Monday, July 6, 2015

Take a walk on the (sort of) Wild Side

By Beth Sullivan
Many of us like the comfort of a well -hardened trail, maybe a map and an expectation of what lies ahead when we go for a hike. Often, though, I like to find a place without a trail, without too many expectations and plan on a bit of an adventure. Many of Avalonia’s preserves are as yet untrailed. And many never will be. It might be to protect a particular habitat. It is often because of fragile wetlands and the difficulties associated with building bridges and spanning areas that could be damaged by traffic. They are, however, generally open to the public.
Sometimes it is more about time and volunteers. To set up a trail requires mapping skills and a lot of time, depending on the size of the preserve.
The trail at Babcock starts out wide and open.

It has been a year since Avalonia completed the acquisition of the Babcock Ridge Preserve in North Stonington. During the acquisition period there were many hikes up there to introduce people to the area. Now it has settled into a lovely quietness.
Farther on it is indistinct and there are a few intermittent red tapes as markers.

Visiting again

We walked in recently, the first time since last fall. It is obvious it is not heavily used. The first portion of the loop trail heading east ( or right off main path in) remains pretty easy to follow as it is an old trail or roadway. There were a few flags on trees remaining from the organized hikes, but those became irregular and some faded and not easily spotted. The path narrowed down, the leaves covered what was the trail, and it began to look like a place that has been undisturbed. We decided to continue the hike anyway.
What we knew was that it was a loop. It rose up to the high ridge and descended back down to complete a circle. We also knew that at the top of the ridge was a stone wall as the boundary of this preserve and where it joined the Erisman preserve to the north. Getting lost was really not a concern.
At the very top of the ridge a stone wall marks the northern boundary.

As we walked counterclockwise into the loop, there were places to discover off to the side: the vernal pool was pretty low in water, but the green frogs squeaked and jumped in at our footfalls. We found wood frogs too, not far away from their water source. We found a grassy wetland glade at the base of the steep slope up. It took a while to decide our best route up-lots of rock and ledge, great holes and small caves. We could imagine why people claim to find bears and fishers and even big cats, bobcats or the rumored mountain lions, in this kind of an area. We saw none of those! One opening had the musky smell of possibly a fox den.
The vernal pool was pretty low when we visited.
The vernal pool may have been low, but we found a Wood Frog not far away.

It's easy to imagine what might live in these rocky hollows.

Signs of a majestic resident

We made it up to the ridge where we found signs of the Pileated woodpecker known to live up there: big rectangular holes and huge splinter chips of wood on the ground. There was too much foliage to allow any kind of real view but there was definitely a sense of height. The way down was not hard; we stayed along what must have been a boundary as there was old barbed wire embedded in tree trunks.
The Pileated Woodpecker leaves quite a calling card.

A stream crossing allowed study of another habitat, and an easy crossing. Another small rise and we were close to the road again.
Boundaries can be marked by ties, old barbed wire or drilled holes.

Babcock Ridge will someday be fully blazed-have an entrance sign, maybe a little stream crossing. But for now it invites some adventure, an opportunity to make your own walk and discoveries, off the beaten path.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.

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