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Penstocks to Power

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

For this run, I am returning to one of my favorite destinations, Silver Lake, the pristine pond perched on the hillside about a mile and a half above Lake Dunmore.  I have noticed, and blogged about some sections of the pipeline connecting Silver Lake to the small hydroelectric plant just south of Branbury State Park.  So, I thought it would be fun to follow this pipeline from start to finish, and this required that I start the run at the smaller unmarked parking lot just past the small bridge immediately south of Branbury Park, rather than the usual Falls of Lana parking lot.  Beginning in this lot, I immediately headed towards the clearing where the pipeline completes its journey down from Silver Lake, and scrambled, rather than ran on the unmarked but easy to follow footpath which ascends alongside the pipeline.  While the terrain really wasn’t good for true running, this ascent, rather than the more heavily traveled double track path most frequently used, had the advantage of an excellent view of the longest cascade in the tiered series of drops constituting the Falls of Lana. The area around the falls is a very cliffy, ledgy area with numerous opportunities for injury, so I found it interesting that of all the viewpoints, this was the only one with fencing to protect errant runners. 

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Falls of Lana behind safety fencing

Shortly after this overprotective fencing, I joined the main trail, where I had the option of bushwacking up the steep hill, literally following the pipeline in what would be a steep scramble, or actually following the normal trail and rejoining the pipeline further up the hill where it ran a more runnable course. I chose the latter, and ran up the main Silver Lake trail for about a mile until I reached the point where a major trail broke off to the right, meeting up with the pipeline at the point where the tall venting tower easily seen from below juts out from the mountainside. Here, reading the signage, I learned a new word – “penstock” apparently what I had been calling a pipeline is also known by this noun as well! I also noted, the sign warning of dire consequences for walking on the penstock, right alongside a ladder used for…..climbing on the pentock!

Dire Penstock Warnings

Dire Penstock Warnings

From this point on, I had the opportunity to follow the penstock/pipeline across more level terrain, and in fact, the running was easiest right across the top of it, as long as I was careful not to trip over the bulges where segments of pipeline were jointed together. Much of this section was flanked by ferns, until I reached a point where the brush had been recently cleared. This portion of the run concluded at the base of the Silver Lake dam, Yes, Silver Lake, like Lake Dunmore, is a naturally occurring lake which has been enhanced in size and utility through the use of damming. Unlike Lake Dunmore, which was enlarged for recreational use, Silver Lake has more practical purposes – hydroelectric power and flood control!

Climbing to the top of the Silver Lake Dam, I followed the easy  lakeshore path, until reaching the small beach, before taking the spur trail heading to the hike-in campground alongside this very scenic lake.  At a small footbridge over a sluiceway, the second, less well known segment of this hydroelectric project becomes apparent.  I was also surprised to see that this sluiceway, for the first time in my memory, was devoid of water.  My suspicion was that with the incessant  rains of the last month, water was being withheld or diverted to keep water levels in Silver Lake and/or Lake Dunmore at safe levels.

Dry Sluiceway above Silver lake

 

 

I tried to follow the side of this sluiceway, but the footing at it’s edge was not quite secure enough, so I doubled back and found a small trail which brought me back to the main Silver Lake trail/dirt road, and followed it up the hill for a few yards, reaching the point where the sluiceway submerged beneath the road from my right, and at this point I noted a small building to my left whose function was undoubtedly connected to this segment of the pipeline. I turned back into the woods at this point, mostly running along the high berm covering the pipeline, although in some sections, it seemed to submerge, rendering the trail more level. The running through here was very nice for about a mile, but the trail disappeared into the semi-open hillside eventually. I followed the cleared section paralleling Sucker Brook, but for this short stretch it was once again more of a bushwhack than a trail run, but this rough section only went on for about a quarter of a mile, when it joined a maintained dirt road which climbed up the hill in front of me. This wound its way up the hill to the little known body of water known as the Sucker Brook reservoir, not to be confused with the much larger Sugar Hill reservoir, which confusingly, is the further upstream source of Sucker Brook – got that? The Sucker Brook reservoir, which feeds this highest section of pipeline, and in turn, Silver Lake, has been more of a stagnant swamp than a pond in all of my previous visits, but the recent rains have swollen this body of water to the point that it was actually a rather pleasant place! The light rain on its surface, and the early summer daisies (my favorite wildflower!) starting to wilt as the midsummer Black-Eyed Susans came into bloom made for an attractive shoreline.

