Garden wildlife reminds me of teenagers – the critters eat distressingly huge meals then leave without communicating about what they have been up to or where they are going. Except in wintertime, of course, when they (the wildlife, not the teenagers) leave a tale of tracks in the snow.
I’m no great tracker, but with the help of my Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks I can at least tell the difference between a fox footprint and that of a dog, trace the travels of the rabbit around my yard, and discover that it’s a porcupine that has been nibbling the branch tips off the hemlocks. There are all sorts of insights to be had from these vestiges. The dog, for example, is likely to wander, sniffing here and there, whereas the fox typically trots in a straight line – one is sure of an ample dinner while the other knows that it cannot afford to waste a single calorie in this harsh season. And by back-tracking the porcupine, I learn what crevice in the rock face across the road it has made into its den. That’s where I’ll set up my have-a-heart trap if the porcupines ravage my vegetable garden again next summer.
It was a string of five-toed footprints, each one not much bigger than a quarter, that told me to keep an eye on the wood pile. And my vigilance was rewarded one gray morning when I spotted a mink darting in between the logs, then re-emerging with a mouse in its jaws.
It’s a thrill to find evidence of such an uncommon (at least in my garden) species, but tracks of the commonest animals excite me just as much if they have a story to tell. A red feather and a spot of blood in a small snow crater told me all I had to know about the encounter of a cardinal and a hawk. And I still remember following across a snowy field next door to our yard the tracks of a Canada goose. Stooping to inspect, I found its toes had dug into the snow and the stride gradually lengthened until, suddenly, the tracks stopped – I, too, felt as if I had taken off. Continue reading →
As many Middletown residents know, the single lane, wood-decked West Street bridge over the Genesee & Wyoming Railroad just west of Washington St., (pictured below) is badly in need of replacement. The State of Connecticut Department of Transportation (CT DOT) declared the bridge obsolete at least ten years ago, but plans for replacement were delayed for a variety of reasons.
West St. bridge over railroad, looking north
When the Jonah Center and Middletown’s Complete Streets Committee were informed of this project in 2012, we began advocating for a generous (bike trail width) pedestrian and bicycle bridge to be incorporated into the new motor vehicle bridge. Not only is the bridge dangerously narrow for cars, but pedestrians, bicyclists, and wheelchair users frequently cross the bridge, often at great peril. West Street is identified on Middletown’s Complete Streets Master Plan as an important route for bicycles to travel from the south to the north side of Washington Street, and a future multi-use trail is envisioned for the entire length of West Street, from Wadsworth Street to Washington Street.
Middletown’s Public Works Department was supportive of our request, and CT DOT readily accepted the suggested addition of a broad pedestrian and bicycle lane on the east side of the bridge. Continue reading →
Ecoin, Middletown’s Environmental Collective Impact Network, has embraced an initiative, led by the Middletown Garden Club and former Middletown Mayor Maria Madsen Holzberg, to develop and propose a City ordinance to reduce or eliminate free single-use plastic checkout bags handed out by local retailers.
According to the film Plastic Ocean, 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans every year. Plastics not only contribute to unsightly litter that is a danger for birds and marine life, but they release toxins as they break down. Micro-particles of plastic end up in the muscle tissue of fish eaten by humans. Clearly, as a species we need to find our way to doing less damage to the biological systems we depend on, and that includes using and discarding less plastic.
Reducing our consumption of single-use plastic items — shopping bags, straws, drink containers, utensils, etc. — is something we can all do. But we need some “carrots and sticks” (incentives and regulations) from society as a whole to help us change our ways. Continue reading →
The Jonah Center’s most far-reaching project is to plan and build a mostly off-road bike route from the Air Line Trail in Portland to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail in Cheshire. In partnership with the “RiverCOG” (our local Council of Governments, a planning agency), we gathered officials from Portland, Middletown, Meriden, and Cheshire in April 2016 to share this vision. All municipalities showed enthusiastic support, at least in principle.
Since that meeting, we have focused on getting Middletown to commence design work on the Newfield Corridor Trail. Progress on the Newfield Corridor Trail and the Air Line Trail in Portland will, we hope, attract the attention and support of statewide transportation planners. Continue reading →
Beginning in 2012, the Jonah Center has encouraged the City of Middletown to build a 3- mile multi-use trail from Veterans Park to Tuttle Road, where it will connect with the current Mattabesset Bike Path in the Westlake area. The project is called the “Newfield Corridor Trail.”
The Newfield Corridor Trail will allow hundreds of students in high density residential neighborhoods to bicycle or walk safely to 4 schools: Lawrence, Keigwin, Middletown High School, and Spencer. It will also be a huge step in creating bicycle access from Cromwell and the Westlake area of Middletown to downtown Middletown. Finally, this 3-mile section, added to 4.5 miles of the existing Mattabessett and Westlake bike paths, will complete nearly 8 miles of the proposed 18 mile Air Line Trail – Farmington Canal Connector Route, a regional project involving Portland, Meriden, and Cheshire that the Jonah Center has been spearheading.
