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  • National Trails Day - A Hike in People's Forest


    Town Diary - June 2003

    National Trails Day - A Hike in People's Forest

    On June 7, 2003 people all over the state of Connecticut participated in hikes to recognize National Trails Day.  Organizations in Connecticut and throughout the country sponsor National Trails Days hikes to encourage people to get outdoors, get some exercise and see some of the beautiful sights.  One of the hikes was held in People's Forest in Barkhamsted and led by Walt Landgraf.  This event not only was a National Trails Day hike but also was tied into recognition of the 100th anniversary of forestry in Connecticut.  One hundred years ago in 1903 the legislature authorized $2,000 for the purchase of land to be set aside for state forests.  In that year some of those funds were used to purchase land in Portland for the first state forest in Connecticut, now called Meshomasic State Forest.

    Photo above- Hike leader Walt Landgraf gets the group of 18 hikers organized at the main parking lot at Peoples Forest.

    The hike at People's Forest started out at the Mathies Area where about 18 hikers assembled and listened to Walt's opening remarks.  The number of hikers showing up seemed pretty good given a very light misty rain that was falling and the threat of heavier rain to come.  Most of those attending were from Barkhamsted and several area towns.  One person was visiting from New Jersey and had heard good reports about Walt's hikes.  He was determined to make this hike despite the ominous weather forecast.  At about 9:00 a.m. we all car-pooled about a mile and a half up Greenwoods Road into the heart of People's Forest.  The hikers piled out of the cars and gathered at the beginning of the Charles Pack Trail where Walt outlined the scope of the hike.  Walt is a long time Barkhamsted resident, a retired high school biology teacher, State Department of Environmental Protection employee and curator of the DEP Stone Museum at People s Forest.  He is an expert on flora and fauna and local history.

    After a short walk we crossed Beaver Brook just below Beaver Swamp.  This area has a lot going on.  Beaver Swamp is a beautiful sight with a lot of different vegetation and wildlife.  It would not be a surprise to spot a moose here, or a variety of ducks, herons, hawks, bald eagle, coyote, fox, muskrat, beaver, raccoon or white tail deer.  There also is a lot of history at Beaver Swamp, from the seasonal Indian camps on the edge of the swamp (found by a Central Connecticut State University archaeology survey dig) to hay harvesting during the 1800's.  This area is also known as Beaver Meadow and was a valuable hay producing area.  Walt stopped at one spot near the trail and pointed out a charcoal hearth where perhaps 150 years ago 25 or 30 cords of wood was stacked just so and converted to charcoal.  Just up the trail from the charcoal hearth and very close to Beaver Swamp is an old house foundation where slave owner Jabez Bacon lived over two hundred years ago.

    Photo above- Walt Landgraf (in blue hat) gets the group ready to go at the beginning of the Charles Pack trail.

    At many points during the hike, Walt stops the group and expounds on the plants and animals found in People's Forest, the history of the Forest and background on the trail system.  For example, we made a side trip to the old house foundation of John and Lois Ives who moved here in the 1770's to what is now an isolated wooded spot.  Walt talked about how one day Lois caught her clothes on fire while cooking at the fireplace, was very badly burned and not expected to live.  But neighbor Molly Barber of the "Lighthouse tribe" used her knowledge of herbs and country medicine to nurse Lois back to health.

    Other points on the hike included Big Springs, a large boulder called a glacial erratic and an area with many pink lady slipper plants. Unfortunately an area with a scenic view of Riverton and another with a wide view of the Farmington River Valley were shrouded by the rain and fog.  The rain began to come down harder and after a quick lunch at the second lookout, we hiked quickly back to the cars on Greenwoods Road.  Due to the rain, the hike was shortened to about 4.5 miles but a good time was had by all.  What better way to celebrate National Trails Day!

    Photo above- One the trail near Beaver Swamp with Walt Landgraf leading the way.

    Photo above- The group is just leaving the area near the John Ives house foundation.  The rain is coming down a little harder at this point.

    Photo above- A large rock placed here by the glacier centuries ago when a thick sheet of ice that covered this area. 

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  • Future of Whittemore Salmon Station on Hold


    Town Diary - May 2003

    Future of Whittemore Salmon Station on Hold

    Looking Back

    Before European settlers arrived in North America, the Atlantic salmon began life and spawned in freshwater rivers and streams along the northern Atlantic coast of North America.  The southern boundary of their original range was Connecticut's Housatonic River and the northern boundary was the Ungava Bay in northern Quebec.

    With the European settlers and the industrial revolution, however, came dams that harnessed the power of rivers and even small streams.  As beneficial as these dams were to man, they were equally detrimental to the fish species that traveled up and down these rivers, including the Atlantic salmon.  In the two centuries since that time, man has made various attempts to restore what he lost.

