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West Rock News Updates

This page contains West Rock-related information of a recent nature, recent meaning in the past six months to perhaps a year.

Many Trail Improvements in 2018
Storm damage cleanup, trash and junk removal, invasive species cutting, a replacement trail bridge, and trail reblazing were all elements of trail work at West Rock Ridge State Park in 2018.
This was a record year for volunteer hours with 240 hours from me and 156 hours from others, and the results show the benefit of all that help. This brings me to 1,500 volunteer hours since 2007, with another 900 hours of volunteer help from others in the same time frame.

Nor’easter and Wind Storms
The most dramatic component of 2018 was recovering from two storms in the spring, the March 7 northeaster and the May 15 thunderstorm. Damage from the two storms at West Rock was moderate, as compared to the devastation at Sleeping Giant State Park and on the Quinnipiac Trail from the thunderstorm-related microburst and tornado on May 15.
Following the March 7 northeaster, pine tree limbs were scattered across the Lake Wintergreen parking lot and the spruce tree in the center of the parking lot was snapped in half. Along the Red Trail from Lake Wintergreen to Mountain Road, a series of large trees crashed down across the trail. One oak tree completely blocked the trail, while other evergreen trees leaned at an angle with branches hanging down. The other trails suffered the occasional blowdown. A couple of large oaks fell on the northern section of the Regicides Trail.
Over a series of visits with some help from others, we cleared most of the overhanging limbs, cut back some of the smaller trunks, and opened up some of the larger blowdowns. I also cut away one large hemlock. Weeks later the state cleared the rest of the trees along the Red Trail.
The second significant storm to affect West Rock was the thunderstorm on May 15, which in Beacon Falls, Bethany, and Hamden was an EF-1 tornado with 110 mile per hour winds. The tornado track passed about 2 miles north of West Rock, extending over to Sleeping Giant State Park and Wharton Brook State Park. The Quinnipiac Trail on the west side of York Mountain which crosses a mixture of water company land, private property, and isolated blocks of West Rock, suffered extensive damage. Volunteers from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association cleared those trees.
The main portion of West Rock suffered scattered thunderstorm damage with some large trees down in the northern half of the park, but was relatively unscathed in the southern half from the South Overlook to the Purple Trail. Volunteers cleared trees from the Regicides Trail, the Yellow Trail, and Baldwin Drive.
A hemlock tree blocks the Red Trail, just north of the Purple Trail, on March 24, 2018, as a result of the March 7 northeaster.

After 20 minutes of sawing and dragging branches away, the Red Trail is accessible again, March 24, 2018.