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Sucker Brook Reservoir

Continuing across the earthen dam forming this reservoir, I came to a surprise – a sign, in the middle of nowhere, telling the history of this dinky little pond! A fun fact – this small body of water was created in 1917, and at the time was the highest altitude earthen dam east of the Mississippi. Who knew? Especially since most outdoorspeople don’t even know it exists!

The run continued up a steep incline for a few hundred yards, until it joined the Silver Lake trail, and at this time, I decided I’d had enough of pipeline traipsing, so I took the easy way back to my car by taking the path of least resistance down to the Falls of Lana parking lot, and from there a short quarter mile run to the minor parking lot where my car was stowed. Overall, this was indeed a rather pleasant run, with a few short bushwacking or scrambling sections, a healthy dose of mud, and about 700-800 feet of climbing and descent in its 5.75 miles.

Google Earth of the Run

Google Earth of the Run

 

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile

 

Silver Lake Inspirations

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

With more great weather this weekend it was time to take to the trails again.  I had yet to visit one of my favorite locations, Silver Lake, this season, but I prefer not to blog the same runs too frequently, unless there is some unique perspective to be presented.  Last summer, while exploring the Chandler Ridge Trail, the trail traversing along the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore, I noticed the high-quality recent trail maintenance, and speculated that the formerly very rough and unrunnable trail circumnavigating Silver Lake might also have seen similar sprucing.   So, I set out on this run with my camera and GPS, planning on running around Silver Lake, hoping that the lack of leaves on the trees might provide a unique perspective on this popular locale.

Arriving at the Silver Lake trailhead near Branbury State Park, I was surprised to see the parking lot almost full.  Apparently, I was not the only person looking to get out in the woods on a warm early spring day!  After about 1.6 miles of climbing this well worn trail (actually a dirt road, suitable for small 4-W-D vehicles, but closed to them) I arrived at the dam marking the outlet to Silver Lake, and took the trail leading over the dam to the west shore.  The early going on this trail was fine as expected, but when I reached the point where the trail up to the Chandler Ridge diverged, and chose the lake shore trail as planned.  It very quickly became obvious that this trail had not seen the tender loving care which I had hoped it had.  In fact, as I was listening to that great old blues song, “Try a Little Tenderness” which happened to pop up on the day’s running mix, the song proved prophetic, as I stubbed my toe on an ill-placed rock.  I don’t think that was the sort of “tenderness” that the songwriter had in mind – Ouch!

So, I decided that my planned route was not what I was looking for, but had my first inspiration, on my now improvised run.  According to my memory of the Chandler Ridge from last summer, the views were limited by the deciduous forest cover.  However, with the trees still totally bare, the views on both sides of the ridge should be spectacular, so I backtracked a few hundred yards, and took the trail leading up to the ridge, and was not disappointed by the views.

Silver Lake from Chandler Ridge

After enjoying the sights from this ridge for a while, I retraced my tracks back to the shore of the lake, where I came across a lone pine tree, sentinal-like, on a rock near the lake shore that I had never noticed before.

Sentinel Tree

Returning back across the dam, I stayed along the shoreline until I reached the small beach, were I saw numerous families out fishing and enjoying the day. At this point, I had felt like I had explored enough, and was planning on heading down the trail back to my car. Shortly after beginning my descent, and still in sight of the lake, I saw a curious sight- I had been noticing the total absence of budding leaves on the trees at this higher elevation, but there was one small eager tree which was trying to get its leaves out in advance of its competitors.

