Monday, October 3, 2011

Annual Woodland Trail Mowing

The first sign of leaf fall is my signal to mow the walking trails through the woods. This allows the mowed trails to be covered by fallen leaves that will help to protect against erosion through the winter. I’ve been working through the summer to clear fallen trees from the trail and have gotten most out of the way. There are a few like this dead leaner that I’ll deal with during the winter.

Sometimes it’s easier to reroute the trail than it is to clean up the mess. The trail has changed direction several times through the years to avoid downed trees.

I keep a careful watch for desirable plants that may be growing in the trails. Spiranthes ovalis is the smallest and hardest to see of the Spiranthes orchids. It’s also one that keeps popping up in the trails. I probably mowed a couple down, but I know I avoided near 20 blooming plants during this mowing.

One of the problems I sometimes have is figuring out just where the trail is supposed to be. When I’m watching the area directly in front of the mower, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish my trail from deer trails or areas of sparse vegetation. It might seem in situations like this that it wouldn’t matter where the trail went, but moving the trail randomly from year to year would defeat one of the major purposes of having a trail. Maintaining a trail minimizes the damage resulting from human traffic through an area. Things like soil compaction or trampling of plants and animals are confined to the narrow corridor that is the trail. Off trail areas are left to develop without disturbance.

In most areas you can see a hint of the trail. Even where the trail blends with its surroundings, the indications of a trail are there to see. At least they’re readily apparent if you’re watching the trail instead of watching the mower.

In a few locations where the vegetation is very sparse, I’ve used some fallen branches to indicate a turn. The ground surface still shows the marks of earlier activities such as cattle trails or ruts from logging roads. It sometimes takes a visual marker to distract your eye from an obvious path and allow you to see the intended route of the walking trail.

When deer share the route, they always leave an easy to follow trail.

The Sugar Maples are just beginning to add a new layer of leaves to the woodland floor. By November, the trails will be covered by a thick bed of leaves and I’ll be able crunch-crunch-crunch my way through the woods. I used to think my noisy progress along the leaf covered trails would scare away all of the wildlife, but every animal in the woods is making the same noise and my leaf crunching doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

My annual woodland trail mowing is completed. Now I’m free to take my winter walks to enjoy the Blue Jay Barrens Crooked Tree Collection.

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