Friday, March 29, 2024

The Toil and Reward of Rerouting Trails

The cool winter weather has been ideal for working on improving and rerouting some trails at Herrontown Woods. 

Some of the motivation is to bypass chronically muddy areas, but the best reroutes highlight previously hidden features of the preserve--quarried rocks, giant trees, or inspiring vistas out across a valley. The first reroutes of this sort were done by Kurt and Sally Tazelaar, who helped found the Friends of Herrontown Woods in 2013. The trail adjustments we are making now carry on that tradition.

Scott Sillars, Andrew Thornton, and I have been the most focused on this effort. The aim is to have two new reroutes in place in time to be featured during our April 13 Earthday celebration.

The process I like to use for creating a new trail route is to be intentionally unspecific as to the actual route the path will ultimately take. That way, we are motivated to first clear a wide swath of forest of the all too numerous invasive nonnative shrubs. The mass dieoff of ash trees has created many openings in the canopy, channeling solar energy down to the shrub layer, where nonnative shrubs compete with the native species. Highly invasive winged euonymus, with its "wings" along the stem, is super easy to identify in the winter. A more seasoned eye can also identify the nonnative Linden viburnum, Photinia and privet shrubs that crowd in on the native spicebush, blueberries, and blackhaw Viburnum. 

And of course there are many multiflora rose bushes that, with their vicious thorns, have made so many forested areas impossible to explore. These, too, must be subdued and hopefully extinguished, with the greatest of care to avoid the thorns. The liberation of native species from weedy incursion, using a pair of loppers and a Buckthorn Blaster, can itself be deeply satisfying, regardless of what trail ultimately takes shape. We are making the forest navigable again, seeable again, welcoming again.

Another advantage of working in the winter is that we don't disturb the spring ephemeral wildflowers that will emerge come spring. Work on several trail reroutes is on hold until the spring ephemerals have come up, the better to avoid building the new trail over top of them.

The first reroute, just completed, avoids a muddy seepage area on the yellow trail, and instead takes hikers through an area where past quarrying of the diabase boulders has left the hillside dotted with vernal pools.

We had just opened the new route when our first hikers showed up. Emma Kohn had brought some of her friends from Equador to see Herrontown Woods. 

Fun to see the boy lingering to count tree rings where Victorino had cut an opening for the trail through fallen trees.

Other trail projects in the works are an extension of the blue trail through what we're calling The Valley of the Giants, and some reroutes to improve the experience for hikers entering from Princeton Community Village.