    Before the 1960s, sporadic attempts to restore the Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River system were unsuccessful.  However, in 1967, the Anadromous Fish Act was passed, and the beginning of the current effort to restore these species began in earnest.  By the late 1970s, this effort began to show success.  It was at this time that the Whittemore Salmon Station was built in Barkhamsted, Connecticut.  In 1981, the facility began accepting its first returning adult Atlantic salmon and took its place in a network of facilities, agencies, and people dedicated to restoring Atlantic salmon to New England.

    The restoration program is a cooperative project undertaken by the four states in the Connecticut River basin - Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire and the federal government, represented by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.  These entities formed the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC), which manages the program. The states are represented on CRASC by the natural resource agencies and in Connecticut that means the Inland Fisheries Division of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  The Division built the Whittemore Salmon Station, the Rainbow Dam Fishway, and other facilities in the state to support the restoration program.  It carefully coordinates its activities with its sister agencies in CRASC.

    Lifecycle of the Atlantic Salmon

    Fish like salmon are known as anadromous, meaning they hatch in fresh water, live most of their lives in salt water, then return to fresh water to spawn.  Fish that have the reverse cycle are called catadromous.

    The Atlantic salmon begins life in late spring in freshwater streams and rivers in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada and in northern Europe.  When they first hatch they are called alevins or sac fry.  After three to six weeks, as they emerge from their river bottom gravel nests, they are called fry.  As the fry develop camouflaging color and stripes, they are known as parr and generally measure about two inches in length.  They remain in this stage of their life, growing and feeding in their native stream, for anywhere from one to three years, at which time they become smolts.  The smolt stage is when the Atlantic salmon adopts the silver color needed for sea camouflage and when their body chemistry changes for life at sea.  Weighing just a couple ounces and measuring about six inches long, they head out to sea.  In our area, the fish travel down their native stream to the Connecticut River, down the Connecticut River to Long Island Sound, then northward through the Atlantic Ocean to the Davis Straits, located between Labrador and Greenland, a journey of approximately 3,000 miles.  The north Atlantic is the adult range for Atlantic salmon from the U.S., Canada, and Europe.  Salmon traveling from the Connecticut River have one of the longest journeys of all the Atlantic salmon, coming from the southernmost tip of their habitat.

    Salmon spend one to three years in the north Atlantic feeding, growing, and maturing, before getting ready to spawn.  When they are ready to spawn, they generally weigh anywhere from eight to 15 pounds and they begin heading back to their native stream in early spring.  They find their way back using their sense of smell.  Each stream whether the Farmington River, Morgan Brook, or Sandy Brook possesses a unique chemical identity based upon the combination of factors within its watershed: soil types, forest types, bedrocks, plant communities, etc.  These factors produce an odor discernible to parr and smolts living in these streams and the fish memorize this odor both as they live in their home stream and as they emigrate downstream to the ocean as smolts.  Innate guidance draws the adult salmon back to coastal waters but once close to the mouth of the home basin (in our case, the Connecticut River), the fish's sense of smell takes over and it "follows its nose" upstream to the familiar scent of its home stream.

    Northward they swim, up the Connecticut River, and then they take a left turn into the Farmington River in Windsor.  Before dams were built, they would continue until they reached the spot of their origin, perhaps the West Branch of the Farmington River here in Barkhamsted, or Sandy Brook in Colebrook, for example.  Now however, they swim only as far as the Rainbow Dam in the Poquonock section of Windsor.  Throughout May and June, they enter a fish passage built to enable fish to swim upstream past the 60-foot hydroelectric power generation dam.  This fish ladder is closely monitored by the DEP.

    Photos above (taken June 2003)- At left, the Rainbow Dam in Windsor, Connecticut.  Because anadromous fish like the Atlantic Salmon could not bypass this 60-foot obstacle in their path back to the Farmington River, the DEP built a fish ladder to help them around the dam.  Photo at right- the fish ladder, or fishway, that enables returning fish to get around the 60-foot high Rainbow Dam in Windsor. 

    Photo above- This trap, near the bottom of the fish ladder, is monitored closely and used to catch returning Atlantic salmon.  Once a salmon is caught here, the Whittemore Salmon Station staff transport the fish back to Barkhamsted.

    When a returning adult salmon is captured, Joe Ravita or Andy Murrett of the Whittemore Salmon Station gets a call and heads out in a specially prepared fish transport truck to pick up the weary traveler.  The fish is transported by truck to Barkhamsted, where it is held throughout the summer at the Whittemore Salmon Station, in closely regulated tanks that simulate the environment of the Farmington River, where the fish would have spent the summer if man had never intervened.  During this phase, the salmon do not eat.

    Photos above (taken in April 2003)- The Whittemore Salmon Station located on East River Road, Barkhamsted, in Peoples State Forest.

