Thursday, September 7, 2017

Labor Day "Open House" on Nature Trail

Meet Andy Paris, a fine young Eagle Scout who just
completed a project to resolve a long-standing erosion
problem on the nature trail.  He held a Labor Day weekend
Open House to introduce the new boardwalk and invite
guests to tour the trail.

The boardwalk allows torrential rains to be redirected
underneath and flow harmlessly beyond the trail
rather than perpetually eroding the trail itself.

Andy welcomes guests and explains briefly what his
 project achieves and details the labor that went into it.

A photographer from THE PILOT gets names of some of the
early young visitors to accompany a newspaper feature.

From this view you can see both the Slingshot Tree and
Old Man Poplar, leaning ominously.

Our youngest visitor gets the famous view of Jack, Will, and Tom
with his mother.

Several brave souls sample thirst-quenching sourwood.
Some even opt for "seconds."

It's a taste you either love or hate.  But it's free.

"Try it, you'll like it!"

On our walks we found not one, but TWO Luna Moth caterpillars.

A view of Big Rock after overnight rain added water to a
dry creek bed.

Kids and parents delighted in many nature "finds."  There's always
something unexpected on our trail.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit has now formed its brilliant red berry clusters.
The leaves and flowers are dying down rapidly.

Everyone, young and old, is happy with their discoveries.

Looking up the tallest, straightest poplar trees in the forest.

It's the view that never ceases to amaze.

And of course, you can never leave the trail without one attempt
to help straighten up Old Man Poplar.

 The current cool weather make for a perfect time to visit the trail.  I'll be monitoring closely to see if the coming Hurricane Irma brings any major changes to the landscape.  Particularly Old Man Poplar, who is "hanging on" for all he's worth!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

2017 Back-to-School Nature Trail Spruce-up

Because of the recent Eagle Scout project (see previous
post), this summer has witnessed more activity on the
nature trail than most summers.  As I've noted before,
visiting the trail at various seasons yields notable
benefits, and sights that you otherwise might miss.
As I went about my preparations for the start of school
and new classes making fall visits to the trail, here are
some tidbits I happened upon.

This is not a violet nor a periwinkle.  I haven't yet pinned down its
identity, but if I had not visited the trail in July, I would have missed
this summer lovely.

Our notable "burgundy" Jack-in-the-Pulpit in its flowering phase
in early July.  It is fascinating at any time of year, but goes through
a spectrum of changes.

Streamside horse-sugar has always been of interest to me, but I've
never seen it with this leaf pattern.  A prelude to fall changes.

If poison ivy is away from the main trail, I leave it alone, since it's
a native species.  But this one was adjacent to the scout project,
and with a view to those with dangerous allergies, it had to go.

If you've walked the trail, you've seen this former "snag" when it
was standing.  In the past few months the dead snag fell, but leaned
against a sturdy magnolia across the trail.  As with the poison ivy,
if it had posed no danger, I would have left it alone.  But there was
a chance it could snap in two and fall at almost any time.  So I
pulled out my chainsaw, cut off a couple of lengths, and when the
main trunk fell, I arranged it as a border for the trail, near the stream.
It will still provide food and home for insects, their larvae, and
other small creatures, just as it did as a standing snag.
Can you spot the sections of the snag?

Not surprisingly, our stream is currently dry, which
allowed for some unique photos upstream and downstream.
This view is upstream from the bridge.

Downstream from Big Rock

Upstream from Big Rock

Big Rock is easy to reach when the stream bed is dry.  But if you
try to climb on it, use extreme caution.  It is deceptively steep and
slippery.  Use both hands and non-slip shoes.  and watch out for
the moss and lichens.

View of Big Rock from the upstream stream bed.

The view of Old Man Poplar as you approach the new boardwalk.

Some majestic cinnamon ferns thrive at streamside.

Here's Jack-in-the-Pulpit again, flowers gone and berry clusters
formed.  Shortly, the leaves will all wither and the red berries will
be found all along sections of the trail.
 One of my spruce-up tasks is to clean dirt and mildew
from the identifying signs along the trail.  Here are a
few samples of how a little tender loving care bring
new life to these instructional aides.
Before . . .

. . . after.

