Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Old Haunts

I was struck with a wave of nostalgia when I noticed that they're finally tearing down the old paint and hardware store called Pope's in my hometown.

My dad used to go there a lot when I was little, with hectic emergency plumbing issues and stalled lawnmower mysteries. Somehow he always found that badly needed copper coupling or mechanical cable-gizmo that would set our lives back on course again. I had gone there just a couple times myself, when I was older. It wasn't a particularly important place for me personally as far as purchases go, since many modern competitors had sprung up during my time. But the image of that familiar looking building and it's familiar looking owner runs deep, back to the earliest memories of life in my hometown. They were always there.

We had a couple hours to spend last Sunday. And now being in the mood for such a thing, I went to show Kelly a couple of spots in my hometown that had figured importantly to my youthful development, back in the day. There were many hidden spots in Ludlow where we'd hang out as teens. One spot was the woods behind the hydroelectric plant known as Red Bridge.

It's probably not a particularly powerful generator, as there are only three electric lines emanating from it. Probably enough for a neighborhood, I suspect.

The other side of the plant is a famous fishing spot, but from my experience, one of those that has more fame than fish.

This is where the actual 'hanging out' used to occur, on the odd summer night, before the powers that be finally got wise and installed a gate blocking it off to vehicles.

The name Red Bridge is from the covered bridge that used to span across the Chicopee River, connecting Palmer and Ludlow, until the infamous Hurricane of 38' made splinters of it. A sturdy dam now sits on the location, with overflows on each end. The end that serves the hydroelectric plant has a red building over it, reminiscent of the old covered bridge.

We walked along the top of the dam to the other side, where the Chicopee river was swelling over the top in a pretty impressive display, by sleepy Ludlow standards...

Here's a quick look-around:

From that location we could see our next: Up on a nearby hill, the top of the old fire tower peeked above the tree line.

A short drive, and we were hiking up a path I haven't been on in about 20 years.

Not a half a mile of recollected memories later, there it was...

Just as I remember it. Even better, actually. The tower has been kept up, and looked to be in fine condition. Cell phone and satellite antennae now cling to it's sides, along with the old radio antennae.

The hill is a great location for a fire tower, as it juts up above the surrounding terrain and has unobstructed 360 degree views of the southeastern corner of the valley.

The late day sunlight was beaming through the cloud cover here and there that afternoon, spot-lighting Springfield and Hartford in the distance...

Specks of concrete from here, but entire worlds from within. A little to the north, the sun cast a flattering light on the Mt. Tom and Mount Holyoke ranges.

All these years later and the view hasn't changed; just the perspective...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On The Road Again

Someone had asked me recently if I could post something on the progress of the Route 91 bridge construction that crosses over East Street in Easthampton, since I'm often up that way. We were in the area again last weekend, so we stopped to take a good look.

The bridge is actually being reconstructed, not repaired, and has been in the process since early 2007. Not long into the work, in mid 2007, it ran into a 2 month delay because of design issues. Since then construction's been apparently proceeding smoothly, with the occasional bottleneck up on the highway. A lot of the work is done at night to prevent traffic jams though, which has wreaked havoc on the sleeping habits of the families living right nearby.

The old bridge was literally falling apart; It's a good thing they're reconstructing and not repairing.

According to Mass Highway, the project costs over 11 million dollars, is 65% complete, and is still going to take almost another year to complete; due for next October sometime...

One unnerving feature of the work is the use of wooden blocks to help support the structure.

...but I'm sure they know what they're doing. ...(cough)...

By next October we should have a sleek, sturdy new bridge to pass over and under unnoticed, for years to come.

The Manhands

One thing I hope doesn't wait for next October are the repairs to the Manhan Rail Trail. With the leaves off the trees, the famous 'dip' in the road can be seen from East Street. I've read that the repairs might cost around $400,000. That's right. 400 Grand. Here's an exchange from the MassLive Easthampton Forums back in September and October discussing the apparently high cost:

(The first guy raises the question we all are asking...)

newowner1: How can dropping in a pipe filling in the hole with dirt and laying tar cost 400,000? Goverment Job?