    In the fall, the returning adult salmon spawns, laying eggs in a gravel nest (called a redd) at the bottom of its native stream.  Or would, that is, if it weren't for the DEP.  Nowadays, the fish spawn at the Whittemore facility in the fall, and their eggs are transported to White River National Fish Hatchery in Bethel, Vermont for incubation and hatching.  The Vermont facility incubates the eggs because it can regulate its water temperature more tightly than the Whittemore facility allows.  In nature, fish that have spawned, called kelts, might spend the winter in their native stream (still not eating) and return to the ocean the following spring, or they might make the seaward journey in the late fall.  Once back in salt water, the fish begin to eat again and return to the north Atlantic.  The Atlantic salmon, unlike Pacific salmon, make this journey back and forth to spawn for as many as seven years.  But the journey back and forth is 6,000 miles and full of peril.  Predators, fishing, and oceanic conditions jeopardize the adult salmon during its lifecycle.

    Atlantic Salmon Situation Today

    After nearly 20 years of successfully increasing the number of returning Atlantic salmon, the anadromous fish restoration program has seen declining numbers since 1998.  This decline is due to a wide range of factors, such as changing ocean temperatures (a change of as little as 0.5 degree in average ocean temperature can affect the salmon's ability to survive), predation, fishing, and even fish farming.  Even the success of other fish restoration efforts, such as the striped bass, can affect the salmon since striped bass eat salmon smolts in Long Island Sound.

    NOAA estimates the historic Atlantic salmon return to U.S. waters approached 500,000 fish.  The Atlantic Salmon Federation estimates the number of adult Atlantic salmon available to return to the North American rivers dropped from 200,000 to just 80,000 between 1994 and 1999 alone.  This drop is the continuation of a pattern that has occurred through the last 50 years.  Closer to home, Northeast Utilities counted 91 returning Atlantic salmon at the Holyoke fish passage in 1999. According to the Connecticut River Salmon Association Newsletter, only 76 adult salmon returned to the Connecticut River in 2000.  In 2002, just 43 adult salmon were counted at fishways on the Connecticut River.  With an unusually cold and rainy spring, yielding high river flows, the numbers for 2003 are likely to be similar.  While specific causes for this decline in returning adults is unknown, most organizations agree that a complex web of declining marine conditions are to blame.  "It's death by a thousand cuts," says Frederick G. Whoriskey, Jr., Vice President for research at the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

    On the bright side, progress continues to be made in combating over-fishing of the Atlantic salmon.  The United States discontinued this practice in the 1940s, Canada discontinued it in most areas during the 1990s, and Greenland just agreed to suspend commercial fishing of Atlantic salmon in August 2002, leaving just United Kingdom and Ireland with significant commercial fishing operations for Atlantic salmon.  This reduction in fishing in the north Atlantic may increase the number of fish that survive to return to our area in the future.

    Some experts fear, however, that the growing aquaculture industry of salmon farming, which has largely taken the place of commercial salmon fishing, may over time adversely affect the wild salmon populations it would appear to help.  (For more information on this topic, see the July 2003 issue of National Geographic magazine, which will include an article called "Everybody Loves Atlantic Salmon - Here's the Catch" by Fen Montaigne.)

    Another hopeful sign for the Atlantic salmon is the recent renewal of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Compact, signaling another 20-year commitment to restoring Atlantic salmon by the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

    The Whittemore Salmon Station

    The small brown building in the Whittemore Recreation Area of the People's Forest is often called a "holding facility" for salmon, but that term belies the complexity of its role in anadromous fish restoration efforts.  The facility is currently staffed by two full-time employees who live on-site, Joe Ravita and Andy Murrett, and one seasonal employee.  Ravita has a degree in wildlife and fisheries from the University of Vermont and has been working at Whittemore since 1987.  Murrett has a degree in fisheries from the University of Massachusetts.  These highly trained men are responsible for every aspect of the salmon at the facility and they also work on developing new methods and tools that enhance the fish restoration efforts.

    For example, folks at the Whittemore facility have worked on improved handling and transportation methods to get the fish from the Rainbow Dam to the Whittemore facility.  In the earliest days of the program, mortality varied greatly.  Now, through improved techniques, equipment, and antibiotics that reduce the stress on the fish and ward off disease, nearly all the salmon that are brought from the Rainbow Dam survive to spawn.

    Photos above (May 2003)- At left, one of three primary salmon tanks at the Whittemore Salmon Station.  This one is currently being used to house domestic salmon.  At right, another of the three primary salmon tanks.  This one is currently being used to house wild Atlantic salmon that were captured at the Rainbow Dam as they returned from the ocean.

    When it comes time for the fish to spawn in the fall, the Whittemore facility plays an active role in breeding, which has become increasingly sophisticated with the use of genetics.  When fish return from the sea, tissue samples are taken and analyzed at a research lab in Massachusetts.  Biologists are able to tell where the returning adult originally came from, when it was bred, and even its family origins.  Genetic analysis is carefully considered in the breeding program at Whittemore, so genetic diversity can be best encouraged among the relatively small salmon population, thereby strengthening the species as much as possible.

