Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bank Reshaping Along the Kayaderosseras

The weather was really crummy this past week: rainy, dark, and cold.  Even crummier was the bellyache that laid me low for several days, so I didn't want to go outdoors, anyway.  So no new blog posts  all week.  But today the sun shone a little, and I was up and moving about a little, eager to get some sky over my head and some easy woodsy trail under my feet.  Where could I go to catch up on what was happening outdoors without taxing my still-tender innards?  I chose Burl Trail along the Kayaderosseras Creek just outside of Ballston Spa.  It's a level trail that follows the creek closely for half of its one-mile length, then circles back to the parking lot through an open meadow head-high with asters and goldenrods.  Nice!  And close to home.

I was surprised to see how lush and green the trail looked.  Then a closer look reminded me of how overgrown this trail is with invasive species of many kinds, including this Wild Chervil, whose overwintering basal plants will have a headstart in crowding out any native plant species that may try to regain a foothold along these banks next spring.  Ah well, at least its lacy foliage makes a pretty groundcover.

We can be thankful that some native species still tower over them all, including the massive and shaggy Silver Maples that line the creek banks here, providing welcome shade in the summertime.   With all the competing greenery died back for the winter, it's easier to sense how giant these trees really are.  The head of a six-foot man would barely reach the first crotch of the divided trunk on the left in this photo.

Another plant that flourishes here is Wild Cucumber, whose loofah-like fruits still dangle from the tendrilled vines, the translucent layered mesh of the fruit's interior revealed as the thin outer skin sloughs away.  Today, with a lowering sun lighting them from behind, they glowed like tiny Japanese lanterns bobbing in the breeze.

As I walked along, I was constantly reminded of the ravages Tropical Storm Irene wreaked upon this little stream a year ago last August.  Huge trees still lay toppled where they fell, the force of rampaging waters having blasted the steep banks where the trees once stood, gouging channels,  undermining the banks,  and washing away the soil that had held the trees' roots for generations before.  In many places along the creek, there were many tangled masses of trunks still cloggng the water, still many heaps of smashed shrubbery lying half buried in heaps of outwashed sand.

But all that natural-disaster damage still did not prepare me for this sight, as I rounded a bend of the creek and beheld this long stretch of bank completely stripped of all vegetation, the earth scraped and bare, the steep banks sheared away, the creekside trail abruptly ending in a sea of ankle-deep mud.  And the instruments of destruction were still hard at it, a bulldozer noisily shoving piles of dirt around on that ravaged field.

But before I fainted away from dismay that this beautiful trail was on its way to becoming a shopping mall, I noticed long rows of red twigs laid purposefully along the banks.  Oh! Look at that!  This looks like some kind of streamside restoration and flood mitigation project, doesn't it?  And those are all newly planted shrubs.  Probably Red Osier Dogwood, to judge from their scarlet color.

And so they were.  And that's only a start to the massive planting project about to take place along this stretch of the Kayaderosseras Creek.  I was lucky to find and speak with one of the fellows involved in the work, and he explained that the banks were being beveled at an angle to the water's edge to allow future floodwaters to flow up onto the floodplain and dissipate their energy, rather than being forced through steep banks and thereby increasing the damaging power of the flow.  When all the earth-moving and shaping is completed, he continued, the site will be replanted with a variety of appropriate native shrubs and trees, and efforts will be made to remove and control the return of the invasive species that once dominated this streamside.  Here's a list of some of the plant species that will be planted at this site.

There's another interesting angle to this story.  I was curious as to why this particular stretch of creek was being re-engineered, since flood damage here in this natural area (it's actually part of Saratoga Spa State Park) didn't really cause loss or danger to humans or their enterprises and the land here would eventually heal itself anyway or adapt and evolve in other ways.  At least, that's how it seemed to me.  Well, it turns out that the New York State Department of Transportation (?) needed a streambank in need of remediation, and this one happened to be handy.

Say what!?

It seems that the NYSDOT had unavoidably caused damage to a wetland and streambank when a stream in southern Saratoga County was dangerously encroaching on a roadway, with consequent threat to human life.  Okay, these things happen.  But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a regulation that if the DOT damages one wetland in a region (for whatever reason) and the wetland can't be remediated at the original site, the DOT is required to remediate another wetland of equal size within that same region.  And the Kayaderosseras creekside fit the bill.   And yes, now that I think of it, the Kayaderosseras runs under and/or close by a number of roads in the area, so diminishing the force of its floodwaters probably does have a foreseeable possible impact on human lives or enterprises.

But still . . . .

I saw from the list that 126 Butternut trees will eventually replace this mature specimen gracefully arching over the creek last summer, a tree that had to be removed to serve this project.  But I doubt I will live long enough to go looking for nuts under any of the new ones.  This tree was old enough to bear nuts, and it bore them abundantly.

This handsome Butternut was one of the attractions that drew me here today, hoping I might find a few nuts still lying under the tree, their husks conveniently already rotted away.  Oh well.  It will be fun to observe the proliferation of the new plantings.  And interesting to watch how the multitudinous invasives lurking nearby will attempt to regain their ground.


The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

Sorry you have not been feeling well, at least u managed to be layed up when the weather was not beckoning you.
The earth works seems to be a jolly good project, topped off with important planting scheme.
Its freezing here to, central heating not working very well, I have to manually re start the boiler every day, not sure how long it will last, being just before christmas, its tiresome and worrying.

suep said...

It makes me wonder, why couldn't they have LEFT that big butternut and worked around it?

threecollie said...

Really interesting. I am glad I stopped by today. I hope you continue to feel better and look forward to future postings on this project.

Raining Iguanas said...

Thank you for sharing an old friend. I haven't been along that area of the Kayaderosseras since my father and I competed in a white water derby back in the 1970's. It started in Rock City and ended in Ballston Spa. I was never as cold as I was that early spring day. I will have to check out this trail.

Stephen Puliafico Photography said...

I've never heard of butternut referred to as "butternut hickory." White walnut, yes... I've heard of bitternut hickory. Juglans Cinerea does mean butternut or white walnut though.

We had several butternuts on our property growing up and there are still a few in poor health on my parent's property, that no longer seem to produce nuts. We planted some more last year and I'm hoping they do well.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks for your kind words, Cranky, but I'm sorry to learn that your pre-Christmas season is being more problematic than joyous. Here's hoping things improve for you as they have for me. I am feeling much better now.

Sue, I also wondered why that butternut had to go, but I guess its roots got in the way of reshaping the bank.

Always good to hear from you, threecollie. I, too, am glad you stopped by today. You can count on further reports on this project. I'm very interested to see if the new plantings thrive, and how they resist encroachment from the invasives.

Thank you, Raining Iguanas, for sharing your story about paddling the KDRoss (my even shorter version of Kayaderosseras). I loved your recent blog post about your youthful adventures in this creek, and I urge my readers to click on your name to read your delightful account for themselves.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hello Stephen, thanks for stopping by with your comment about Butternut. I haven't heard it called Butternut Hickory, either, but the nuts do share a similar thick husk and convoluted kernel. There may be some blight that accounts for the Butternut's decline, but I would have to study up on that. They don't seem to be a very common tree. Readers?

Stephen Puliafico Photography said...

I believe it is called butternut canker and is akin to dutch elm disease and the like.