Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Walk on the Trail - Part 3

Please stay on the trail. Watch your step. We’re heading across the bridge. This trail is the main loop from which all other trails diverge. I’ve added some bridges to make it an easy walk. At least as easy as the hills of Southern Ohio will allow.

The trees provide some shade to this part of the trail. Shade reduces the amount of plant growth and makes the trail easier to maintain. This part of the trail only gets mowed two or three times each year. Of course, there is the occasional fallen tree to deal with, but that is a one time job typically done in cooler weather.

The runoff water coming down the valley has now developed into a seasonal stream. Where sunlight comes through, the vegetation is quite robust.

Even though we’re in the trees, we can see out into the prairie. The tall grass in this area is primarily Big Bluestem.

There are still a lot of trees to clean up from last year’s ice storm. I’ll have to remove the fallen tree this winter. Most of those medium sized cedars in the background will be cut at the same time. I’ll probably keep cutting here until I can’t get any more trees on top of the brush pile.

The trees aren’t all cedars. Here is a nice Sycamore, Plantanus occidentalis, just to the right of the trail.

A lot of the large sycamores have died back because of disease. This specimen is still quite healthy and nicely displays the characteristic pealing bark.

Little oaks abound in the understory, but they don’t have a chance of increasing their size in the shade. To produce enough energy to make it through the year, they grow excessively large leaves to capture every drop of sunlight.

There is more sunlight coming through here and you can see some prairie plants growing. I’ve been doing some clearing here as part of a project to connect isolated open areas by way of a cleared corridor. Like many of my projects, I proceed in small stages so I can evaluate the effect of my actions on the health of the plant community.

You can see that the prairie is not far away and is growing tall where I have already cleared.

Oxeye, Heliopsis helianthoides, is one of those flowers that thrives in the transition zone between sunlight and shade.

Fallen trees are common here. Most trees show the effects of past abuse such as damage from grazing livestock, improper logging techniques, soil erosion, and soil compaction. Conditions improve each year, but it’ll be many decades before healthy trees replace the sick ones growing today.

The most common problem with trails is loss of vegetation and formation of a gully down the center line. This hasn’t happened because people walk the trail. It has happened because every animal on the property prefers to walk the trails. Deer in particular are very hard on trails and are the primary cause of the erosion you see here.

Abandon all hope, deer who enter here. Several years ago I was finding deer skulls everywhere I went. I took to sticking them on branch stubs. If you get the angle just right, the optic foramen looks like a pupil and the skull appears to be staring and grinning at you.

As we near the creek, some of the cedars become very large. A lot of Pawpaws grow in the understory here, but they seldom produce fruit.

The fork in the trail means we’ve reached the creek. We’ll follow the creek tomorrow, and then head back into the open fields.

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