    Although the majority of eggs produced during spawning are transferred to the White River facility in Vermont for incubation and hatching, about 400,000 eggs are now being incubated right here in Colebrook, in a special facility in the Goodwin Dam.  This facility has been developed and maintained by the Whittemore crew in cooperation with the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), who own and operate the dam.  Of the 400,000 eggs incubated at this facility, approximately 250,000 become fry that are stocked back into the Farmington River, mostly in Barkhamsted and Hartland.

    The staff at the Whittemore Salmon Station has developed the Connecticut River Future Broodstock Eggbank as well.  This facility incubates sea-run-origin eggs for use as domestic broodstock at the Kensington (CT) State Fish Hatchery.  Eggs are taken from sea-run broodstock held at Whittemore and at the Richard Cronin National Salmon Station in Massachusetts, along with the kelts held at North Attleboro National Fish Hatchery in Massachusetts.  These are crossed with milt (seminal fluid) from sea-run, kelt and precocious parr and incubated in quarantined environment until the "eyed" stage.  Following a health screening of the "parents" to reduce the risk of pathogen transfer, the eggs are moved to Kensington to be reared to maturity as domestic broodstock.

    One of the areas in which the Whittemore staff has made notable advancements is reconditioning kelts, or training them to eat in fresh water.  In nature, adult salmon do not eat from the time they enter the fresh water to spawn until after they return to the sea.  Because kelts remain at Whittemore after spawning, they must be taught to eat again in order to ensure their survival and continued reproduction.  The Whittemore staff played a crucial role in developing methodologies to retrain kelts to eat, testing and evaluating a special diet that encourages them to eat again. This mixture of herring, shrimp, beef liver, vitamins, and a binding mash is prepared at the Whittemore facility.  (Ravita's work has been cited in a report on kelt reconditioning by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission of Portland, Oregon.)

    The Whittemore Salmon Station generally houses between 60 and 100 kelts.  At present, they have salmon from the "classes" of 1997 through 2002.  Atlantic salmon return from the sea at about four years old and live another four to six years at Whittemore.  During that period, they may spawn as many as five times, though they become less productive as they age.  The largest kelt now living at Whittemore is a 35-pound male.  The largest fish to have lived at Whittemore grew to 52 pounds from his initial returning weight of 10 pounds.  Recently, as the number of returning wild salmon has decreased, the extra space at Whittemore has been used to house growing numbers of domestic Atlantic salmon.  These fish are held in a separate tank and are selected for their strong, broad genetic characteristics.

    The Whittemore Station has also worked with the local community.  In May 2000, Ravita assisted the first large-scale salmon rearing effort in a Connecticut school when he delivered 400 of the Whittemore salmon fry to vo/ag students from Northwest Regional #7 High School's new aquaculture facility.  In this program, initiated by teacher Jason Bassi and DEP biologist Steve Gephard, Ravita assisted the students throughout the year, and in the spring of 2001, they stocked the fish they had been raising into the local rivers, giving those fish the genetic imprint they needed to guide them on their return trip.  One of their salmon smolts was observed migrating downstream at the Rainbow Dam, nearly 50 miles downstream from its release point in Winsted.

    What Does the Future Hold?

    Despite the re-signing of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Compact, federal and state budget constraints are likely to affect just how the Atlantic salmon restoration program is carried out.  Governor Rowland and the Connecticut legislature have yet to reach agreement on the state s budget for the 2003-2004 fiscal year, and cutbacks in some areas are assured, due to budget shortfalls reaching millions of dollars. 

    As part of the ongoing budget wrangling, a plan to mothball Barkhamsted s Whittemore Salmon Station has already been drawn up.  Whether it is put into effect or not depends upon the outcome of the current budget talks.  This plan would actually place the facility in maintenance status.  However, maintenance status would mean the current staff of two full-time employees and one seasonal employee would be relocated to other facilities, and the fish would be relocated as well, leaving the Whittemore facility empty and nonfunctional.

    The funding crunch is occurring at the national level as well as the state level.  For example, Congress did not authorize funding for the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC) during the CRASC reauthorization process.  Conservationists who care about the salmon restoration to the Farmington River and Barkhamsted should urge their elected officials (both state and federal) to support efforts to properly fund this program.

    Primary Sources for this Article


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  • Firewood for next winter


    Town Diary - April 2003

    Firewood for next winter.