As shown in the map above, the trail’s envisioned route lies on the west side of Newfield Street between Veterans Park and LaRosa Lane, where turns toward Middletown High School. From there it follows a sewer right-of-way to Mile Lane, then beside Kaplan Drive to Lawrence School. From the school, the trail will likely continue north across city-owned open space to Tuttle Road and the existing Mattabessett Bike Path. A more detailed map of the Newfield Corridor Trail may be found here..
The Jonah Center recommends a scenic 16.3 mile bike route in Portland that makes a counter-clockwise loop beginning at the post office, and passing the quarries and several scenic views of the Connecticut River, ponds, and streams. The route (pictured here) is designed to maximize safety and avoid the steepest hills, while still covering a fair amount of distance. (Note: The Town of Portland, in its adoption of town-approved bike routes in December 2018, rejected this route, due to the section along Route 66, in favor of an alternate 15 mile route that utilizes Main Street instead of Route 66. )
Cyclists are advised to check out the route by car before cycling, in order to insure suitability for a given individual. Clearly, cycling on public roads carries obvious risks that each cyclist must evaluate.
In the meantime, the Air Line Trail Steering Committee is working on its long-term goal of extending the Portland section of the Air Line Trail westward from its current, new terminus near the YMCA’s Camp Ingersoll and Job’s Pond. The plan aims at making it easy and safe to bicycle to the Air Line Trail from the town center.
The Jonah Center, along with Coginchaug Area Transition and Ecosattvas Connecticut, invites the public to a free viewing of a 22 minute film, A Plastic Ocean, on Tuesday, October 16, 7 p.m. in Room 208 of Fisk Hall, 262 High Street, on the Wesleyan campus. Parking is available in the rear of the building off College Street. After the film, there will be a discussion about ways to combat plastic pollution.
From the filmmakers: “In the center of the Pacific Ocean gyre our researchers found more plastic than plankton. A Plastic Ocean documents the newest science, proving how plastics, once they enter the oceans, break up into small particulates that enter the food chain where they attract toxins like a magnet. These toxins are stored in seafood’s fatty tissues, and eventually consumed by us.”
This coming Sunday, September 16, from 9 to 11 a.m., paddlers will unite in a big effort to remove the remaining water chestnut plants from the lower Mattabesset River in the Floating Meadows between Middletown and Cromwell. If we can get about 20 paddlers, we have a good chance of clearing the main stem of the river for the first time in 5 years.
We will launch from the canoe and kayak launch at 181 Johnson St. in Middletown. For last minute questions in case of iffy weather, call or text John Hall at 860-398-3771.
While we prefer not to schedule paddles on Sunday, we are doing so in this case due to the Sunday availability of paddlers with canoes and in order to have higher water in the ebbing tide. Tide will be high at approximately 8 a.m. on Sunday. Tide is one hour earlier on Saturday.
Bags and gloves will be provided. Paddlers are required to wear life jackets and to sign a Jonah Center liability waiver and photo permission form. A porta-potty is located at the launch site.
Evening commute back-up on Route 9 southbound at Hartford Avenue
You may be wondering about the status of plans by the CT Department of Transportation to improve traffic on Main Street, the Route 17 ramp onto Route 9, and the proposal to remove the traffic signals from Route 9. John Hall recently spoke with Erik Jarboe at CT DOT about these projects. Here’s what’s going on.
The State will install pedestrian bump-outs along Main Street beginning in the spring of 2019. (“Bump-outs” are elevated extensions of the sidewalk surface into the crosswalk area, providing visibility for pedestrians, shortening the time needed for the pedestrian cycle of the traffic signal, and moving cars more efficiently.) The State also plans to make improvements to the St. John’s Square intersection, for which construction may begin in the fall of 2019. This will include a dedicated right turn lane from southbound Main onto Washington Street.
As for the removal of the stop sign where Rt. 17 enters Route 9 northbound, the addition of the needed acceleration lane will require widening and partial replacement of the bridge over Union Street as well as relocation of the existing Union Street/River Road/Harbor Drive intersection. This will entail a prolonged permitting process, which is underway.
Regarding the removal of the Route 9 traffic signals, CT DOT has engaged a consulting company to complete a comprehensive system-wide traffic study of Route 9, downtown Middletown, and beyond. They are hoping to hold another public meeting with revised plans sometime this coming winter.
On Saturday, September 15th, Wesleyan will be hosting a FREE residential e-waste recycling and hard drive shredding event from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. This event is open to all Connecticut residents at no charge. Residents are not required to pre-register.
Take 2’s mobile hard drive shredder will be on site to shred hard drives, which should be removed from computers and laptops and ready to be shredded. Take 2 will not be able to remove hard drives from devices at the event. Take 2 will be on site to unload vehicles and safely package and transport all unwanted electronics to their Waterbury facility to be responsibly and securely recycled.