Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Management Challenge

Yesterday I spent a lot of time surrounded by tall, scraggly, dense shrubs. I was mapping trails and habitats on a large, flat, wet property.  Past land uses have taken a toll on the site. Woods roads and trails were used and abused by off-road vehicles of all sorts. The exceedingly flat topography, unusual amount of rain this year, and the severe erosion has created a drainage nightmare.

This is supposed to be a walking trail.

The land was conserved this year and I am writing a stewardship plan to guide management and public uses. The first task is to figure out the re-arranged hydrology and drainage and block the continued illegal use of trails by off-road vehicles. I found four sofas dumped at various places, dozens of tires tossed here and there, a few mattresses, and miscellaneous trash.

I tried walking the trails wearing my knee high rubber boots. The water in many places was at least a foot deep and in some places over my boots. This forced me off trail into the woods and shrub thickets. I crouched and crawled and groaned my way through the dense undergrowth. Generally I would appreciate the shrubs surrounding me - highbush blueberry, winterberry, witchhazel, sweet pepperbush, mountain holly. But, after 7 hours I was spent.

The good news for the day was the weather - a beautiful blue sky, light breeze, and moderate temperature. By late afternoon the setting sun was brilliant among the overhead shrubs and trees, highlighting the yellows, reds, and browns of changing leaves. As I waded down the last trail back toward the car I was enchanted by the fallen sassafras leaves floating in the water. This small tree has leaves with three shapes: entire (no lobes), mitten-shaped, and three-lobed. Mostly I saw the three-lobed type.

The floating sassafras leaves distracted me for a time from thinking about the management options on this property. The watery trail though forced me back to considering the challenges ahead. As with many such management challenges, it involves correcting mistakes and misuse by humans.

One other bright spot for the day was walking into a fen (a type of peatland) on the property. This natural community was wet, it was supposed to be.


  1. Beautiful spots! I am identifying wetlands right now in PA for a project...it is definitely different than the southern wetlands I am used to!

  2. Ellen . . . talk about making lemonade out of lemons! You transformed an outing that was potentially filled with drudgery into one filled with delight! Oh! And speaking of delights, those photos of the floating sassafras leaves are indeed delightful!


  3. Hi John - Sassafras leaves are just fun to look at, so different than any others around here. I did take in a cold drink at the end of the day, although it wasn't lemonade :)

  4. Thanks Misti. I just had a little too much "wetland" yesterday!