Monday, April 7, 2014

Building a better brush pile

By Beth Sullivan
The problem with a partial “ beauty makeover” is that the untouched parts really look awful by comparison!! Over the past weeks you read of work parties giving a face lift to the stone walls along Paffard Woods. They look great. But it made us realize the rest of the area needed a face lift too! There was still a lot of post Hurricane Sandy debris, drying and browning all around the parking area. A couple of us decided to continue the make over before things got growing.
This preserve is in a place of high visibility, passed by residents and visitors to our town as they travel North Main Street. It is beloved by hikers of all ages as it has a great variety of habitats and scenery. There are geocaches and fairy houses. Wood frogs and Peepers are making their chorus now. Pine groves line the road on the eastern edge; the trails lead down to a beautiful clear and often swift running stream, Stony Brook. Views of rocky ledges, small caves, large beech trees, glacial erratic boulders and vernal pools meet the eye around each corner. The loop trails follow stone walls with old Oak “Nooning trees”, allow places to stop along the brook and then pass over interesting stream crossings before leading back up and around to a field edge and back along the pines to the entrance and parking area.
Stony Brook in Paffard Woods Preserve.
Beech trees and rock ledges are common features in the Woods.
Sadly it is often a “night time” meeting spot and dumping area so we were faced with an odd assortment of litter and debris. Pretty awful. We decided to dismantle the huge brush pile that was thrown together haphazardly after the storm, in order to get to bigger pieces that needed better cutting to be more manageable. What to do with it all? Well, we made another brush pile! But this time it was created in a way to encourage wildlife. Yes, there is a way to build a better pile!
Dumped garden waste detracts from the beauty of these woodlands.
Starting with the largest pieces, small logs, we laid them down as a base, parallel to each other with at least 10-12 inches between them. The next layer was slightly smaller pieces, but still solid, and laid in a cross hatch manner over the base. The next layer above that was more or less placed the same as the first. This produced great nooks and crannies, holes and openings, near the ground, that tunneling mammals so love. Mice, voles, chipmunks and rabbits will nest inside the protected base areas. After those layers, things get a little less organized and brush is smaller and lain atop the base. It can be angled up from the sides, but the smaller branches on the top then make a denser cover for birds to fly into. Some birds, like wrens, will nest in the piles, but they are essential cover for many species of fledglings. We ended up with quite the wildlife resort!
The base layer should be the largest logs.
The second layer should be cross hatched over the first.
The third layer should make another cross hatch.
Top with brush, piled high for shelter.
There is still more to be done. Some really big pine trunks need to be cut and moved. A work party will follow soon. It still looks pretty brown and broken in places, but soon the green season will soften the edges and cover the winter gray.
There's always more to do, consider helping at the next work party.
Look at the brush pile for signs of life and think of it as a safe haven. Children enjoy making little Fairy houses in the woods. Avalonia Volunteers think BIG…and make more brush piles for wildlife. Get your kids to help you do the same in your yard or wood lot!

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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