painted on the telephone poles, curbs and trees for the next mile to wind along the roads, yards and woods here.

up the stairs, and into the neighborhood

At last you’re back in the woods.  The trail leads along and crosses Upper White Hill Brook just above a small waterfall.  Careful on the crossing – you have to do a little hopping from boulder to boulder.  Next stop is the Blue/Yellow blazed Vista Trail – a side trail from the Paugussett that leads steeply up to a hilltop with views down to the river (or a view if you stand in just the right spot and the trees haven’t filled in completely). 
Housatonic River vista peaking through the trees.

Back down the hill, the trail runs along a steep rockfall section, around through and over boulders, and then takes you through a hemlock and hardwood forest just before you enter Indian Well State Park again.  Just about two miles from the Vista Trail, there is another set of side trails – the blue/yellow blazed Shelton Open Space Loop.  Keep an eye out for the Shelton Trails marker on the tree; we walked right by the trail the first time past.  The open space trail is just under a mile, looping around through the woods to rejoin the Paugussett at the same spot it left.  A red blazed trail cuts through the center of the loop for a shorter track.  One neighbor wants to make sure you note that you should stay on the trail side of the fence, and not hop over to his side…

 Stay on your own side                                     Don't even think it!  

The last section of the Paugussett leads steeply down to Indian Well Road and the park entrance.  Head down to the road, and then cut back into the woods for a quick stop at the Indian Well waterfall and splash pool.  While there’s no history that says this was actually used as a well by the local Indians, there is a Romeo and Juliet type legend about a couple from enemy tribes.  Google it here.

Indian Well waterfall

Back at the start, I said the trailhead is here at Indian Well.  But the blue blazes do continue south.  I took the trail down to the state park entrance road and across the street.  The trail has been extended by the Shelton Trails Committee, linking up with the Shelton Lakes Greenway.  I guess I'll have to find a map and hike these new miles before calling the Paugussett complete!

Next time, south out of Indian Well to
wherever the trail takes us...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Naugatuck Trail

The Naugatuck Trail runs through the East Block of the Naugatuck State Forest in Bethany – from Route 42 near Simpson Pond to Route 8 in Beacon Falls. The 5 ½ mile trail is a shadow of its former self, when it covered a much longer route between the Quinnipiac and Paugussett Trails. Since I was hiking out and back - and adding the three side trails - this hike covered about 10 ½ miles.

Note - you can get a better topographic map with route and full trail description from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association - the Walk Book West.  After all, this is who maintains the trail!

There is only space for a couple of cars along the road at the Route 42 trailhead (see map). I parked instead at the Whittemore trailhead just a quarter mile west, and then hiked back to start the Naugie.
Old stone walls and foundation from the previous owner.

Along the road, there are remnants of stone foundations and walls from homesteads prior to the establishment of the state forest. The trail begins downhill from the route 42 parking area, along a woods road, but soon cuts west into the forest as it parallels and crosses a stream. It works its way uphill through hardwood and laurel forest until the turnoff for Beacon Cap. This blue and yellow blazed side trail takes you around to a clearing where hawks and turkey vultures were gliding around. Down a steep embankment and then up a rocky climb again leads to Beacon Cap, the 770’ highpoint around here, with views to the south and east. You can just catch a glimpse of water in the New Naugatuck Reservoir.  Not so new, the Long Hill Dam went up in 1914, but I guess the name stuck.

The trail heads away from the woods road, up and into the forest

Through the laurel canopy

Taking a break at Beacon Cap.  If you're nimble enough,
scramble up on the boulder for the best view.

A glimmer of water - the New Naugatuck Reservoir

Carefully back through the rocks, the Naugatuck heads west through the forest until it leads you down through a ravine. This lowland section crosses an old utility corridor. It gets pretty swampy, past streams and vernal pools. In fact, the trail itself is a vernal pool, with frogs and salamanders between the rocks and stepping stones, until it starts back up hill.

Swamped trail or vernal pool.  Who says it can't be both??
Lichen and moss cover the boulders

As you climb and crest the hill and start coming down through the pines (steeply through the pines), the sounds of civilization creep in again - this time road noise. The trail comes out of the forest, and runs next to the Route 8 highway for a little while until it reaches the north trailhead on Andrasko Road. There is parking for maybe two cars here, but there is a commuter parking lot just off the highway exit only a couple hundred yards from the trailhead.

Here's my exit...  The trail as it parallels Route 8
Just beyond the highway is the Naugatuck River, and unfortunately there is no river access from the trail (unless you want to try and star in a new “why did the chicken cross the road” story). At 40 miles, the Naugatuck is the largest river that both begins and ends in the state, with several major dams in place before it joins the Housatonic River in Derby. This website details the river’s industrial past (hey, Naugahide had to be invented somewhere!) and its current recovery for fishing and recreation. The river is stocked with trout up north above the Thomaston Dam, and here between Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.

The Naugatuck River from the Depot Street Bridge in Beacon Falls

I planned on stopping at the trailhead for lunch before turning around for my return trip, but it’s not the prettiest area. I hiked back into the woods to a more picturesque spot. Egypt Brook runs down along the trail before it empties into the Naugatuck River, and there’s a nice clearing in the pine forest by this waterfall. It’s been used as a campsite, with a fire pit and teepee frame nearby – and no trash to speak of, whoever the last occupant was cleaned up pretty well.

Still life on the trail

Back on the trail, hiking back up the hill, the next side trail breaks off just over a mile from the Andrasko trailhead. The Spruce Knoll Trail is just a tenth of a mile long, leading to an open area “with limited seasonal views” of the Naugatuck Valley. I found the clearing, but even standing on a nearby boulder only had views of more trees.

Spruce Knoll clearing

I wound my way through the forest another 2 ¼ miles to find the junction with the Whittemore Trail. This trail is a shortcut back to Route 42, and can be used to create a 3 mile loop hike here at the east end of the Naugatuck. The trail leads through mountain laurel and forest and over a couple of streams back to the trailhead. The Whittemore wins two awards – best use of rock path to protect the trail from erosion and to allow dry footing through the soggy areas, and most trail art – cairns were built next to the trail at several spots as decoration.

Whittemore Trail junction with the Naugatuck Trail

Rock walk protects the trail

A little trail art to decorate the forest

I noted earlier that the trail is much shorter now that originally laid out. Commercial and residential development cut chunks off the trail, but there are remnants that have been protected by town and land trust groups. One of those is the Bethany Farms trail system, with parts of the Naugatuck in Bethany and Woodbridge. As the land was developed, the town and land trust organization worked to include trail easements and open space in the plan for the best of both worlds – residential development and open recreational trails. What do you think – can that work in your town?


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