Halfway done.


In extreme need of a bath.

That's better.

Wow!  Why didn't I think of this sooner?
 Let's close with another look -- or three looks --
at Old Man Poplar.  If you don't think it's leaning more
each year, here's some photo proof.

Note that the wooden plaque is already
leaning more than when it was level
three years ago.

In 2013, a year before I placed a 
sign on it, the tree was leaning less.

This was in 2010.  Can you imagine
a troop of Boy Scouts kneeling on it?

And for comparison's sake, back to 2017.
Please, Old Man Poplar, don't be
in a hurry to leave us!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Scouts Construct a Nature Trail Boardwalk

The hot, lazy days of summer are often times of inactivity on
the Sandhills Farm Life Nature Trail.  Not so this summer.

For the past year, Eagle Scout candidate Andy Paris has
spearheaded a major upgrade to our beloved trail.  With the
help of all Troop 223 and many of their parents, the ambitious
project has now come to fruition.  Andy and his team have
created a sturdy, attractive boardwalk which promises to solve
a long-standing erosion problem near the trailhead.

What follows is a pictorial chronology of the on-site workdays.
Prior to the first workday, Andy has marked off the approximate
area that required preparation.

Andy and his project advisor review the goals they will share
with the laborers.

Help is arriving.  The scout motto is "Be prepared." Andy's team
comes with an assortment of tools, supplies, and most of all a
willingness to work.

Andy's crew is ready for their orders.

Some work on clearing an area and digging a trench which will
divert storm waters under the proposed boardwalk.  In the past,
these waters rushed down the main trail, washing away wood
chips and carving out unwanted ruts.

When it comes to digging there are no short cuts.
It's plain old hard work.

Much digging was also needed to level the site for the boardwalk
and dig holes for its supports.

Surveying equipment was utilized to confirm specified elevations.

On that first workday, the workers take a moment to pose on
Old Man Poplar, the iconic leaning tree visible exactly where
the boardwalk will end.

On the second workday a few weeks later, the actual
construction began.  Andy and his support team had 
raised sufficient funds for top grade heavy-duty 
weather-treated materials.

Everyone pitched in to deliver materials to the work site.
At least it was all downhill.

Boards were precision cut on-site and the frame for the first
segment is assembled.

Work on several sub-projects proceeds simultaneously and

Scouts develop valuable skills as they labor.

Here comes the last of the lumber.

Even scouts need their proper rest.  But honestly, this crew
took few breaks from their toil.

One segment is in place, a second awaits placement.

A professional job.

Where this crew is working the boardwalk will form a "Y,"
steering you to either the left or right fork of our loop trail.

Andy is well-pleased with his team.

These materials will complete the "Y" section on a third workday.

When workers can smile like this, you know they take great pride
and satisfaction in a job well done.  This has always been a hallmark
of the values scouting teaches.

Drilling was one of the favorite tasks for several scouts.
This boardwalk is built to last.

Any of the hundreds of students who have ever walked on this
trail will marvel at the improvement this projects brings.

The second workday wraps up.  Two weeks later, Andy and
Troop 223 gather on a Tuesday evening to finalize the project.

Do you see the "Y"?  Which way would you choose to go?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but there's a reason
we opted for no railings.  See if you can figure out why.
Here are a few views of the boardwalk from 
different perspectives.  Besides its practical function
of  solving the erosion problem, the location and
attractiveness of the walk will enhance the trail-
walking experience for countless children and adults
for decades.  The original bridge at the stream was 
built in 1985 and was just removed a couple of years ago.
This is more professionally constructed and is on
a firm foundation.

The scouts even poured cement for a gently sloping ramp so
there wouldn't be a sharp drop-off.

When hikers return from their loop trail this is the sight they'll
see as they approach Old Man Poplar.  You can't really get
lost on our user-friendly trail.

Here is Andy with his proud family, all of whom labored beside
him and his troop throughout the project.  Strong family support
is another positive tenet of scouting through the years.
Andy will be awarded his well-deserved Eagle badge in late
summer or early fall and will conduct a dedication ceremony,
to be announced.

From all of us in the school and
community who will benefit from
this project, a big "Thank You"
to Andy and Troop 223!