    During the cold months of the year many Barkhamsted residents burn firewood as either a primary source of heat or to augment more conventional heat sources such as fuel oil or electricity.  Putting in a large supply of firewood can be a lot of work, and the process sometimes starts in the winter even before the wood for the current heating season is used up.  Bill Adams on Center Hill Road (Route 181) in Barkhamsted burns a lot of firewood each year and he likes to get an early jump on preparing next years supply.  It is only April and already Bill has put up a very impressive woodpile in his back yard.

    Photo above- Bill Adams splitting firewood-- the pile grows longer!

    Photo above- Bill Adams and the long wood pile he works up every year.  With the long
    southern exposure and in a single pile, the wood seasons fairly quickly.

    The pile stretches over 100 feet and faces south to take maximum advantage of  the drying power of the sun.  Bill normally buys about six cords of tree length wood in the late fall and, with help from two sons, cuts it up into pieces about 18 inches long.  Most of these cut pieces are still large in diameter so they are run through a hydraulic wood splitter.  The split pieces are now small enough for the wood stove and also will dry more quickly.  The cut and split wood has more than eight months to season before next winter.  The wood is piled up to further encourage drying.  Later Bill will move much of the wood inside.  This past winter was colder than normal and Bill actually burned all his seasoned wood and even started burning some of next years supply.  To make up for this he got another six cord load to cut and split.  He appreciates the ability to heat the house during extended power outages in the winter.  He does not mind the hard work involved with laying in a large supply of firewood.  As the old saying goes, "you get warm twice from burning wood".        


    Photo above- splitting next year's wood with a hydraulic splitter.  

    Photo above- The wood pile (to the right of the house) is still growing.  Altogether, Bill will
    cut and split about 13 cords.


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  • Difficult Fire Brings Out Innovative Firefighting Techniques


    Town Diary - March 2003

    Difficult Fire Brings Out Innovative Firefighting Techniques

    Many Barkhamsted residents saw something quite unusual on their way home from work Monday, March 24, 2003.  Driving up Route 44, turning north onto Route 181, residents might have caught a glimpse of the Connecticut State Police helicopter referred to as "Trooper-1" flying overhead with a red 200-gallon bucket suspended underneath.  Eleven times the helicopter flew north to the West Branch of the Farmington River, lowered down and filled the bucket with water, then rose back up and flew off to the south again.

    The cause of this spectacle was a fire deep in the woods, past the RRDD #1 landfill/transfer station, just over the New Hartford town line, on land purchased years ago by Barkhamsted resident Irv Hart.  There, an enormous log skidder had caught fire.  This logging forwarder, worth over $300,000, was part of a two-vehicle team logging the property that day.  The second, slightly smaller vehicle, cuts the trees down, strips the branches, cuts the trunks into portable lengths, then loads them onto this enormous truck, which then hauls them out of the woods. 

    According to Fire Marshal Richard Healy, the cause of the fire was either an extremely dry piece of wood caught up in overheated machinery or, more likely, a broken hydraulic line that allowed hydraulic fluid to come into contact with hot equipment and catch fire.  Once this truck caught fire, it posed a difficult situation for firefighters.  This truck had eight tires, each approximately five feet high by 18 inches wide.  That much burning rubber is not easily squelched. 

    The location of the fire posed an even more serious problem.  The vehicle was located in a remote section of woods, about one-half to three-quarters of a mile from the landfill.  The only access to the scene was a rough "road" created by the logging trucks.  While those large vehicles were able to use this road, it was far too rough and rutted for ordinary trucks or even fire trucks to use.  The early spring conditions created a quagmire of mud, which was frozen underneath, making treacherous footing for firefighters walking up steep terrain to get to the fire.  On top of the mud and ice, there were branches piled and scattered throughout the area as a result of the logging process itself.

    The Pleasant Valley fire department first got the call around 3:30 pm, according to firefighter Marquam (Mark) Johnson.  In addition to Pleasant Valley, the Riverton, Colebrook, and New Hartford fire departments also responded, and equipment was brought in from the Barkhamsted East fire department.  In all, about 25-30 firefighters were on the scene, according to Riverton firefighter Norman Bird.

    Photo above- Riverton Firefighters Stepheni Lacasse, Todd Schroder, Marquam Johnson, Matthew Wilson, and Hilary Lovell with helicopter flying in background.

    About one-half to three-quarters of a mile from the landfill roads, the fire defied the traditional methods of putting it out.  The fire departments were forced to try several methods until they found one that worked.  First, they attempted to run hoses down from what appeared to be the nearest accessible location, a road above the blaze built to access the cell phone tower.  However, the hoses were not long enough to reach the burning truck.

    Photo above-
      Pleasant Valley firefighter Mark Johnson looks on as Trooper One approaches, then drops water on the scene.

