Lillinonah Trail

Pond Brook

Pond Brook

Saturday I got back out on the trails for a much needed hike. Two weeks in my insanely hectic life is more than enough time to leave me dying for some nature therapy! I also had to work over the weekend and attend a late night party in NYC for my friend’s birthday – all the more reason for me to make sure I got out there to keep balanced.  My wife was wonderful to give me so much time to myself last weekend as she too is feeling the stress of crazy schedules, so I’m sending her to hang out with her sister this weekend for some fun of her own. And I am glad we got to do the last hike together as it had been awhile.

I am really missing our backpacking trips already and spring is too far away.  Although thanks to El Nino, the east coast has been experiencing late spring conditions and last Saturday and Sunday both had highs in the 60s and lows in the upper 40s. For this reason I had briefly considered an overnight backpacking trip but ultimately decided against it. That would mean skipping my friend’s birthday, and anyway hiker midnight at 430pm would make for a very long dark night… However had my wife been able to join things might have been different.

Pond Brook view

Pond Brook view

But this one I had to do as a day hike. This time I opted for something other than the A.T. and skimmed through the weekend hike offerings from my AMC club. I had originally settled on a group hike on the challenging northern end of the Mohawk trail (once the A.T.’s route). But distance from home and a late start to the hike meant I’d have barely enough time to change my clothes, kiss my wife and kids and rush to the train station if I wanted to make the party in time.  Another of their group hike options was with Tom, who I’ve done several hikes with including the trail work at West Rock a few weeks ago. It was a circuit hike on the Lillinonah trail and was only 45 minutes away. The trail is in the Upper Paugussett State Forest, in Newtown, CT. and is about 6 miles long. This choice also meant I got to check a full trail off my completed list!

Rocky ledges along the Lake

Rocky ledges along the Lake

I pulled the map for the trail out of my Connecticut Walk Book from the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Parks Association) and gave it a quick study. It’s always good to have your own copy and be somewhat familiar with the layout should you get separated from the leader. These books cover all of the trails in our state, now adding up to over 800 miles and filling two volumes. The original blue-blazed trails added up to about 400 miles and one book. There is another hiking group I do outings with who are actually called the Connecticut 400, and coincidentally, they were out doing the same hike that day and starting just a few minutes earlier.

The trail begins by skirting Pond Brook from the boat launch and then makes a good climb over the first high point to the edge of Lake Lillinonah, which it then follows along a ‘scenic area’ for just over 3 miles before going back into the woods for one more big climb and descent. The scenic area is closed from December 15 to April 15 to let local families of Bald eagles nest, so that may explain why there were a few groups out on this December day.

Lake Lillinonah is actually part of the Housatonic River that was created in 1955 by the Shepaug dam, which we saw from our lunch spot along the lakeside. It’s the second largest lake in the state after Candlewood lake. There were many boaters out on this day, and a few of the hikers in our group also enjoy kayaking and fishing there. Swimming here is discouraged due to heavy boat traffic.

Blue blazed blowdown

Blue blazed blowdown

There are a lot of ups and downs on the trail, even if the elevations aren’t that high. All in all there was about 1,100 feet of elevation gain, so it was enough of a work out. While I enjoy a flat trail over an office any day, I like challenging myself, and staying in shape especially for those longer hikes I want to have the stamina for. I definitely felt like I got a good workout, and we added about another half mile to the distance by taking a side excursion to a nice lunch spot overlooking the dam.

While I don’t know if its legally permitted, there were some great camping spots along the lake edge by the trail, and signs that said ‘no fires’, so I’m assuming hunters and fishermen frequently camp there. We did see a hunter out that day, and one of the campsites had a fire ring or two with actual abandoned cooking grills and what looked like an old platform of some sort. There is an official camping area with charcoal grills by the boat launch.

Tree sap network

Tree sap network

One really interesting sight was a network of what must amount to miles and miles of blue tubes that were hooked up to and around many trees in the area. Apparently this is a new system for collecting tree sap; I’m assuming for a maple syrup operation down the road that I passed on the way home. I was surprised about how extensive the system was, and somewhat impressed and intrigued by this new method of transporting the sap. But I have to say it was very visually unattractive. Considering there is a popular hiking trail adjacent to the property that the tube jungle traverses, it’s too bad that it marred the natural landscape. But for all I know this business owns some of the land the trail is on and allows its use as a trail.

— Linus

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More volunteering (and hiking!)

Trail Patrol register entry

Trail Patrol register entry

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take my trail patrol training with the AMC coordinator. We went back along the river walk section of the A.T. in Kent, CT and spoke about the many leave no trace practices and how to convey them in a friendly and inspirational manner to hikers. While we have no legal authority to write any sort of citations, that’s not the point. It’s the hope that in teaching other hikers about these concepts and educating them in a friendly way, they will adopt these practices on their own, and maybe even teach others.

Pruning back some briars

Pruning back some briars

I am currently reading a great article on the subject, about using the authority of the resource rather than the authority of the position to convey these ideas in a way that won’t upset those you are talking to about it. While it’s written more for actual park rangers who do have the authority to cite and prosecute offenders, its concepts are applicable here as well. Explaining how certain practices affect the vegetation, and the local fauna in a negative way is often more effective than telling someone they shouldn’t be doing something or they will get in trouble.

Lake Wintergreen

Lake Wintergreen

We also cleared stealth campsites and fire rings (some in very dangerous places) and picked up trash and cleared deadfall and bittersweet root that encroached on the trail. We spoke to a few day and overnight hikers as well. I had fun signing the register as a trail volunteer for the first time, and learning how to protect and educate others to protect our trail. The corridor is very narrow in many places in Connecticut, often just a sliver of land allowed by the local landowner, so it’s essential to stay on the trail and not build fires and campsites outside of designated areas because you could be on someone’s private property!

Regicides Trail on West Rock

Regicides Trail on West Rock

I will receiving my identification materials in the mail shortly but as it didn’t arrive by today I thought it better to wait to do my first solo patrol. Don’t want someone thinking ‘who’s this guy who thinks he owns the trail and is telling me how to take care of it!’ But I did want to hike and I did want to do some volunteer work. Luckily one of the club leaders was hosting a morning pruning work party followed by a hike on some local trails he himself cut and blazed and maintains in West Rock State Park in Hamden, CT. So I spent the morning with loppers and a saw cutting back lots of invasives, including some pretty nasty briars which did a number on many of our arms! We also cleared a large blowdown crossing the path.

A steep dropoff with a view

A steep dropoff with a view

Afterwards we met with a large group of hikers who were meeting for the hike segment up West Rock and along the ridge. The blue-blazed Regicides Trail traverses the entire ridge for 7 miles and crosses a highway tunnel below. It is part of the CFPA (Connecticut Forest and Park Association)’s 800-mile network of trails in the state. It’s also the site of the “Judges Cave,” though we did not visit it on this hike as it was farther south. The cave and the trail are named after the Parliamentary judges who sentenced King Charles I to death in England in the 1600’s. When the monarchy was restored some years later King Charles II had many of those responsible hanged, drawn and quartered.

View to Konolds Pond

View to Konolds Pond

Three fled to the colonies and settlers there that were sympathetic to their cause and were still very anti-monarchy helped hide them in a cave on this ridge above New Haven. The local roadways in the area are named in their memory. I’m looking forward to seeing the cave on another hike.

The hike did provide some nice ridge walking along the trap rock ledges and some good drop offs which made me a little nervous with all the leaves on the trail that would be quite easy to slip on, and off, the edge.