(to which this guys replies, sounding like he knows what he's talking about...)

HarleyRdKng: You'll need to start with a civil engineer before you touch anything. Then you will shore up the edges to stabilize the area for construction equipment. You've got at least 100cu yds of displaced soil to remove as well as widening the trench and removing the culvert 25' below grade. It's not exactly a water pipe 6' below the street. You are likely limited to the equipment that the rail trail can handle, if not in weight, certainly in dimension unless your bid includes repaving a mile of rail trail. There is only one way in from Rt 5 side without creating an access road. That could mean large equipment will have to back in vs drive. Considering the 25' of dead load and live load above the culvert, it might involve something a little more than a corrugated steel culvert pipe. Maybe $400k is a high figure, but it'll take a little more than a skid steer and the city's 8yd dump truck to fix that hole.

(and finally this guy comes up with some firmer numbers...)

retirednow: I believe the $400,000 estimate was contained in a letter quoting the cost of design and guessing on the scope of the project, the design quote was $50,000. The actual cost to fix the hole will be the lowest bid received for the work. That price will be set by the private contractor who gets the job.

The remote location of the sinkhole has been an issue from the beginning. I've heard and read several mentions of two possible ways to get in to fix it: from Route 5 on one end of the trail, and Fort Hill road going towards the other end. But both entry ways have problems associated which would contribute to the high cost. Another way in is from nearby East Street. The hole is only a few hundred feet from East Street, and through an empty lot. But, an easement to allow access through the property could cost $20,000 alone. That's pretty steep, but it seems like the way to go. Jeez, you can see it from the road.

There's even a path with enough room to drive vehicles right to the hole.

So far, how to obtain all the money needed is still a mystery, and now it might not be too high on Easthampton or the state's list of priorities, given the economic hail storm that's coming. It might just be up to local fundraising to get the job done.

The Friends Of The Manhan Rail Trail are already trying...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Soggy Nature

Though it was raining hard Saturday, I was determined to get out and do some nature viewing. It's been a little while since we've been to Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. We cut through Holyoke to get there and on the way, we made a pit stop at a little park area overlooking a hillside that looked like it had a potentially good view.

It's the small Patrick Henry McNulty Park. It's located directly across the street from the Stop & Shop supermarket on Lincoln Street (Route 202). The park was in fact created by the supermarket and the local Kiwanis club. Two nicely built, concrete-walled viewing areas with benches sit at the edged of the overlook.

It must have been impressive spot when it was created, with a view of the Connecticut river and South Hadley beyond. Unfortunately though, the trees had been allowed to grow in, and now there isn't much to see at all. I did manage to get a peek of the view-that-once-was, through a break in the trees...

It's too bad the view is so obscured now. Like most forgotten public spaces, the small park has since been commandeered for other uses.

We continued through Holyoke, and included Mt. Tom State Park on our route. The fog was hanging low over woods and water here, and the cattails were like sponges on sticks.

Moving on, we finally got to Arcadia. First stop was the meadow with the nesting boxes where Tree Swallows and Bluebirds usually make their seasonal homes in the spring and summer.

It looks like they're gone for the year, and in their place are a couple of these guys...

I'm not sure what they are, and I couldn't get any closer for a better look. They appear to be grey on the top of the head, the back, and wings, with orange-brown chests and whitish bellies, and the head might have a titmouse type of flare on the back...

On a sunnier day the bird's appearance might have presented itself more plainly. But today the trees, and everything, were dripping with moisture on a surprisingly warm November day.

The fog was dispersing but still hanging pretty steadily above the water.

We found the lookout standing tall and waiting for us.

On and over the relatively high water, we could see very active ducks and geese swimming together on the other side...

We completed our loop along the main forest trail, and headed back to the car. Before leaving the area though, we turned for a closer look at the Oxbow, which was also riding higher than usual.

All seemed to be grey on grey.

The more rustic shades of nature pretty much completely dominate the landscape now...

Will Saturday's warm breezes and rain be the last ones we have, until next spring..?