Early Buds

A few moments later along the trail, my next inspiration formed. In my many previous runs up to and near the lake,I had noticed a wide trail heading to the north, but had never taken the time to explore it – since it was not on any maps, I presumed it went a short way into the woods, and disappeared. My legs felt like the had a lot of energy left in them, so I decided to finally explore this trail. Much to my surprise, the trail kept going, and was soon joined by a high berm to my right, which I presumed was a pipeline coming from some other source, emptying into the spillway feeding Silver Lake from the north. After a short distance, the trail forked, and I randomly chose the left fork, which ended shortly in an open hillside meadow, which looked like it had been some sort of landfill once. I suspect that this may have been what remained of the dump for the long gone Silver Lake Hotel – and thanks to Gary Spaulding for putting together the short history of the hotel which I have linked to. After hitting this dead end, I doubled back and decided to explore the right fork of the trail to see where it might lead. I had long suspected that the source of the water for the Silver Lake spillway was the much smaller, and very rarely visited Sucker Brook Reservoir, shown on maps a little further uphill. After following this broad, easily discerned trail for some time (much of it bordered by the berm covering an occasionally obvious pipeline), I finally started to tire, and when the opportunity came for a trail which looked like it might take me home, a sharp turn climbing to the right, I took it, leaving the final discover of the trail’s final destination for another day. However, upon loading up my GPS track after the run, I discovered that I was probably only a few minutes from the Sucker Brook Reservoir, confirming my guess as to its role. My return trail actually followed right alongside the previous trail, surprising me that I had not noticed it on the way out. In the course of my return, I surprised a small flock of deer, who started as I grew near, proving far too Shy, lest I got too close.

Doubling back like this, I returned to the more developed campground and picnic area around the lake, and completed my final descent to my waiting vehicle below.  Upon completion of a far longer run (over 8 miles) than I had planned, I had one last moment of inspiration – I treated myself to a Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia Peace Pop purchased at one of the several general stores between the trailhead and my home – a great way to end a great run!

GPS of the run

altitude profile

Chandler Ridge and Leicester Hollow

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

While kayaking on Lake Dunmore, I have often admired the rugged looking ridge to the east of the lake, starting from the tower in the north, and heading south towards Forestdale in an unbroken, but undulating ridge.  Consulting my Moosalamoo Region National Recreation Area map, available for free at the forest service office just south of Middlebury on Rt. 7, I noticed that there was a trail which followed this ridge, named “Chandler Ridge Trail”.  This looked like it could make up part of a potentially spectacular, albeit long run.  I was a little bit apprehensive at first however, as access to this trail required some running along the less traveled west shore of Silver Lake, and my previous experience with this trail indicated that while it was scenic, it was very rough, rocky, and not really suitable for running.  I could only imagine what the even less traveled Chandler Ridge trail was like.  Nonetheless, on a cool, low humidity August afternoon, my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to explore it.  This ended up being a very good decision.

kayak view of the ridge

The run started from the usual place – the Falls of Lana parking lot, just past Branbury State Park. The bad news was that this run started with about 15 minutes of unrelenting steepness on the forest service road heading up to Silver Lake. The good news was that this was by far the steepest climbing on the run.  When I reached Silver Lake, I headed to the right over the dam, and followed the trail heading along the west shore of the lake, apprehensive about the trail conditions, but was in for a pleasant surprise.  Unlike previous runs here, the trail had clearly seen some recent attention, and was now altogether enjoyable for running.  Very early on, the source of this trail maintenance was quite clear – the VYCC (Vermont Youth Conservation Corps) had received some stimulus money to do some badly needed trail maintenance in this popular backcountry destination.  Now that’s what I call putting tax dollars to good use!

Good Use of our Stimulous Dollars!

