Online Map

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Upper Gussy Trail

This trail has been in the making for four years and it's finally coming to fruition! Just waiting on the final approval from the CT DEP. If you pour through my Connecticut Mountain Biking Blog you will find bits and pieces relating to this project but I have decided to use the blogging concept to chronicle the development and construction of this new trail in the Upper Paugussett State Forest.

It all started when I moved to Newtown, CT, and bought a mountain bike. Living within half a mile of the Upper Paugussett State Forest and always having a penchant for exploration, I set off to discover what was in the forest in terms of trails and other things to see. Armed with my GPS, my innate sense of direction and a trained eye I started finding trails throughout the forest.

There is the Brody Road that is basically a logging road that cuts the forest in half named after Polly Brody, the woman who led the charge to get this tract of land preserved in back in 1965. Ironically, Ms Brody emailed me one day after learning about my references to her in some of my blog posts. After some back and fourth, asking questions, she sent me the following description of the The Mullikin Tract.

Mr. Mullikin (who lived in New Canaan) did have plans to develop the tract with 350 projected home sites, but there was NOT an organized "fierce opposition" to this, in the town. I was Chairman of the Conservation Commission at that time. We had finished providing the Open Space Plan for Newtown (one of the first to do so) following the State's enactment of P.A. 490.

Among the designated open space areas, the Mullikin Tract was our prime recommendation for purchase. Over a two year period, we took our proposal to TWO town meetings--one under a Democratic administration and one under a Republican administration! Despite the fact that our Commission obtained a promise of 50% funding from the federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR), the town turned down purchase. By the way, we members of the Conservation Commission had payed for an independent appraisal of this property out of our own pockets! It valued the land at $800,000. I remember one person (a Realtor) saying at one town meeting: "the place is a worthless goat pasture!"

After butting our heads against the wall in Newtown, I took our proposal for preservation to the Nature Conservancy. They turned it down because the land was not considered to be ecologically "unique." Then I turned to the State. I had done a bio-assay of the land (its flora and fauna), and we paid privately, for a topographical overlay. I wrote the Governor, and rallied other persons in Hartford. Officials from the Forestry Department, and I think from DEP, walked over the land with me...I recall a great guy named Joe Ward. The Bond Commissioner found funds available, and endorsed purchase. Now it is a State Forest.
Couple of ironies here, I grew up in New Canaan, and vaguely remember when I was 14 or 15 doing yard work for someone with the last name Mullikin. When I joined the open space taskforce shortly after moving to Newtown, the Town floated a $10MM bond issue for the purpose of buying open space. Interesting to see that it took the town 20 years to finally figure out that open space is good and more places like these should be preserved.

Following most of the shore line of Lake Lillilohnah you have Al's Trail. This trail is approximately 10 miles long and starts at the Pond Brook Boat Ramp and ends at Fairfield Hills, the former Mental Hospital that town of Newtown purchased a few years ago. If you want a high res map of the trail click here. Not my favorite trail in the forest because Al Goodrich had the idea that his hiking trail should be more for goats and not people. Al's Trail has two sections: One that tracks along the shore of the main lake is really not for biking, nor is it for hiking, in my opinion; and the other that follows along the inlet formed by Pond Brook. The two trail sections meet up far inland at a place called Kissing Oak, they intersect with the White Trail.

There is a unique situation where two oak trees have come together and in the Newtown Hiking Book is known as Kissing Oak. There is a wooden box on the side of the tree with log in it that I signed once, thinking this was a letter box, but turns out is not the Official Upper Paugussett State Forest Letterbox, in fact it was not even close to where it was. I actually found the actual letter box this year while following a new track that I found in the forest. Who ever hid it should think about hiding something under a rock at the base of tree. It is so out of place. Supposedly, there is an unofficial letterbox a hundred feet from Kissing Oak.

The White Trail, while being short is cool trail. Coming down from Kissing Oak there is nice 5 or 6 Roller that you can roll on one side of the trail. Further down, there is an up and over through a stonewall. However, about 50 yards short of the intersection with the Brody Road, the trail runs through a wetland and if you don't mind the mud and all the rocks, it's a very technical section of the trail, it was fun to try to ride through there and not look like pig after a mud bath. That is until this really big tree came down in a storm, sometime in 2006, and now blocks the entire trail.

The section of Al's Trail that starts at Pond Brook and meets up with White Trail is a very, very technical riding trail, with many rock gardens, and steep ups and downs - you can thank Al for that one, he had no sense that if you build a trail straight up the fall line of a slope you are going to increase erosion exponentially. From what I have seen and the people I have spoken to in the Pond Brook Boat Ramp parking lot, this section is a very popular biking trail amongst many hard core riders in the area. Another thing you should know about Al's Trail is that it's technically a Blue Blazed Trail. Blue blazed trails or more commonly known as Blue Trails are basically no bikes and horses for that matter, however, my understanding now is that if they are posted no bikes, then they are no bikes. Not sure where that stands these days. And there is some other issue with horses, as well.