    When that method failed, firefighters called the Connecticut State Police to request assistance from Trooper-1.  This would be the first time the helicopter and bucket method was used in the Barkhamsted area.  The helicopter arrived with its "bambi" bucket adjusted to hold 150 gallons of river water and made 11 trips between the fire and the river.  It filled the bucket with water just behind the first house along the river on Route 181.  Firemen were stationed at the end of a nearby fishermen s access road to ensure clearance for the helicopter and keep any members of the public that might have been using the river clear and safe.  The first eight buckets of water missed the fire, possibly due a lack of visibility inherent in the helicopter's design.  Helicopters used out West to fight fires are specially designed, with visibility panels in the floor that enable the pilot to see directly below and aim the water drop somewhat precisely.  However, the CT State Police helicopter is an ordinary passenger-type craft, with only eye-level side and front windows, making precise water drops next to impossible.  And, unlike a forest fire, this vehicle fire required precision water drops.

    Photo above-
    Trooper-1 dropping water on the skidder fire.

    The ninth bucket load was a direct hit, but that direct hit told firefighters present that the amount of water it could drop on the fire would be nowhere near sufficient to extinguish it.  So, after two more trips, the helicopter approach was also abandoned.

    At this point, the logging crew drove the other vehicle, the log harvester, down the "road" they had created and out of the woods.  Firefighters decided they could use this vehicle to carry equipment to the site.  They loaded Riverton's new portable pump and 500 feet of special forestry hose onto the harvester, and brought them to the scene.  There, firefighters used shovels to build a dam in a stream of spring runoff and to dig out a make-shift pond.  The portable pump was then able to draw enough water from this hastily improvise pond to finally put out the blaze.

    In the midst of all this hard, dangerous work, the Pleasant Valley Ladies' Auxiliary was providing some much-appreciated backup.  These women cooked a pasta and bread supper for the firefighters and brought it to the scene so no one needed to go without eating while attacking this late-afternoon-into-nighttime fire.

    After more than five long hours, around 9:30 pm, the firefighters were finally able to trudge back through the dark, over the mud, ice, and branches to return home.  Although the log fowarder was a total loss, these hardworking volunteers were able to prevent a full-scale forest fire and any additional property loss that could have resulted.

    Photo above- burned out logging forwarder near the RRDD#1 landfill. (this photo taken in April 2003).

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    Posted Mar 26 2003, 04:21 PM by Paul with 1 comment(s)
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  • Barkhamsted digs out from another snow storm

    Town Diary - February 2003
    Barkhamsted digs out from another snow storm.

    On February 17, 2003 Barkhamsted was hit with yet another winter storm.  Not a huge snowfall by historical standards, but the 15 inches that fell closed schools and left some beautiful scenery and a big pain for those who had to plow and shovel roads, driveways and paths.  Below are some photos from around the town on the day after the storm.  The town received about 21 inches of snow in February.  The winter of 2002-2003 was unusual because snow was on the ground from Thanksgiving all the way through to early April.

    Photo above- Town road crew worker George Vincent plowing snow on Boettner Road after the snow
    storm of February 17, 2003.  This truck is equipped with a "speed" plow designed to throw the snow
    well off the side of the road when operating a little faster than in this photo.

    Above- A ten foot snow bank plowed up between the Town Hall and the Pleasant Valley General Store.  Probably most of this snow bank was deposited by a bucket loader.

    Above- A Metropolitan District Commission (the water company) snow plow operated by
    Ken Halsted is plowing the parking lot on the east side of the Saville Dam.

    Above- snow drifts around one of the stone pillars in the Barkhamsted Center Cemetery along Beach Rock Road.

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    Posted Feb 19 2003, 04:12 PM by Paul with no comments
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  • Fran Chirico - RRDD1 employee

    Town Diary - January 2003

    Fran Chirico - RRDD1 employee.

    Fran Chirico is a familiar face to many residents of Barkhamsted and the surrounding area.  Fran works as the "gatekeeper" at the Regional Refuse Disposal District #1 in Barkhamsted, just off Route 44.  Here she greets visitors bringing in their trash and recycling bottles, cans and newspapers.  Fran's job is to inspect each vehicle coming into RRDD1 to verify that an up-to-date sticker is pasted on the windshield.  She also helps visitors with questions like where to dump that old couch.

    Because Fran has worked at RRDD1 since 1979 and works just about every day the facility is open (currently Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) her smiling face and outgoing, feisty personality is well known in the three town area.  During her 24 years working at RRDD1 she has seen many changes.  Early on the recycling effort was more limited than now.  Glass was recycled, with separate chutes for green, clear and brown glass.  Tin cans were recycled but not aluminum.  People coming into the facility were not screened to make sure they were residents of the district (which back then included Colebrook). 

    Photo- Fran Chirico, gatekeeper RRDD1 (taken inside the guard shack, January 2003).

    Now the recycling effort is more robust and visitors are screened.  The RRDD1 facility opens at 7 a.m. but Fran arrives an hour early to get things ready for the day.  She grabs the wireless phone and some money to make change from the office and starts the wood stove in the gatehouse.  The wood burned in the stove is salvaged from material brought in to the facility.  The stove keeps the gatehouse toasty even during cold winter days.

