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NBLCT Tours Lake Gaillard and Tilcon Quarry

Otto Schaefer, acting president of the North Branford Land Conservation Trust, shares his experience of the NBLCT's recent tour of Lake Gaillard and Tilcon Quarry.

The land trust’s of Lake Gaillard and the Tilcon quarry on May 4 ended a string of fair-weather tours I’ve organized since 1992 for different organizations—it rained, coming down, at times, in torrents. But Regional Water Authority’s Whitney Water Center bus and driver, three scientists from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the Atwater Library community room made available for the lunch break presentations and the interesting drive through the quarry in the afternoon saved the day.

Our first stop overlooking the 1,115-acre reservoir and its surrounding watershed forest bursting with the new foliage of spring seemed surreal. How could such a scene be so near to a populated area and yet be so well hidden from public view? Well, for one thing, it is the other side of a trap rock ridge.

Driving on an unpaved road of nearly seven miles around the reservoir we saw vestiges of barn foundations and overgrown cellars of farm houses, a lilac bush tucked in the woods and other reminders of past land use when the landscape of the basin, now filled with water, was open farmland.

Going north along the easterly side, we saw an old building in the middle of the woods made of field stone, referred to as the “Ice House.” Here–I was told by water company old timers of the 1960s–ice, harvested from a mill pond on Roses Brook, was stored and insulated from summer heat with sawdust. About a quarter mile further, we crossed Roses Brook where it discharges into the reservoir. Vestiges of an old mill pond dam are barely visible.

Along the east side of the reservoir the land was well-timbered with an open understory, the effects of too many deer browsing plants and natural seedling trees. There are, however, curious and unusual green “mounds” in the understory. The green mounds are the thorny shrubs of Japanese barberry, an invasive shrub that escaped from landscape plantings decades ago that are beginning to take over the forest floor.

Dr. Jeff Ward, Chief Scientist of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station’s forestry and horticulture department, demonstrated in pouring rain the use of a propane torch to kill infestations of barberry shrubs. The rain continued as we proceeded around the west side of the reservoir along the base of the trap rock ridge. Outcrops of basalt–the rock formation resulting from very old lava flows associated with trap rock ridges–are evident near the edge of the road.

At one time, there was a solid screen of hemlock trees, planted between the road and the reservoir to prevent leaves of deciduous trees from blowing into the west side of the reservoir. All the hemlocks were killed by the hemlock wooly adelgid aphid during the 1980s and 1990s. 

The Community Room at the was a welcome respite from the rain. A sandwich lunch was served after presentations by Dr. Kirby Stafford III, vice director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, who spoke about the black legged (deer) tick, its habits and relationship with the organism that causes Lyme disease.

Ward also presented some of his and Dr. Scott Williams’s research findings about how Japanese barberry provides shelter for mice and other small mammals from coyotes and raptors, increasing their numbers and potential as carriers of the Lyme disease organism. Also, the barberry creates a “humidor” climate that allows ticks to survive.

The landscape of the afternoon portion of the tour at the Tilcon quarry, led by David Blifford, a very knowledgeable Tilcon employee, was in extreme contrast to the morning tour. It is claimed that the North Branford quarry has the longest quarry face in the world.

Here we viewed how rock is blasted from 60-foot “lifts” above the quarry floor, the blasted rock is scooped up by very large front-end loaders onto huge trucks for transportation to the crushing plant where the rock is processed into different sizes of stone for aggregate used in concrete and asphalt. Much of the processed stone is transported via the Branford Steam Railroad to Tilcon’s Pine Orchard docks in Branford for loading on barges where it is shipped to other ports on Long Island Sound and beyond. Before the recession, as many as 14 train loads ran daily from the quarry processing plant to the docks. That’s a lot of truck loads!

The Totoket Historical Society will be sponsoring a tour of the quarry during an evening in late June when, if you missed our tour, there will be an opportunity to learn even more details of the quarry operation. 

The North Branford Land Conservation Trust's annual meeting is Wednesday, June 1 at 7 p.m. at the Atwater Memorial Library. During the business meeting, we will be discussing the Regional Water Authority’s proposed 60+ acre land sale. Guest speaker will be Meg Kilgore, president of the Branford Land Trust. The Branford Land Trust has established a standard of excellence in land conservation, education and passive recreation. I hope to see you there—refreshments will be available.

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