I for one am not a fan of Al's Trail, either section. In 2006, I was riding the Qball on Al's Trail through one of the many rock gardens that the trail runs through, only this one was on a downslope, and the ground was wet, my bike slipped out from under me and I belly flopped onto a rock, cracking a rib. Since then, except for a small section near the boat ramp I don't bother riding Al's Trail. I am sure Pat Barkman would be pleased to hear that.

Since Al's Trail is technically closed during the winter, our good friends at Connecticut Forest & Park Association or more commonly known as CFPA, built another blue trail on the west side of the forest. This trail starts at the parking lot off Echo Valley Road, climbs up the hill in the back and more or less heads due west until it hits the Jeep Road that comes off Sandford Road. It follows the Jeep Road until it peters out and then makes it own course following what was probably an old river channel after the last ice age when the Housatonic (Housi) was much deeper and enfused with glacial melt. It does take some turns and hit some slopes that must be paying tribute to Al Goodrich.

It was riding parts of this trail in August that I discovered a secondary trail coming off it that by the tell tale signs of hoof prints and road apples that this was an equestrian trail. Between this trail and the Brody Road, I found another trail, actually it was more like a road. I started calling this the Right of Way Trail or ROW for short. In many places it was graded and in others it was cut through hills to create a even grade. I did a little research at the Town Hall and figured out that there was a fork on Albert's Hill Road in front of the old 18th Century farm house. The left branch headed to intersect with Echo Valley Road and the other branch headed straight up into the forest.

On the 1892 Topography Map of Danbury that found at the University of New Hampshire's Dimond Library online repository of Historic USGS Maps of New England & New York, you can see how this intersection is very different that what is there now. In fact as you drive up Albert's Hill there is an old road heading east where this initial intersection is.

If you go to 1953 topo map of the same area you can see that the old road that headed down to the Housi is no longer shown, however, if you look really closely at the contour lines (which I have highlighted in red) you will grading contours that indicate there once was a road. Similarly, the road that headed north of the old intersection is shown as unimproved and after the house that it leads to, as well depicting the original forest road, there is a trail that heads up into the forest. That trail is actually a graded road that penetrates into the forest for about a mile and then ends. I have highlighted the approximate route in green.

The interesting thing about this road or right of way is that its only four or five feet wide. Too small for most trucks that were made in the 1950's but it could have accommodated a car/truck of Model T vintage. Seems too engineered for horse drawn wagon. The other ironic thing about this road and others in the forest that I found that were similarly engineered is that they don't end at a cellar hole or there is no debris associated with a former residence that could have been there.

When you look on the most recent topo of the area, the forest road is no longer depicted but I have mapped it's approximate location using my GPS and as you can see in the 1953 topo the road actually goes further past where the forest road turns to the west and starts climbing up the back side of the highest point in the forest. I followed this old road down past the intersection with the White Blazed trail and it leads to clearing and then disappears. It picks up again on the other side of the stream that runs through the northwest side of the clearing and I tried following it once on foot but found it to be too choked with thicket and undergrowth.

However my guess is that it connects up with the section of engineered road that I started calling the Mullikin Trail. This road from what I can tell headed all the way down the western slope, forded Pond Brook, crossed the old Shepaug RR tracks and made it's way back up the other side of the little river valley to intersect with Lake Road. That trail is not shown on the map at the top of the trail but I will show it once I have walked the entire length of it.

In October of 2005 I joined the New England Mountain Biking Association and got interested in trail conservation and trail building. As I started to learn more about the various efforts to put new trails into the forests and parks around the state I decided to inquire to see what could be done in the Upper Paugussett State Forest. So I sent an email to the DEP as said the following:

Hi, I was wondering if you could provide me with the name(s) of those responsible for managing the Upper Paugussett SF in Newtown, CT. I am interested to know whether there are any new efforts to build a trail or improve existing trails for equestrian activities. I have noticed this past summer and fall engineer tape indicating new trails on the western side of the forest and was curious to understand whether that was sanctioned or not.

