Sunday, May 29, 2016

Volunteers, Week II

Every year, someone installs flags on the walkbridge over I-691 in Hubbard Park. They usually appear around Memorial Day and this year was no exception. This reminds me of the never identified person who would annually leave 3 roses and an unfinished bottle of cognac at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. The flags typically last until the 4th of July, by which time, at least one of the two flags is stolen or vandalized. I'll keep an eye on them.

Visit #1016, Saturday 28 May 16, 9:30AM-12:10PM, 6.0 miles.
Temps in the high 80's; sunny, unseasonably warm and humid.

Last week I had the pleasure of being assisted by my occasional co-conspirator Paul Bernier, and a spontaneous volunteer and Meriden activist, Sharon Milano. This week Paul joined me again, and we had well... read along and find out.

On a recent bike ride over the north end of Merimere Reservoir, I discovered someone had left a U-lock secured to the guardrail. Cheap, petty vandalism in my book, and unsightly. This week's plan was to remove it. I expected this to be a tough nut to crack but I had a plan.

Paul and I parked outside the north end of Hubbard Park, walked in, and began picking up trash enroute to the lock.

I had previously read that bicycle thieves in New York City will use a car jack to break a U-lock. If it works for them it should work for me, so I grabbed my car jack and threw it in my backpack along with my usual tools. Setup was easy and Paul began to crank the jack and spread the lock apart.

Everything worked fine, until it DIDN'T. The jack bent and the screw broke. Ooops; party's over! Or was it...

It was while Paul was cranking on the jack that a Meriden resident and cyclist who regularly rides up to Castle Craig and West Peak, and who recognized Paul as a "park regular", stopped by to see what we were doing. Tim Pepin was his name and seeing what we were up to and that the jack had failed, offered his assistance. Tim and I agreed to meet later in the day for Round 2 with the U-lock.

We parted ways, and Paul and I walked the road toward West Peak, cleaning up both sides of the road. Near reaching the parking lot I came upon my Find of the Week.

Someone broke open this safe, emptied it, and tossed it into the woods. With the car jack in my backpack, I had no way to conveniently carry the safe, so I bagged it for later pickup and left it there.

Paul and I cleaned up the West Peak parking lot, then followed the Blue Trail down and over I-691 and back to the park. For the second consecutive week I found more evidence that the Season of the Missing Glove® appears to never end. This is #14.

We reached the parking lot and dropped off two bags of trash.

Then Paul and I walked the road north past Merimere Reservoir and picked up one more bag of trash to finish our day.

I returned to Hubbard Park at roughly 3PM to meet Tim Pepin and address that pesky U-lock. Well, let me tell you, Tim arrived ready for bear. With a dually pickup truck and 5kW generator in the back to power his 4" die grinder, I actually began to feel pity on the U-lock. But the presence of big, manly, destructive tools and the smell of testosterone quickly brought me back to my senses.

The soon to be deceased U-lock.

The executioner.

And the fun part.

Roughly two minutes along with more testosterone and some manly sparks, and it was done.

In case I didn't have the luck of Tim happening along today, I had a Plan B. When I arrived home I decided to test it on the lock remnants.

Plan B consisted of a Dremel tool with cutoff wheels, and a 300W inverter which I plugged into my car's cigarette lighter. Not as fast and clearly missing all the raging testosterone fueled manliness of a dually pickup truck with a 5kW generator and 4" die grinder, it still got the job done, albeit more in a "liberal college hipster with a safe zone and a fixie bicycle" fashion.

My thanks to this week's volunteer, Tim Pepin. Clearly people such as Tim who use the park regularly have a sense of ownership about Hubbard Park.

After Tim vanquished the U-lock, we drove up to West Peak and I retrieved the safe.

So what were my plans for it? Well, I handled it with gloves so my fingerprints wouldn't be on it, and put it into a plastic bag. The safe had a serial number on it. If the owner had ANY common sense, AND reported the safe stolen, then perhaps the police could find the owner, dust the safe for fingerprints, and we would all live happily ever after.

