Spring Brings Wildflowers on The Grand Hike
Yesterday I hiked fourteen miles, beginning just up the hill from home. Thanks to the Champlain Area Trails I was able to hike from Westport to the Essex Inn on a series of connected sections of easy roadways and very, very pretty trails. For the Champlain Valley, this is a new feat and the successful completion of a goal set several years ago by local trail builders.
I was joined on the Grand Hike by about a hundred and sixty other hikers. That may sound like the worst hike of your life but on the contrary, as a river spreads seeds that fall on its surface, the trail settled us into a nicely spaced flow so we all enjoyed a balance of quiet, personal conversations and collective excitement about the day.
At this time of year the wildflowers are my main reason for going outside. As a naturalist, I was asked to volunteer for the Grand Hike and offer what I know to hikers. As it turned out most folks were interested in moving along so I spent much of the day with two women who share my love for little trailside attractions. We saw over thirty species of plants that were budding or in bloom.
The wildflowers have been very slow to show this year. Cold temperatures held the snow late into March and gray skies have discouraged sun-loving flowers from opening. Finally, as the temperatures get close to the 60's the show has finally gotten started. Many flowers don't stick around so you have to go early and often to get the full array. On Saturday we started with a delicate flowering Sedge on the Woods and Swale Trail early in the day. Along Merriam Forge Road there was Coltsfoot--but mostly with tightly closed flowers since we didn't have much sun. We got some nice close-up views of the trees in flower as we crossed Rte 22 and headed down Ferris Road.
Trails for spotting
The Bobcat Trail starts at a meadow and leads through hemlock woods. At the north end of the trail, the beavers have made a huge expansion in their network of dams and ponds. Crossing the Walker Road we started into the hardwoods where the leaf litter is thick and the sunlight comes down to the forest floor. We found Spring Beauties and Bellwort, Marsh Marigolds--known by my companion Sally as "Cow Slips"--and several species of Violets. The Leatherwood was flowering on the Homestead Trail and we came across some Rattlesnake Fern which was in danger of being trampled so we marked it with a rock.
The Boquet Mountain Trail is up a little higher and has some sections of very rich soil. On the way up we found the prettiest Trillium of the day and one Blue Cohost. Up in the glades, the Hepatica and Bloodroot were breathtaking. Then more Bellwort and one Foam Flower about to burst from tight buds. As we came down the Rocky Ledges Trail there was Saxifrage in flower and a Pale Corydalis that will flower once the weather gets warmer. Wood Anemones were leafing out just below but also not in flower yet.
To be fair to the fauna, we saw a garter snake and a millipede, gray and red squirrels, and one chipmunk. The mammal find of the day was a hefty porcupine nipping twigs just at eye-height, sitting as still as possible as if we wouldn't know he was decimating the poor hemlock branch. CATS Board member and excellent naturalist Malinda Chapman shared the list of twenty-five birds she'd heard during the day.
Grand Hike ends with a bang!
The welcome party at the end of the day was great. The first beer was on the house and a load of good barbecue was on the grill, complete with corn on the cob and potatoes. There was massage by Lake Champlain Yoga and Wellness for those who were averting the after-hike stiffness and music by the Wadhams Waddlers.
If this event was grand, those to come will be grander. I hiked with folks from Elizabethtown, Moriah, Plattsburgh, and Wilmington. A trail runner from Keene came by and people from other places I may never know followed the same trails I trekked. For a person from a very small town, new and unknown faces are welcome signs that quiet winter days are really over. CATS is opening more trails throughout the Champlain Valley and by section or in one go these trails are great for all legs, young, old, fit or less-fit. For wildflowers, these trails are narrow paths through a vast woodland garden.