West Rock Grows Cleaner
Trash and junk removal was a positive improvement in 2018, especially along Baldwin Drive. Baldwin Drive was open to the public until 1982, and its isolation made it a popular location for both dumping trash and drinking with the bottles and cans tossed into the woods. This past year, I have been exploring off-trail, in search of both invasive plants and trash, and I found clusters of both. Along with the specific items detailed below, we filled 84 five gallon buckets with trash, mostly bottles and cans. In some of my descriptions below, I specify how much we found in a particular area.
One heavily impacted area is the east side of Baldwin Drive at a wide spot where the Regicides Trail crosses the road from a bit north of the Yellow Trail. This area has a fairly steep drop off to the east, which apparently made it an appealing location for dumping trash. Among the items I hauled out UP the road included three metal trash cans, two 55-gallon drums, a child’s fire engine with pedals, three car tires and a bicycle tire, portions of a porcelain sink (or maybe toilet), and 20 buckets worth of bottles and cans. At my request, the state removed most of the large items.
At this point, most of the trash from this location has been removed, but the area needs another couple of visits to find and remove the remaining bottles and cans that can be collected. There is so much broken glass hidden in the dirt and among the rocks that the area will never be completely clear. The challenges in cleaning this area include the steepness of the slope with loose trap rock, and the extensive collection of invasive plants that need to be cut away to reach the trash.
Another heavily impacted area was on the east side of Baldwin Drive near the Gold Trail. I removed about 40 pieces of vinyl siding, enough foam insulation and wire to fill two trash bags, lots of bottles and cans, a torque converter to a car, and other assorted car parts. I removed most of the materials and another volunteer hauled out the rest, excepting the engine, which will be a challenge to remove.
What is puzzling to me about the engine and other junk is why someone would walk 100 to 200 feet into the woods, instead of just leaving these items along the side of the road. There is another engine block I found several years ago well down the east slope that will probably have to be removed toward Main Street, if it can be moved.
Along the west side of Baldwin Drive near the Lake Watrous overlook, I removed six car tires and two car rims, along with a television, a trash can, a small rug, and assorted other junk. It was quite a challenge to roll and carry them about a quarter mile distance and an estimated 100 vertical feet up to the road. In a nearby area is about another six tires that I will return at a later time to remove.  In two sessions, I had two different volunteers help me continue to pick up the broken glass on the Regicides Trail by the Lake Dawson overlook.
The third area requiring extensive cleanup was the west side of West Shepard Avenue near the house that the state is planning to buy. The homeowner, who died a few years ago, had a junk pile that the GIS maps show clearly is on state land. Among the items removed were seven car tires, 120 flowerpots, 15 sheets of foam insulation that he laid on the ground to keep plants from growing, three metal grates, a comforter, two plastic bins, and enough bottles and cans to fill 15 five-gallon buckets. Chuck Hilton hauled away the larger items for removal, while I took the flowerpots, bottles and cans, and the state took away the tires.
Still remaining is an oil tank, about 25 PVC pipes roughly 10 feet in length, wood, and pile of bricks 4 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet high. This does not include other items along the road that he also left behind, including a trailer-sized storage container and greenhouse frame. I suspect when the state takes ownership, they will demolish the house and barn, and remove everything that does not belong.

The tire rim in the foreground is fairly obvious, but can you spot the tires in the upper left corner and the upper right corner of the photo, as seen downslope from Baldwin Drive, June 2018?

The pile of junk removed from the slope from Baldwin Drive, June 2018. I hauled this away in two trips.

Invasive Species Removal Proceeds Throughout the Park
Invasive species removal continues to be a focus and challenge at West Rock. With all the rain this past year, the growth of invasive plants exploded with trails crowded by thorny multi-flora rose, the woods shaded by autumn olive, and trees strangled by the bittersweet vines. Due to all that rain, seasonal streams were running in the fall when they are typically dry, and muddy spots were evident on trails throughout the park.
The Red Trail between Lake Wintergreen and Mountain Road is typically about 10 feet wide, but due to invasive growth, some sections were as narrow as two feet before I cut them open again. This section required multiple visits to clear due to all the plants that needed to be cut.
The Teal Trail near Amrhyn Field continues to be a horror show of invasive plants with the invaders far outnumbering the native plants. I had three work parties in this area, returned another time on my own, and we made progress, but much remains to be cut. One area where we have been definitely making progress is along the Red Trail near Farm Brook Reservoir. I again used the Big Event volunteers from Quinnipiac University to help on one of these invasive clearing projects.
As I did cleanup work along Baldwin Drive, I also used this as the opportunity to cut invasive plants. Autumn olive in particular is crowding onto the road, and making inroads into the woods. I had a work party, and another visit to greatly reduce the number of invasive plants along the road by the second and fourth two switchback curves. 