    A typical day in the winter is slower than during the summer.  The first hour is fairly busy with most of the traffic going to the upper portion of the facility where construction debris and old furniture is dumped.  From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. the traffic is slow but steady.  During the last hour things pick up as people rush in to beat the 3 p.m. closing time.

    Photo- Cars entering RRDD1 stop check in with Fran before proceeding into the facility.

    Fran's primary job is to verify that each car entering the facility has a current sticker.  Stickers are only issued to residents of the three town district- Barkhamsted, New Hartford and Winchester.  The stickers are issued during May or June so at this time of year most people already have them except new residents.  Stickers currently cost $60 per year.

    Fran will answer questions poised by visitors and direct them to the proper location at the facility.  Most vehicles head for the lower recycling area where bottles, cans newspapers, magazines, light cardboard and trash are placed.  The upper area of the facility handles aluminum, steel, iron, large cardboard and bulky waste.

    Photo- Fran helps a visitor.

    Fran will also inspect each vehicle coming into RRDD1 with a quick but practiced scan for items that require fees, such as unusually large amounts of trash ($8 per cubic yard), construction or demolition material ($25 per cubic yard), stumps or other pieces of large wood ($12 per cubic yard), tires ($2 each- more for truck tires) and appliances that contain freon ($15).   Fran is well aware that some people will try to sneak these items in without paying the fee.  When these items are spotted, visitors will find that Fran is a tough negotiator who has heard it all.  For example, a visitor may suggest that the fee should be waived because these "valuable" items are being generously donated to RRDD1 for resale.  But Fran is not buying that line as she prepares the paperwork for the fee.

    Fran enjoys the job, especially the customer contact.  "I get to see everybody and it doesn't get boring, there is just enough traffic to keep me busy and in good humor" she says.  Sometimes the customer contact can be stressful as some people react with anger over sticker fees or the cost of dumping certain items.  Fran can tell stories of some of the more extreme encounters over the years involving very difficult people and sometimes requiring police assistance.  Payment of the fees is not always popular, but as Fran points out, "where are you going to get something for free"?

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    Posted Jan 15 2003, 03:54 PM by Paul with no comments
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  • Lamonts' Christmas Tree Plantation

    Town Diary - December 2002
    Lamonts' Christmas Tree Plantation

    At Lamonts' on Park Road in Barkhamsted the subject is Christmas trees, year round.  The place is called The Christmas Tree Plantation, but to new-comers and old-timers "Lamont's" is sufficient identification for the forty acres of trees.

    In 1951, Tom and Meg Lamont bought their pre-cut Christmas tree in Winsted and suspected that it had been cut in Nova Scotia in October.  They decided that they were not alone in wanting a fresh-cut tree, so in the spring of 1952 they planted about five acres in white spruce seedlings and a few Scotch pines.

    Some friends of the Lamonts bought trees in 1958 and by 1960 word of mouth resulted in respectable sales.  In those days prices started at $3.00 a tree and went up in 25 cent increments based on size and quality to a maximum of $5.00.

    Photo- Lamonts' Christmas Tree Plantation on Park Road in Barkhamsted.

    An advertising flyer incorporating a map was distributed and radio spots on WTIC featured "With a tree from Lamonts. you get a room full of Christmas".

    With experience came change.  The Lamonts quickly learned that many people chose to cut their tree early.  White spruce has the shortest period of needle retention of the conifers used for Christmas trees, so more Scotch pines together with balsam fir and Colorado spruce, both with superior needle retention, were planted.

    At present there are six varieties of Christmas trees from which to pick.  The most popular is the Colorado spruce, which may be green or have a distinct blue coloration.  Genetics and soil composition seem to be the reason for the difference.  Fraser fir, like the standard balsam, has short soft needles, "Christmas tree" fragrance and hold their needles well.  A very similar recent introduction to the trade is Canaan (pronounced Kuh- NAN) fir with the same desirable characteristics and a tolerance for less than ideal growing conditions.  Concolor fir, with much longer needles and aroma many call "citrusy", sell out quickly because of increased demand and difficulty of getting really good planting stock.  White pine is the least sought after but devotees love the soft long-lasting needles and have adapted to tiny lights and miniature ornaments which is all the pine branches can support.

    Photos- The customer finds a nice tree and Dan Lamont (red jacket) directs the cutting and prepares to drag the tree out to the parking lot.

    Since Tom's death, most of the work on the Plantation is done by Dan, his younger son, whose efforts start in January and end in December.  Pruning begins in January and is done with hand tools which include pruning hooks, knives, pruning shears and long-handled clippers.  Just about every tree must be sheared every year to produce the proper balance of top to lateral growth and frequently market-sized trees are done again in the fall.

