Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bog Meadow in Transition

I heard some news lately about Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail that has me a little concerned. This two-mile wetland trail, which lies just east of the city of Saratoga Springs, is home to a number of wonderful flower species, some of which are considered to be vulnerable to exploitation or which appear to be disappearing from parts of their former range.  Because the trail is an old railroad bed, with the ties still embedded in the path, it's not the most comfortable trail to hike on, and bicycling is definitely unadvisable.  So the plan is to remove the railroad ties, widen and raise the trail, and give it a harder surface of crushed stone.  My concern is that these vulnerable plants do not get destroyed in the process.

I acknowledge there are problems with this trail. Surrounded by wetlands on both sides along its entire length, the trail is frequently flooded, or at least made quite muddy, especially when beavers block drainage with their dams.  The abundance of wetland plant species, like the Tussock Sedge  (Carex stricta) blooming in the photo below, surrounded by Skunk Cabbage, certainly testifies to the sogginess of the habitat through which Bog MeadowTrail runs.

And when beavers block the Bog Meadow Brook where it runs under this bridge (as this photo shows they have now), the waters can rise and sometime make the trail impassable.

Before the trail work begins, I wanted to check on the vulnerability of some of my favorite plants along the trail.  There are masses of Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) now blooming close to the edge of the trail, and they will probably be paved over by the proposed improvements, but this is a hardy species that will probably just move further under the woody shrubs that now line the trail.

I don't worry too much about the Wild Strawberries (Fragaria virginiana), either.  This is a plant that can certainly thrive in many otherwise inhospitable sites.

But I do worry about this single Rose Twisted Stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus), since I have found this lovely native species nowhere else in the county, at least to date.  At present, it is growing beneath the shrubby hedge that lines the trail, so I'm hoping it can persist there.  If the shrubby hedge is removed, however (and these shrubs are mostly invasive honeysuckle), it may not survive.  It's not an endangered or even rare species, but it tends to prefer cooler, more northerly regions of the state, and  I will miss its presence here if it has to go.  Until I reported this particular plant at Bog Meadow, there was no record of it growing in Saratoga County.

When I visited the Rose Twisted Stalk on Monday, the tiny pink bell-shaped flowers were just beginning to emerge from the buds that dangle beneath the leaves.

My special concern is for the population of Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernum) that abounds along isolated sections of the trail.  I was told by state botanists a few years ago that this species of trillium seems to be disappearing from much of its original range, so I have been vigilant to document its presence along Bog Meadow Trail.  Up to now, I was always pleased to find it thriving year after year, although not always in the same spot.  I was happy to find quite a few plants yesterday, but it does take some effort to discover them.  The whole plant tends to hide well under the shrubbery, and then it hides its nodding white flower beneath its large, wide leaves.  This cryptic behavior could be its protection from poachers, anyway. But if the trailside shrubs are removed when the trail is widened, I'm sure these trilliums will be destroyed in the process. I wonder what we could do to protect or preserve them.

Here's a peek at that nodding flower, showing the pinkish anthers suspended from the distinctive long filaments that distinguish this species from other white trilliums of our region.

There's one more species I'm concerned about, and that is Loesel's Twayblade (Liparis loeselii).  Again, this is not considered a rare plant in the state, but it is an orchid and thus is protected by law, as are all our native orchids.  Although it has been documented to exist elsewhere in Saratoga County, I have come across it only along Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.  The tiny greenish flowers are yet to bloom this year, but I know where to find it because of its pale-colored seed pods.  Here's a photo of it in bloom last summer, its flower stalk dwarfed by the larger stalk of seed pods.

At present, the Loesel's Twayblade is located just off the trail, close to the edge of a brook and hidden in summer among other taller green plants.  But will it still be safe in its hiding place when the trail is widened and minerals from the crushed-stone paving leach into its habitat, perhaps changing the soil chemistry?  I guess I can only hope so.  My worry is that most of the folks who enjoy Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail do so for athletic exercise or birding or just generally enjoying a walk in the woods, without really caring about what native plants grow along the trail.  Chances are good that most have never seen such hidden flowers as Rose Twisted Stalk, Nodding Trillium, or Loesel's Twayblade anyway.  So why should they care about them?  Since I do, I guess I have to speak up and try to be their champion.


Woody Meristem said...

Often recreational improvements destroy more than they improve. How did Aldo Leopold put it: "To build a road is so much simpler than to think of what the country really needs."

Tico Vogt said...

I am in your camp. There are hard surfaces a plenty for people to ride and walk on and see the trees and grass. Why turn a unique place with so much wild flora and fauna into another generic walk-through environment? So what if their feet get wet and they can't ride bikes.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

I have heard from Greg Redling, stewardship coordinator for Saratoga PLAN, the organization that will be overseeing the Bog Meadow Trail renovations. Greg and I will be walking the trail this week to flag these at-risk plants so that they may be protected. In the meantime, I want to share Greg's letter to me as a comment to this blog post, so that my readers may have a chance to know the position of Saratoga PLAN regarding this situation. Here is Greg's letter:

Hi Jackie
I saw your blog post on your recent walk and visit to the Bog Meadow Trail. I thought we should have a conversation about some of your concerns. First, your blog post writes that the proposed improvements to the trail, due to begin this summer, will involve the removal of the old railroad ties. That is not accurate. The ties will not be removed. Second, you write that you are concerned about the trail being widened. The proposed improvements will raise the existing trail to a width of eight foot wide. Only limited, if any clearing of vegetation on the trail margins will be necessary. Third, you write that you are concerned for several plant species along the trail and beyond the large bridge (assumed by your photos in the blog). The proposed improvements at this time will only improve the section of trail from the parking lot on rt 29 to the large bridge. No material will be applied and no widening will occur east of the bridge. Lastly, you write that you are concerned about the increase mineral deposits leaching into the soil from the material. That may be possible, but it is important to remember that there is already a gravel ballast at the base of the railroad bed, and that the ties may be leaching creosote. This is already an impacted site, and we are doing our best to ensure additional impacts stay within this area. Silt fencing will be used to mitigate sedimentation and compaction will help to reduce large debris from escaping. This is a proven method for building trails in wetlands.

If you are concerned about preserving species in particular which have not been found elsewhere, please locate and tag those species and PLAN will do our best to avoid those plants. You may use trail tape from our office, or perhaps a garden tag would work well. I’d be happy to walk with you to stake them out so that we can prepare to avoid those areas during project construction.

As you wrote, this trail does need restoration. It will ultimately become part of the Saratoga Springs Greenbelt Trail, where it will connect many other conserved spaces. There is a balance here between conservation and providing opportunities to our community for enhanced recreation and education. We hope the two are mutually successful.

Happy to work with you to accomplish this.

Greg Redling
Stewardship Coordinator
Saratoga PLAN

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