I brought the safe down to the Meriden Police Department and presented it to Ofc. Welles, Badge #412. Officer Welles told me most people don't record the serial number of their safe but he ran it on the computer anyway-no luck. I asked him if he wanted me to just toss the safe away but he said it was "too late"; since I brought it in he'd have to file a report so he had to keep the safe.

P.S. As far as my broken car jack is concerned, I thought it would be expensive to replace. Ebay to the rescue! I found a brand new jack for $31, shipping included.

Happy Memorial Day to all.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Triple Threat

Castle Craig sits proudly after being cleaned of graffiti earlier this week.

Visit #1015, Saturday 21 May 16, 9:15-11:45AM, 5.3 miles.
Temps in the mid-60's, clouding up with showers forecast for this evening.

Earlier this past week, Castle Craig was defiled by residents of the shallow end of the gene puddle.
The incident was newsworthy enough to attract WFSB-TV.

Coincidentally, one of those interviewed for the WFSB-TV story was my occasional assistant and ally in Hubbard Park, Paul Bernier. AND coincidentally, while he was up at Castle Craig, he met the other interviewee, Sharon Milano.

They began to chat and Paul mentioned my work in the park. Through Paul, Sharon contacted me, interested in helping out. Thus was born Saturday's work session.

Sharon's no slouch herself in the volunteer department; Check out her Facebook page devoted to activism in Meriden. There you can also read her take on our activities Saturday as well as see some photos. Sharon did a yoeman's job, unafraid to get dirty pushing wood around, and picking up other peoples' trash.

The three of us had our work literally "cut out" for us as last week I discovered a large oak tree had fallen across one trail, and Paul had reported to me of another tree across a trail closer to Castle Craig.

We started our clockwise loop and stopped to clean up the dirt parking area at the northwest corner of Mirror Lake. Then on to our first tree.

Paul looked at the tree and realized this was gonna be WORK.

Sharon's presence freed me up to work the chainsaw while she and Paul tossed the wood aside. Our triple threat proved a real time saver.

The tree was so large I was near running out of fuel, so I stopped short of a complete job to save the chainsaw for the next tree. Nevertheless, between the three of us we established a clear path.

Over I-691 we went, and up the trails to the road to Castle Craig, where we encountered the second tree.

I had enough fuel left to cut this up while Paul and Sharon did most of the bull work removing the pieces from the trail.

Onward to Castle Craig, where we cleaned up the parking lot and surrounding area, and got a chance to admire the work of the Meriden Parks Department crew's work of eradicating the graffiti.

I also discovered that the Season of the Missing Glove is not over. These are numbers 12 and 13.

Back at the park we deposited our trash for the week.

But something was gnawing at me; I didn't do a complete job of removing the oak tree from the trail for fear of running out of gas. What to do?

Visit #1015A, that's what! I returned to Hubbard Park Sunday morning at 6:30AM in a light rain to open up the trail more.

Without Sharon and Paul to help, muscling this extra cut of wood off the trail was a task.

Nevertheless, I completed widening the trail in just under an hour.

Thanks again to Paul Bernier for his assistance and to Sharon Milano as well. As long as Meriden has people like them, the future looks bright.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

What If They Had A War With No Mess?

Visit #1014, Saturday 14 May 16, 9:40-11:40AM, 3.2 miles.
Temps in the low 60's, sunny.

A short session this week because I was on-call.

I walked a counterclockwise loop and stopped at the Halfway House fully expecting to rake up the area after the Daffodil Festival fireworks, where every year debris from the fireworks litters the area. They were supposedly held on Saturday, 30 April, when the weather was sunny. But when I arrived on the spot, it was pretty much already clean! I was pleasantly surprised and mostly unemployed. While there was a little debris, it didn't warrant raking, just a little policing. I felt like the investment I made in a cool, collapsible rake, was squandered. I bought it for this specific purpose and the opportunity to use it was stolen from me; WAH!

That's  a new one; complaining because I don't have to work...

I moved on, heading toward and over I-691. I walked to the Belmont Avenue trailhead then turned around and walked the main trail back. It was beginning to look like I wouldn't have anything interesting to report or photograph.

My luck changed, as I walked by a connecting trail I discovered a fallen tree across it.

This means I have a photo to post AND get to use manly power tools of destruction next week to remove it. Yeah!