Quinnipiac University hosts its Big Event in April 2018, where students volunteer in the community. About 10 students participate every year at West Rock. Here two students cut a giant autumn olive shrub in the field by the Hill Street parking lot.
Replacement Trail Bridge and Trail Blazing
The Red Trail has a short bridge over a gulley just north of the hairpin turn on Baldwin Drive. This bridge was installed 20 to 25 years ago and the holes it in have grown larger and larger over the years, and replacement was definitely due.
I purchased plastic lumber at Lowes, and got it for half price because it had some chips in it. Three four by four posts constituted the supports, and they were bolted together with decking screws. One regular volunteer was a huge help with the project.
We had to cut apart the old bridge and carry the pieces down to Baldwin Drive from where the state hauled it away. We had to carry the boards up to the location for installation. The trickiest part with bridge building is getting everything level and square, and using my level, we did just that. Thanks to the West Rock Ridge Park Association, which paid for the materials to the tune of $185.
The Red Trail was last blazed in 2012, other than the newer section near Farm Brook Reservoir that I blazed in 2015, and was definitely do for a reblazing. At 6.8 miles in length, this is a long distance to blaze, and I completed this in sections over many months. I also reblazed the two Red-White Trails: the 0.4-mile section by Lake Wintergreen, and the 0.7-mile section by Farm Brook Reservoir. I also reblazed the 0.7-mile Green Trail, using a lighter color to make the blazes easier to see. In the spring, I reblazed the last mile of the Regicides Trail that I did not have time to reblaze in 2017.
All these trails received a thorough pruning back, as I always do when I reblaze a trail. Along the Red Trail up to the Farm Brook overlook, we arranged brush to keep people from making the trail too wide and to stop them from cutting across one of the switchbacks. The rest of the trail system was also pruned back as part of numerous trips to clear fallen trees.
 
The Red Trail north of Lake Wintergreen should be at least eight feet wide, but was about three feet wide midway through this clearing project. The native grape vines are growing on invasive multi-flora rose and autumn olive, and when those shrubs were cut back, the trail was returned to its original width. Invasive phragmites are growing on the right.

Farm Brook Reservoir Dam Survey
The dam that created Farm Brook Reservoir near Hill Street was constructed in 1973. As the dam nears its 50th anniversary, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is having the dam evaluated by a contractor. The orange stakes near the dam are evidence of this work. The dam is called the Farm Brook Site 1 Dam. There is another dam along the east side of Paradise Avenue.
Nearby homeowners received a letter in November from the DEEP explaining this process. The letter is reproduced below.




DOT Plans for the West Rock (Heroes) Tunnel
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued this press release:
Exploratory vertical borings will be conducted within West Rock Ridge State Park beginning November 6th for up to 8 weeks.
The borings will be conducted along Baldwin Drive, the access road to a communication tower at the top of the ridge, and on a maintenance path at the Connecticut Department of Transportation District 3 facility on Pond Lily Avenue. The observations/data collected will be used to develop and assess alternatives and construction methods for the rehabilitation or replacement of the Heroes Tunnel.
Baldwin Drive will remain open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic for the entire duration of the drilling, with safety measures (cones and signage) in place to ensure a safe separation between visitors to the park and the drill operators. Enough of Baldwin Drive will remain open to allow emergency and park maintenance vehicles to pass, if necessary. Therefore, no access impacts are anticipated. There will be increased noise while the borings are conducted.



Two trucks used to drill holes into the rock above the West Rock tunnel are parked on Baldwin Drive about 0.1 miles from the main entrance on Nov. 10, 2018. The tests are intended to determine the strength of the rock in the tunnel area. This information will be used to guide plans for rehabilitating the tunnel.

The DOT hosted three community meetings regarding its plans for the West Rock (Heroes) Tunnel: Woodbridge in fall 2016,  New Haven in June 2017, and Hamden in Oct. 2017. The planning process continues with construction expected to start no earlier than 2022.
The DOT has yet to settle on a "preferred option," but is advocating for a third tunnel, saying that the current tunnels would be difficult to improve without a major disruption to traffic flow. Although the governor has the tunnel project on a list of major projects the state does not have the funding to construct, the planning process continues with existing allocations. Engineers are currently working on the environmental survey.
The DOT has launched a dedicated website for the project, which includes links to historical plans and photos, and the 434-page report discussing the tunnel and the options for the future. The site also has a video link to the Hamden presentation, minutes from the meeting, and a copy of the PowerPoint presentation.
State website: http://www.heroestunnelproject.com/index.php
A full overview of the project details are available at this page: http://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/west-rock-tunnel.html

Fall colors frame the West Rock Tunnel (Heroes Tunnel) in fall 2015.
The trail descriptions are spread across so many pages to make the information easier to access.

