Monday, April 22, 2019

The power of water

By Beth Sullivan
Many of Avalonia’s trails are on properties that have some significant history. In so many areas we encounter huge oak trees, old stone walls, fence posts, and cart paths, all clues about the history of the land.
A stone span crosses the brook in a quieter season.

The brook in flood.

Historical preserve

Our Pequotsepos Brook Preserve is one of those. We have had several research projects done on the property that help explain the history of the land in that area. Some of this information is on our website for easy reading here.
The center of interest on this preserve, and in its history, is the Pequotsepos Brook that has its origins up the Quoquetaug Hill where waters emerge and gently flow downhill until they merge more completely at Jerry Browne Road and Coogan Boulevard. Of course those roads were not present generations ago. But Jerry Browne Road may have been a roadway considering some of the older homes and farms along the lane.
Through the course of history, the brook needed to be crossed for farm or commerce, and in these areas bridges were made by positioning huge flat stones over the stream bed, allowing the water to flow freely and allowing easy, dry passage. The stone bridges are in existence today, and the old paths remain as the basis for several pathways collectively referred to as the Stone Bridges Trail. The entire trail system contains three brook crossings over stone bridges and offers views of several other beautiful stone spans .
We have to assume that there have been big rain storms over the last century that these bridges were in existence. We know there have been hurricanes and other destructive storms, but through it all the paths and bridges remained intact.
Until recently. Is it a sign of the changing climate that the weather has been wetter or that the storms in the last months have been more intense rain events? Maybe it is because of increased development upstream where the landscape has lost its vegetative cover which used to slow the rain and absorb the water slowly and gently. Whatever is the cause, the intense rain storms have caused serious flooding along the brook and in one area in particular, have caused serious erosion of the trail. One of the most beautiful and exposed of the stone bridges has now had the trail on either end of it washed away. Left behind are exposed tree roots and only the largest of the rocks. The power of the water washed away soil, gravel and smaller rocks. The footing is tricky. We need to repair it and the challenge is bigger than I can manage.
Near the quarry rocks are exposed and creations have been built.

Old trees, stone walls, and fence posts hint of the history in this preserve.

These huge stones were placed to cross the brook and allow the water to flow easily. 

Trails Team goes to work

Enter the Avalonia Trails Team and some hard working Connecticut College Students. We had the area properly reviewed by our wetland commission chairperson to make sure we could work in the area. Then the Trails Team leader came in to assess, and together with others, we tossed around some ideas. We don’t want to cover up the old stones with a wooden bridge, but we need to stabilize the footing and still allow the water to flow through in flood situations.
There is also an old quarry on the property with an abundance of rocks available in all sizes, and many with lovely flat surfaces. That is another piece of interesting history. The challenge was transporting rocks from one place, to another via a very bumpy, uneven, and often muddy path. On Saturday April 13, ten students from the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment at Connecticut College arrived to experience a day of real stewardship. Of course it had been raining hard the night before, and the brook itself was once again in raging flood stage. In a move referred to as adaptive management, we changed plans. We approached from another entrance, and for several hours the students moved rocks-lots of rocks. Down a long and muddy path. Delivered to the site now, they await the next stage. The Trails Team will work on the next phase: wrangling some of the bigger rocks out of the quarry and down to the main path to use as stabilizers and step stones.
This whole process is likely to take more than just a couple more work parties. In the end, we hope to have a stabilized trail for walking, as well as a way to allow flood waters to flow around or through it without washing it away each time it rains hard.
If you have an interest in history, if you enjoy team work and want to make a difference to preserving the trail (or others) and maintaining a lovely area for many, many hikers, give us a call. The Avalonia website describes the Trails Team and we can get you in touch with the leader.
Those giant bridge stones remained intact, but the surrounding area needs a hand. Let us know if you can offer one. At the very least, come out sometime and enjoy the trails and consider the history.
It was a team effort to load and haul the rocks.

The team from Connecticut College after several hours of rock moving.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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