It has been awhile since about the work of the land trust. Since the middle of January, with the help of a snow-free winter, we’ve been focusing on one of the largest parcels owned by North Branford Land Conservation Trust (NBLCT), a 24+ acre tract that is located in the south end of town. It is adjacent to the former town landfill property. Our goal is to locate and tag boundary lines of all land trust parcels. It is a formidable challenge and this tract is no exception.
Our search for evidence of the boundary identified on a surveyor’s map compiled more than 40 years ago revealed fragments of rusty, disintegrating barbed wire protruding from tree trunks, a zig-zag pattern of flat stones often piled in threes to support a long vanished Virginia-type rail fence and trees that have died and fallen.
There is also land use history to consider. For at least two centuries and well into a third, the land had been part of a farm, perhaps pasture or a hay field where the land is flat or gradually sloping. On land that is strewn with large boulders and outcrops of ledge, or swampland that was too wet for cattle to graze, all hardwood trees were cut on a 30- to 40-year cycle for fuel wood for heating and cooking.
Before barbed wire came into widespread use in the 19th century, Virginia rail fences and stone walls marked the boundaries of land that was handed down from one generation of farmer to the next. Not until subdivisions became more commonplace would detailed descriptions of property boundaries be written in deeds with references to a map prepared by a licensed surveyor.
Even more recent evidence of subdivision is often difficult to find. It may be a piece of rebar or pipe, now rusted, driven into the ground with barely six to eight inches protruding, or a concrete monument, covered by leaves and other forest detritus. While some of us may have a eureka! moment at the computer, finding an elusive iron pin, pipe or monument that marks a critical point in a boundary line deep in the woods elicits an enthusiastic “I found it!”
Marking the boundary of our yet to be named tract of land opened our eyes to its natural features and that of the adjoining land. Although the westerly boundary is backed up against a subdivision created in the 1970s, the northern, eastern and southern borders abut undeveloped land. The eastern boundary is formed by a ridge that overlooks the property, while the southern part can best be described as a “hollow,” a piece of land that is surrounded on three sides by ridge.
One hundred years or more ago, the landscape of this and adjoining land had a different appearance. Only ridges and swamps had trees while the level and gently sloping land was used as pasture or a hayfield.
Today, all is covered by forest. A small perennial stream, Notch Hill Brook, flows through the middle of the tract just as it did when the land was first settled. To the north is a clearing, straight like a tunnel through the forest. It is what remains of an interurban trolley line right of way, a remnant of the early 20th century when residents of Guilford and North Branford could be whisked into New Haven in less time than commuting by auto.
We’ve decided that this property deserves to be viewed on Connecticut Trails Day, to be held Saturday, June 2. The challenge is to lay out a trail where multiple entry points are possible. We are considering one that begins in the cul-de-sac at the end of Ciro Road. Part of our crew cleaned up the cul-de-sac area that had become strewn with litter and old tires. We have permission from adjoining landowners to cross their property to avoid the former town dump.
Then the trail will cross the former Trolley Line right of way to reach NBLCT property. From that point, the trail will follow a craggy ridge with interesting rock outcrops that forms the eastern boundary. The trail will follow the ridge as it descends to the hollow.
Hikers will have to cross Notch Hill brook at two locations. At one location, we built a bridge (aka Trepidation Bridge) consisting of two pieces of sturdy dimension lumber laid across the brook. The second crossing involves balancing oneself on stones placed in the streambed. Here, as well as the first crossing, a misstep may lead to an anxious moment, wet footwear and clothing, and maybe a bruised ego. From this point, the trail will lead us back to the point of departure with an option that avoids the ridge.
There will be more to report about our progress in coming weeks. And don’t forget; our meetings are open to the public at the at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. You can also bookmark NBLCT on the web.