Nor'easter Storm Damage, March 7, 2018
Thunderstorm Damage, May 15, 2018
I created a new page effective July 9, 2018 to detail the storm damage from March and May 2018. The good news is that the storm damage has been cleared from West Rock. I do get occasional reports of trees that have fallen since the storm, and I pass along those reports to the state if they are large, and clear them myself when I have time if they are manageable without power tools.
The page is called West Rock Storm Damage and may be accessed by clicking this link: https://westrocktrails.blogspot.com/p/storm-damage-at-west-rock.html

The Sleeping Giant Park Association has photos of the damage to Sleeping Giant with some 300 trees down, plus progress on the cleanup: https://www.facebook.com/Sleeping-Giant-Park-Association-SGPA-Official-Site-124405787638472/
Sleeping Giant State Park and Wharton Brook State Park are still closed, as of this writing, Dec. 29, 2018. The president of the SGPA told me that he hopes the park can be open by Memorial Day weekend in 2019. Check the state website for updates: http://www.ct.gov/deep/site/default.asp
The New Haven Register has an interesting article on wood being milled from various state properties: https://www.nhregister.com/news/article/Connecticut-sawmill-finding-uses-for-Sleeping-13424484.php

 
Snapped pine trees line the Mill River at Sleeping Giant State Park, as seen May 22, 2018 from Mount Carmel Avenue, two weeks after the microburst that devastated the park. These trees have all been cleared.

Constitutional Amendment to Protect Public Lands

The Connecticut Forest and Park Association (CFPA) has been working for two years to pass a constitutional amendment to regulate the sale of natural lands owned by the state of Connecticut, including state parks and forests, wildlife management areas, and farmlands.
Under current state law, legislators can request the sale or transfer of state land through a measure known as a “conveyance bill.” These proposals need not have a public hearing and sometimes are passed late in the legislative session without the public knowing about the transfer or sale until it is too late.
The constitutional amendment passed on Nov. 6 with about 80 percent of people voting in favor. As a result, all land sales and transfers will be required to have a public hearing, and will require a two-thirds vote of the state Senate and House to be approved.
To my knowledge, no properties at West Rock have been offered for sale or transfer. The issue at West Rock in recent years has been that the state has waived its right of first refusal to buy properties to expand the state park, saying that those particular parcels were not priorities.
Complete information is available at the CFPA website at https://www.ctwoodlands.org/public-policy/protect-public-lands-november-6th

Trails reblazed, blowdowns cleared, invasives targeted in 2017
The year 2017 was another productive year on the trails at West Rock with most trails receiving a thorough pruning back, and a number of large blowdowns removed. The entire Westville Feeder was reblazed, as was most of the Regicides Trail and the White Trail. Many invasive plant species were pulled or cut, and plenty of trash was removed from the woods.

The Regicides Trail was reblazed from the South Overlook to the junction with the Red Trail near the Farm Brook Reservoir overlook. The remaining section of trail was reblazed in April and May 2018. The White Trail was reblazed, excepting certain portions north of the Purple Trail, which need to be relocated to higher and drier ground.

Invasive species were targeted on the Red Trail near Farm Brook Reservoir, along the Westville Feeder, on the Gold Trail near the water tank, on the Teal Trail near Amrhyn Field, along Baldwin Drive, and along Mountain Road. These include the autumn olive and winged euonymus shrubs, strangling bittersweet vines, and smothering Japanese knotweed.