After about a half mile on the Silver Lake trail, I came upon the well marked right turn up to the Chandler Ridge Trail. This trail had also seen some recent improvements, so over most of the next 4 miles, the footing was excellent, making for great, albeit slow running. The best thing about this trail from the runner’s perspective is that it is constructed with lots of gentle switchbacks to get up and down the steeper sections – a rarity in northeastern trails, but great for running! After only a few hundred yards of gentle climbing, I reached the top of the ridge, and over the next few miles I was treated to intermittent views through the thin hardwood forest to the west over Lake Dunmore, and to the east over Silver Lake – in one short section, I could even see both lakes simultaneously. This would make for an amazing late fall run as well – the views will certainly open up spectacularly after the leaves fall.

Lake Dunmore Through the Trees

Eventually the trail started its descent while veering to the left, as expected from my map. There was one point of some confusion, where the recent trail renovations and lack of signs made my next move less than totally clear, but since I knew I had to stay left to find my way to the Leicester Hollow Trail, that strategy got me there. I found myself on the heavily used Minnie Baker Trail, down a short steep trail to get to the stream flowing through the hollow. At this point, I was about a mile east of the Lake Dunmore Road, and according to my memory, I had a long gradual ascent back up to the campground on the east shore of Silver Lake. It immediately became obvious that my memory of this section of trail was clearly out of date! I had remembered the old Leicester Hollow Trail, which was an abandoned road heading up from Forestdale to the site of the old hotel which used to grace Silver Lake, but what I had forgotten was that the flash floods of 2008 had decimated this trail, and the next mile or so reflected this. While the VYCC folks have partially repaired this stretch of trail, there were still plenty of sections which were essentially rock hopping in stream beds, making for pleasant walking, but the footing wasn’t good enough for much in the way of running.  After about a mile of this, I got above the washed out stretch, and the trail reverted to that of my memory – long, straight, and gradually uphill  through a tunnel of heavy forest.  I did come across one sight which piqued my curiousity however – in one small area there was a partial clearing, with the obvious indicator of its former inhabitants – a small, ancient apple orchard.  An 1871 map of Leicester, available online, showed that this homesite was owned by Mrs. F. Glynn.  Does anyone know anything about her life at what must have been a very remote place to live?  If you are interested in seeing the details of this map, you can download it and view it in Microsoft Office Picture Manager, which allows you to magnify it easily.  Also, there is a treasure trove of old Vermont maps at its source, http://www.old-maps.com/.

http://www.old-maps.com/vt_overlays_downloads/vt_overlays_addisonCo/LCS_FINALS_50_DPI/LCS_1871_Beers_50.jpg

The rest of the run was pretty straightforward – I stayed on the Leicester Hollow Trail until it came along the east side of Silver Lake, past the newly refurbished outhouses by the campground, and on down the dirt road where the adventure actually started. A few last comments on the name “Chandler Ridge”: While looking up information on the abandoned homesite, I also came across a lot of information on the old Silver Lake Hotel, which stood at the north end of the lake – it was built in the late 1800′s by a missionary from Montreal by the name of Frank Chandler, who also constructed the Leicester Hollow road. Also, according to some sources, including Google Earth, the Chandler Ridge is actually the ridge to the east of Silver Lake, not the ridge separating Silver Lake and Lake Dunmore where the Chandler Ridge Trail runs. Finally, I would like to express thanks to the kids in the VYCC for the the backbreaking work they have performed to rehabilitate some great old trails, and to our federal government for supporting their work – trails or tea party? Guess which I prefer!

Overall this was really an epic route to run – it covered 12 miles, and while the overall altitude difference between the low and high points was not that severe, there were very few truly flat sections on this run – much of the gentle up and down nature of this trail is kind of lost in the natural error from the GPS signal. This run took me about 2 and a half hours with just a few stops for picture taking and water along the way.