This put a spring in my step as I returned to the parking lot to drop of the week's trash bag.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Rain and an eerie fog were in order for the day.

Visit #1013, Saturday 7 May 16, 7:40-11:40AM, 7.9 miles.
Temps in the low 60's with a steady, light rain.

This week's plan was to clear the trails of the fallen trees I found last week. A little rain wasn't going to get in my way.

There just so happened to be a 5k and 10k run in Hubbard Park on Saturday morning as well. With that knowledge, I knew starting my day early would be to my advantage as the runs started at 9:30, I think.

So I walked the road toward Castle Craig in advance of the runs and picked up trash along the way. My plans wouldn't take me all the way up the road; I went as far as the turnaround for the 5k run and, after surreptitiously dropping off my first bag of trash, I myself turned around and walked back to pick up the trailhead.

Once I picked up the trail which parallels the road, I reached the first tree of the day which needed removing.

If you look closely on the right, you can see what appears to already be a path around the fallen tree, even though I don't think it's been down more than a couple weeks. I unpacked the chainsaw and conducted business.

That was the only fallen three on this trail. I hiked all the way to the top, then walked the road toward West Peak to pick up the other trail, going down, that also parallels the road.

My next victim.

Not shown in the photo, I removed that bent tree as well.

This fallen tree had an added feature...

...mountain bikers had added a couple logs in front of the tree to facilitate riding over it, instead of using good technique!

With a properly applied chainsaw however, technique is no longer needed.

Next candidate.

This trio of leaning trees almost formed a teepee frame over the trail.

And the last tree for the day.

At the bottom,  I picked up the road back to the park. Enroute, I passed the water station where I earlier dropped off my first bag of trash.

Unfortunately, I also began to encounter cups discarded by the runners. I really doubt the volunteers walked the road all the way up to Castle Craig to pick up any others. This is a good reason why they either shouldn't hold these events in Hubbard Park or they should hold the event organizers accountable for the trash they create.

The event also supplied bottled water, and I began to find discarded empties as well. I'm sure they were from the event because I made a special trip by registration to see what brand of bottled water they had on hand. You can see one empty left on the table above; I found another in the grass.

This really mystifies me-

This cup had lipstick on it. Really? You're running 5k or 10k and you make sure and put lipstick on BEFORE your run? I'm a guy so maybe I need to be educated on this?!

Fortunately the rain stopped roughly 2/3 of the way through my work so the trip back to the park wasn't that bad. I dropped off my second bag of trash, then went home to take a shower. Only THEN I would put MY lipstick on...

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Avoiding The Crowds

The view of South Mountain from high above Merimere Reservoir. The crowds at the Daffodil Festival didn't know what they were missing.

Visit #1012, Saturday 30 April 16, 12:45-2:45PM, 4.0 miles.
Temps in the 60's, sunny.

With the Daffodil Festival in full swing, this would be the second consecutive week I entered Hubbard Park from the quiet north end to do my work.

There were quite a few hikers on the trails today. Those that I talked to parked on the Chamberlain Highway and hiked in via the Blue Trail past Elmere Reservoir.

I started at the north end of Merimere Reservoir and quickly came across my Find of the Week.

This fully intact fishing rod came complete with reel, line, AND Mepps Trophy Series lure, ready to hook 'em.

I did not field test the setup to see if it worked.

I shortly picked up a trail which parallels the road to Castle Craig.  Since I cleaned the road last week, there was no sense in doing so again so soon.

Good thing I took the trail, for I discovered a downed tree across it.

Give me a week or two and I'll return with my chainsaw and take care of it. As an aside, later on Saturday I returned to Hubbard Park via mountain bike and on my route decided to check on another trail with many hemlock trees. My suspicions were if the first trail had a fallen hemlock, then the other trail likely did as well. I was right. In fact, there were THREE more downed trees on that trail. I plan to clear both trails on the same day. Stay tuned.

This trail is popular with mountain bikers. Gee, how did I figure that out?!

Reaching Castle Craig I cleaned up the perimeter of the parking lot then took the Blue Trail north back to my starting point. That's where I took the opening photo of South Mountain.

I returned to my car and took my bag of trash with me.