The Teal Trail for a 0.2-mile section continues to be a horror show of invasives that show how these non-native plants can take over an ecosystem. Privet, used as a hedge in people’s yards, and Japanese honeysuckle, a vine, are the particular problems there. A busy day of pruning this during the summer made the trail manageable for the time being.

The Regional Water Authority did an extensive clearing project on its property around the water tank on the Gold Trail, which removed both native trees and invasive plants, particularly autumn olive. I would have preferred they left the trees in place because they were well back from the tank. They left stacks of logs and three piles of woodchips. Volunteers arranged these logs along the trail and spread the chips on the trail and in the woods.

A knotweed patch on Mountain Road near the Red Trail and another on Baldwin Drive continue to be targeted by repeated digging, pulling, and cutting, and show signs of weakening. Unfortunately, knotweed is spreading along the West River near Amrhyn Field. There is also a patch along Main Street near Calamus Meadow Road that will need to be attacked in 2018.

The steady rains in spring 2018 led to an explosion of growth that narrowed some trails, making them almost impassable before they were cut back, especially the Red Trail north of Lake Wintergreen, and along Farm Brook Reservoir. Most of the overgrowth was caused by invasive plant species.

Large oak and hemlock trees across the trail were cleared along the Westville Feeder, on several sections of the Regicides Trail, and on the Red Trail above Farm Brook Reservoir. An ash tree and a birch tree blocking Baldwin Drive were removed.

With the demise of ash trees at the mandibles of the emerald ash borer, ash trees will continue to fall across the trails for the next couple of years. An unfortunate sight at West Rock is the multiple dead and dying mountain laurel, perhaps a casualty of two years of drought (excepting a rainy spring in 2017).

The woods at West Rock continue to become cleaner. A total of 51 five-gallon plastic buckets of bottles, cans and wrappers were removed from the woods, which was a mixture of historic trash along Baldwin Drive, and modern trash left behind by thoughtless people.

Problem spots are the parking lots at Lake Wintergreen and Hill Street, and the fishing spots along Lake Wintergreen and Farm Brook Reservoir. With the road to the South Overlook and Judges Cave open only on weekends, there was noticeably less trash in these locations.

The Regicides Trail overlook of Lake Dawson was clearly a party spot when Baldwin Drive was open to traffic through the 1970s. After multiple visits, there is much less broken glass on the rocks and in the soil, but more continues to work its way to the top.

These large items were also removed from the woods: a car rim, two tires, a torque converter, three car batteries, a car water pump, a rear seat to a car, a small safe, a pile of fabric, a plastic skylight, a wire basket garbage can, and a fish tank. Also an encampment was cleared out, including a sleeping bag, tent, tarp, and lots of bottles and cans.

Finally, I had hoped to find a viable route for a trail from the Bishop Estate and Darling House property in Woodbridge up to the Regicides Trail. Currently, the only official trail is the Blue-Yellow blazed North Summit Trail that connects the Darling House trails to the Regicides Trail and the Purple Trail at West Rock.

Having a second trail is desirable because it would allow for loop hikes from the Darling House. There is an unofficial Yellow Square trail from the Darling House property, but it crosses private property. Woodbridge attempted to purchase this property in 2016, but the seller wanted $300,000 for land that is appraised at $200,000. Woodbridge is attempting to get permission to use this trail.

Three scouting trips with a fellow hiker and we encountered the same scenario regardless of where we walked along the ridge where the Woodbridge property backs directly onto the state park. The lower section is a mild rock scramble with generally good footing. The middle section is steep with slippery dirt and loose rocks, resulting in unsafe footing. Near the top is a cliff with steep notches to climb to the Regicides Trail. None of these areas are suitable for creating a trail that is both safe and sustainable. The long-term hope is that Woodbridge or the state can purchase this private property and legalize that yellow trail.
The Teal Trail near Westville in July 2017 AFTER an aggressive pruning back of the invasive plants that keep trying to choke off the area.

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