    Planting is done as soon as the frost is out of the ground.  Newly purchased seedlings are put in transplant beds and the best of the trees that have been in beds for two or three years are put in the field.  Trees that were harvested are replaced, new straight rows are planted where land is cleared and unsellable trees have been culled.

    Tree farming is just that: farming.  Any farmer knows that weather is the final, critical ingredient in the success or failure mix.  Frost, heat, drought, deluge, snow and ice are all part of the risk in farming.  Drought is most devastating to young trees.  Ice and heavy snow can destroy mature ones.  An ice storm is most dreaded at Lamonts' but unlike earlier storms, the ice of 2002 melted quickly and did little damage.

    Photos- at left, dragging the trees to the loading area.  At right, the tree is lifted to the baling table.  The baler will "tighten" down the tree to make it easier to transport on a car.

    Photos- at left, dragging the trees to the loading area.  At right, the tree is lifted to the baling table.  The baler will "tighten" down the tree to make it easier to transport on a car.

    The field planted trees have hazards other than the weather.  Deer browse buds and later strip bark removing velvet from their antlers.  Mice and moles girdle tree bark and strip roots while their burrowing exposes roots to the air.  Rabbits will cut down a seedling at the base.  Researchers are working on repellants and deterrents but the Lamonts acknowledge that the animals are here to stay.  Their defensive weapons are rotary mowers.  Short grass not only eliminates nesting areas but exposes small rodents to predators such as hawks, owls and coyotes.  The trees also benefit from the mowing directly:  air drainage is better, there is less competition for fertilizer and  herbicides are more effective, all of which improve the survival rate and quality of Lamont's Christmas trees.

    Careful planting is imperative so roots and buds are not damaged.  Planting is done by teams of two; one with a spade prepares the site and the other puts the tree in the ground.  Soil conditioners and nutrients are supplied for the transplants.  Later fertilizer and lime are broadcast among the larger trees except during severe drought conditions when there is not enough moisture to dissolve the granules.

    Spring brings emerging insects.  Aphids are the biggest problem.  Uncontrolled, they can cause needle loss and discoloration.  Dan sprays the Plantation with a soluble oil to smother the aphids and their egg masses.  While still a problem, aphid populations have been significantly reduced by phasing out Douglas fir, a favorite of one of the more the more destructive aphids.  In recent years there has been no gypsy moth damage, but in the mid 1980s the infestation was so severe that tree sales were suspended except for white pines.

    Shearing is an ongoing chore but only the pines have a critical window.  Sheared too early they resprout and produce undesirable second growth, sheared too late they do not set buds and have no new growth the following year.

    Cosmetic shearing continues even while the marketable trees are being tagged for sale.  Dan and Meg appraise each tree and decide on a price.  The majority fall in the $25 to $30 range for an eight foot tree.  Larger trees of superior quality can cost $40 to $50.  There is a limited demand for trees over ten feet, but the Lamonts always have some.  All white pines are $20.

    One year Tom and Meg wanted to have a little fun: they found a perfect tree and marked it "FREE".  During the selling season, dozens of people inspected it, read the tag and walked away, usually looking back at the tree.  At the end of the season the tree still stood.  People were just too suspicious to take advantage of a deal too good to be true.

    Once the trees are tagged, postcards are sent to customers about ten days before the Plantation opens on the first weekend in December.  Some customers return for the fortieth time, some come for their first.  There are families spanning three generations waiting while the kids line up for candy canes.  Lamonts' Park Road location, deep in rural Connecticut, seems to enhance the charm of finding the family tree.

    There are about twenty people ready to help in that search.  They cut, carry, bale and load the trees on the customers' vehicles.  The Lamont family is a big part of the crew and there are other workers who have been at the Plantation for so long that they are presumed to be family.

    There are customers who are like family, too.  One lady brings dinner on opening day, fearful that cooking at the Lamont house stops when tree harvesting starts.  Her daughter brings dessert.  Homemade cookies and candies are delivered to the kitchen, and new and exotic ornaments arrive for the Lamont tree.

    Sometimes it is hard to believe just how important the Christmas tree can be, but when a customer reschedules a business trip or a visit to out-of-town relatives in order to get a tree on opening weekend, the Lamonts realize how rewarding the hard work put into their business can be.

    When it is time to put up the "CLOSED" sign and the Lamonts prepare for their own holiday, there is the bittersweet realization that January is only weeks away and the cycle of work will start again at Lamonts' on now quiet Park Road in Barkhamsted.

    Photo- Workers load the Christmas tree for the customer.  

    Photo- Meg Lamont in the holiday spirit collecting from customers who have selected their tree and are "bringing home a room full of Christmas".

    Photo- The Lamont Christmas Tree Plantation.

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    Posted Dec 11 2002, 03:36 PM by Paul with 1 comment(s)
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