Sunday, December 16, 2012
Hiking an "Elder-Growth" Forest
A fine day, a fun bunch of folks, and a hike to a lovely old Adirondack forest -- it just doesn't get much better than this! On Saturday, my friend Evelyn Greene invited a few of her friends -- all of us of "a certain age" -- to test out the accessibility of a stand of old trees near The Glen north of Warrensburg, and I'm happy to report that all of us made it there and back with energy to spare.
One of Evelyn's acquaintances is involved in a project to locate patches of old growth forest that could be easily accessed by the general public (including the elderly and the non-athletic), once trails could be built to accommodate their abilities. This particular stand of trees, we found, was quite easily reached by following old roads that are still relatively passable, despite having been abandoned 120 years ago when New York State designated this particular woods as part of the permanent Forest Preserve. Obviously, some improvements would need to be made to allow folks of limited ability complete access to the area, such as a bridge across this little stream that we all managed to cross on stepping-stones.
Technically, the patch of woods we reached can't truly be called "old growth," since the site was logged-over during the nineteenth century. But a hundred-and-twenty years is long enough for pines to reach an impressive size and for the surrounding forest to achieve that open, underbrush-free quality that is distinctive of old-growth sites. Perhaps we could call this an "elderly-growth" woods. The diameter of this particular White Pine was measured to be about four feet.
In addition to some very big old trees, we also found a nice sphagnum swamp there in the middle of the woods. Evelyn (in red pants) has a particular interest in mosses and liverworts, so she was able to point out and identify a number of different species of the bryophytes that constituted this emerald-green carpet.
Historically, one of the reasons these forests were placed off-limits to logging was to protect the watershed of the nearby Hudson River and to hold back much of the run-off from spring rains, thereby helping to prevent severe flooding of areas further downstate. We continued our hike through the forest until we reached the banks of the Hudson along a stretch of river that white-water paddlers call "Racehorse Run." One of our companions is an avid paddler of these waters, and he explained that this stretch of whitewater provides a rollicking up-and-down ride similar to that of a ride on a galloping horse.
An interesting historical remnant at this site is the presence of old stone abutments, all that remains of a toll bridge that during the nineteen-hundreds offered access across the river.
A bit further downstream, the river widens and deepens into a relatively still pool that local folks refer to as the "Washburn Eddy," a favorite swimming hole in summer as well as a great fishing site, with deep cold spots for trout to hide in. On this particular brisk cold day, the sun-warmed rocky banks made a wonderful spot for us to enjoy our picnic lunches and just sit and enjoy the music of the river.
Rather than return through the woods the way we had come, a few of us continued our hike downstream along the sky-blue river, taking in the beauty of the scenery and breathing the sweet cold air as the sun warmed our backs.
Eventually, though, the shoreline narrowed as rocky cliffs began to rise ever closer to the water's edge, so we reluctantly turned away from the river and found our way through the woods and back to our waiting cars. All in all, a splendid day in the forest and along the river!
Here are just a few of the colorful little treasures we found along the trail.
These Blue Cohosh fruits had us stumped for a bit until I picked one and discovered it was not really a berry, but rather a hard seed coated with a thin blue skin. Very blue skin!
This dead White Birch limb covered with tiny Lemon Drop Fungi looked extra colorful lying next to an emerald-green frond of Wood Fern.
This vividly red Lacquer Polypore certainly drew attention to itself, even though it was hardly bigger than a 50-cent piece.
It's always a sweet surprise to encounter the beautiful mottled leaves of Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain, one of our native orchids that is very much at home in old piney woods.