Google Earth of the route, looking west

Silver Lake by the Scenic Route

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

As my body continues to recover from injury down time in the spring, I thought it was about time to take on a longer run.  Since a few of my eager lab assistants were looking forward to some long trail runs, and the weather was perfect, it seemed like a good day to do a point-to-point run, with a car shuttle.  With this in mind, Jack, Nat, and I dropped my car off at the Falls of Lana parking lot (near Branbury State Park in Salisbury) and headed back to Rt 125, and drove up to the Robert Frost Trailhead, located about a mile west of the Breadloaf Campus of Middlebury College.  The Robert Frost Trail by itself does not make for much of a trail run – it is only about a mile long, and the poetry reading stations along the way don’t lend themselves to a rapid run through.  At the start of our run, I wondered if the bridge over the nearby brook would be repaired – a run through this area last year ended with a surprise wade through the river after the removal of a lovely rustic footbridge.  When my kids were young, we used to play “Pooh Sticks” on this bridge, so I lamented its loss, although wet feet and legs didn’t bother me after its demise.  There was both good news and bad news at this point:  The good news was that a new bridge had been built – the bad news was that this footbridge had a much more utilitarian feel to it.  I can take some comfort that the PVC “fake wood” used for its base probably came from recycled soda bottles.

After crossing the bridge, follow the outer loop of the Robert Frost Trail, and where the trail bends to the left to begin its return, take the right onto the Crosswalk Trail, then take the second left turn on “Afternoon Delight” which angles up the side of Water Tower Hill.  I have no idea how long ago this hill was shorn of its water tower – and I have lived in the area for 25 years.  Any old-timers out there with memories?  The descent of Water Tower Hill leads to a complex trail intersection where you basically go straight, leading to the Widows Clearing Trail.  After about a mile or so on this trail (skied last winter in the “Widow Wears White” posting), pass by the first right turn (leading to the Widows Clearing parking lot on the Goshen-Ripton Road), and continue on to the next right turn, which descends quickly to the road, albeit through some prickly underbrush which did not feel good on these runners’ legs!

We had originally planned on following the trail beginning across the road, but the neck-high greenery made this a less appealing option.  Instead, we turned left on the Goshen-Ripton Road and continued on this easy dirt road until we came to the entrance to the Moosalamoo Campground.  The large sharp stones used on this road surface made for less comfortable running, so instead of following it all the way to the Voter Brook Overlook, we followed signs towards the Mt. Moosalamoo Trail.  Somehow, we missed this right turn, and ended up doing a victory lap around the nearly empty campground, before noticing the trailhead on the left on our return.  After about a quarter mile on this trail, we came to a well maintained double track trail, which we took a left on, and in eventually rejoined the same road to the Voter Brook Overlook.  In other words – we added some distance to the run by running aimlessly in circles through the woods!  A short run brought us to the Voter Brook Overlook, with its views to the west, peeking around the corner of Moosalamoo.

Enjoying the Overlook

After pausing a few moments to enjoy the view and diminish the local deerfly population, we headed down a short steep trail, which is not marked on the official Moosalamoo region map available from the forest service offices in Middlebury. This trail connected us to the North Branch trail, which led to some of the sweetest trail running of the trip. This narrow but well-maintained trail leads gradually downhill for over a mile, until it joins the popular trail leading from the Falls of Lana trailhead to Silver Lake. We had originally planned on finishing the run with the short descent from here to our car, but since we were all feeling pretty peppy still, we decided to do the uphill mile run to Silver Lake. While my younger colleagues still had plenty of leg to spare, I discovered that my ambitions were not entirely reflected by my ability to carry them out, and found I had to walk a short section or two.  Topping out at the earthen dam at the outlet of Silver Lake, we were treated to a great early evening view of the lake.

Evening Reflections on Silver Lake

 

The last mile and a half back to the previously cached car was downhill all the way. According to my GPS, this one came in at exactly 10 miles – the longest run of the season to date! Fortunately, the run WAS mostly downhill, other than the ascent of Water Tower Hill, and the last hard climb up to Silver lake.