I am also interested in the possibility of creating a new trail, on the western side of the forest and wanted to know who to talk to.
Here is the response that I got from the Forester, Jerry Milne, that manages Upper Paugussett:

I am Jerry Milne, the forester in charge of forest mananagement at Upper Paugussett SF.This past June I was contacted by Cindy M. of the Newtown Bridle Lands Assn. with a proposal to create a multi-use trail that would accommodate horses along the western side of Upper Paugussett. The proposed trail would include much of the Lillinonah Trail, a hiking trail built and maintained for over 20 years by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) and is part of the statewide Blue Trail system.
I met with Cindy, and we flagged a proposed route, using the Blue Trail for much of the distance, and using a path that has been used in the past by horse riders. One of the problems with the path historically used by the horse folks is that it leaves the State Land for a distance and then returns. I told Cindy that we would not approve a Trail that trespassed onto adjacent property, and that she needed to get permission from the landowner. I also told her that CFPA needed to be contacted because the Blue Trail was involved. I told her to resolve the trespass issue or flag an alternative route. I told her that when that was done, I would come back and map the final proposed trail, contact CFPA, and prepare a DEP Proposed Trail Request to begin the approval process. No permission was given to do any painting or brushing out.
I did not hear anything else until October, when a hiker called to complain about yellow paint on trees, rocks, and sapling stubs on the trail. He said the paint was applied sloppily and ruined the aesthetics of the Trail. I checked the trail, and found that indeed there was yellow paint on numerous exposed rocks on the trail, and on sapling stubs. I also noticed that the trail had been brushed out and did not follow the flagging that Cindy and I had laid out in June. In some cases, it was several hundred feet away.There was also lots of other flagging that was not put up by me. I called Cindy to ask if she knew what was going on. She said there had been a trail clearing over the summer, but that nothing had been painted. She found out shortly thereafter that a horse person had, on their own, painted yellow along the new "horse trail". Because Cindy was recovering from a broken leg, she could not go see for herself.
I told her that when she is able, we can go out to the site and basically start over. I don't know if the adjacent landowner has granted permission for the section off of State Property, but that needs to be resolved. Jerry Milne
I tracked down Cindy M., through NBLA, turns out she lives a half mile away from me, and we started planning for the future of this trail new together. In March 2006, we did a trail walk and at the same time learned that some legislation at the state capitol that could make all blue trails multi-use, thus opening them up for use by bikes and horses got shot down and I felt at that point trying locate this new trail atop existing blue trail would be futile. Not to mention there were sections of the equestrian trail where it separated from the blue trail that were still really tough to negotiate. That is when I proposed that we use the ROW trail that I found last year.

At some point during the summer, Cindy removed herself from the project due to family reasons, and my new point of contact was a gentleman by the name of Tom R. Tom and I walked the trail again in the fall to make the final tweaks on the trail and ready the trail proposal document. One of the requirements of that document is that the named parties have to show their liability insurance. I was able to get mind quickly from the World HQ of NEMBA up in Boston but Tom had a harder time of it but eventually got me the information.

In February of 2007 I emailed a copy of the trail proposal to the Western District Office of the DEP which is at Putnam Park in Redding and made arrangements to review it with the Nathan Hale and Jerry Milne, however, due to Nate being out on medical leave, we couldn't do anything until he was back in the office. That pushed the trail walk with Jerry out to March. When we finally had that walk a few issues came to light.

First was that we would need permission from the town to use the right of way from the forest boundary to where Echo Valley ran into the Forest. I didn't like that idea so that is why you now see the trail turn west off of the ROW and go though a series of wide switch backs to get to the Jeep Trail and eventually Sanford Road. That was a good thing because it added more distance to the trail and the current takes it up and over and around lots of natural obstacles that make mountain biking even more enjoyable.

The last issue was something had to be done about the connector trail from the parking area at Pond Brook to the Brody Road. After the initial stream crossing the train shoots straight up a bank that is being badly eroded. After a little more tweaking I submitted the initial trail porposal in June of 2007, only to find out that I had to send it hard copy, so it went out in July 2007.

I think once a month since the submission I emailed Nate for a status and every time it was the same new, nothing yet. Then in early December, Nate shared with me the Trails Committee meeting minutes and the topic of my trail was tabled! It turns out that while they new of the trail request the DEP up in Hartford didn't have a copy of it. So, I sent electronic copies of it to Nate and to Laurie Giannotti, the DEP director for Recreational Trails & Greenways Program. I was then required to create a new map because the one that I had submitted in the proposal was hard to read. The one I resubmitted is up top.

Finally during the second week of January 2008 I had a conversation with Laurie who told me my trail passed her department's review, there was a recommendation - do something about the stream crossing on the Pond Brook Connector, but all it needed to do was pass final review of the trails committee and it would be approved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mark, I appreciate your efforts and patience dealing with Newtown and the state DEP. I worked on the entitlements for the Sandy Brook Mill conversion in the 1980's. Newtown and DEP can be pretty disfunctional. I wish you luck and hope fellow NEMBAites will give you a hand with trail building and maintainence. Don Myers