Google Earth of the route

 

Altitude Profile

 

To Silver Lake on the Pipeline

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Authoring this blog has had the benefit of keeping me from getting in ruts (figuratively, not literally) on my runs – I can’t keep writing up the same routes, so I am constantly on the lookout for new places to run, or potentially interesting variations on old favorites.  Today’s run is an example of the latter.  My first run description early last summer described a route which skirted the north end of Silver Lake, a popular local outdoor destination and one of my favorite places for summertime runs.  I couldn’t help but notice numerous side trails which looked runable without pondering what their destination would be.  In particular, I have always wondered how to get to the curious structure visible part way up the ridge.  This smokestack structure, which looks like the remnants of a postindustrial redoubt on the hillside when viewed from the beach on Branbury State Park, had always seemed somewhat mysterious and elusive, but I reckoned that some of these trails must lead in its direction.

With this destination in mind, I pulled into the Silver Lake parking lot near Branbury State Park.  Descriptions how to find this parking lot can be found in the aforementioned Silver Lake post.  After a few minutes of climbing, I passed under the first pipeline crossing, but a quick assessment of the its path indicated that following it this low on the hillside would be more a challenging scramble than a trail run, so I continued up the main trail.  After completing most of the switchbacks and most of the climbing, I noticed a major side trail traversing the hillside to the right, so I made this turn rather than continue on the main trail as I had in runs past.   After a few easy minutes on this level trail, I reached the destination of my curiosity.

Mystery structure

I am still somewhat mystified as to the role of this tower.  I first presumed it was some sort of pumping station to bring the water from Silver Lake to the precipice required for power generation, but there were no sounds emanating from the structure indicating that is was actively doing anything, and I certainly was going to respect the “Keep off” signs on the structure and the small adjacent building rather than explore it further.  If any readers know the role of this structure, please post your insights.

A short jog up the grassy knoll behind this structure led to the pipeline itself stretching out into the distance.  Looking down at my feet I noticed that a small patch of opportunistic flowers had made themselves at home in the first of the massive fittings holding this pipeline together.  Perhaps my colleague at The Middlebury Landscape blog can inform us as to their identity?  It is comforting, however, to see nature reclaiming the woods without damaging the functionality of our necessary structures.  A little symbiosis is a good thing!

silver lake pipeline 007

The Pipeline

silver lake pipeline 006

Opportunistic Flora

silver lake pipeline 010 I ran along the top of this broad pipeline for a few hundred yards.  The footing along the pipeline was generally good, but in the few places where it was dicey, there was ample room alongside.  The pipeline eventually crossed the powerline clearcut, and a short run on the obvious path up this hill led to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Lake Dunmore.  While this is not as airy a vista as the better known Rattlesnake Cliffs viewpoint, it does have the advantage of being open to hikers and runners during much of the summer when the Rattlesnake Cliffs are closed due to Peregrin Falcon nesting.

Completing the pipeline segment of this run, I came up to the base of Silver Lake Dam, looped around to its crest, and chose to circle the lake on this run.  My distant memory of less traveled trail along the west side of the lake was that it was rarely used, and pretty rough.  My distant memory proved correct!  While the next mile or so would have made for a pleasant hike, the rough rocky trail on a sidehill proved pretty much impossible to call a run, even by trailrunning standards.  Very slow going!  Nonetheless, persevering over the next mile or so to the south end of the lake provided a wilder view of the lake than most visitors get.

silver lake pipeline 012The trail circumnavigating Silver Lake eventually joined the Leicester Hollow Trail, and a left turn here on a very well beaten path brings one back to the more civilized campsites, and a second left turn will take one back downhill to the parking lot and the end of the run.  This run covered a little over 6 miles, but took a lot longer than usual due to more exploring than I usually do, and the very slow going on the far side of Silver Lake.

Google Earth of the Route

Altitude Profile

Altitude Profile