Monday, November 18, 2019

A soft opening for Hoffman Preserve


Friday, November 29, 1 pm

We invite you to join us on a hike: the day after Thanksgiving, walk off the calories, let the kids burn off some energy, get out of the house…but don’t go shopping!
Join a team of Avalonia stewards and friends to walk through Hoffman, and have some of your questions answered. Squint your eyes and imagine the new green this spring and prepare to help us document the changes.

By Beth Sullivan
The woods are finally quiet. You can hear the birds. The large, noisy machines are gone. The mechanical part of the forest restoration project is complete. The landscape is quite changed. The open areas are pretty stark looking and, combined with the late autumn gray and brown tones, it looks pretty somber.
Now the hard part for Avalonia volunteers, the boots on the ground part, is beginning. Even before the boots hit the ground, however, planning has been underway to outline our goals and priorities for the project. What do we want the Hoffman Evergreen Preserve to be in 50-100 years. There is a lot to think about.
A stump makes a great seat.

Trails are reopening, but there are still areas to be cleaned up and debris will be left to decompose to nourish the land. Photograph by Jim Friedlander.

In one area, towering pines remain and young ones are already getting more sunlight. They will fill in the landscape over a few years.

Getting the trails open

One of our very first priorities was to get the trails opened and safe for hikers who have been looking forward to returning. Several teams of stewards have gone into the preserve over the last couple of weeks, to begin the job of cleaning up the trails and marking them. Overall, the layout of the trail system remains the same, but there are many areas where the trails were disrupted by the logging roads that needed to criss-cross through the land. Trees on several trails have already been re-blazed. The yellow and orange trails are done. Red is partly done, and blue will be completed soon. In places where there are no trees to mark, there are stakes with appropriate colors guiding a hiker across an open area to reconnect with the trail. As we have suggested in the past, using your smart phone and the Explorer for ArcGIS app is tremendously helpful now. Look for Avalonia on-line maps and the arrow icon will locate you.
The old pine loops will be removed from maps. The pines had been devastated by snow and wind storms and were completely removed. There are already white pine seedlings growing through the old needles. There are a few places where paths may be re-routed to avoid wet areas. When we have established the trail system, we will have new maps made and installed as they were before.
We do not want invasive plants to spread their seeds, so we are beginning a management effort.

The trees at the edge of the opening will provide seeds and sunlight will reach into the whole area. Photograph by Rick Newton.

In less than four years, the vegetation at the Peck Preserve has grown in densely, and is taking up carbon and providing better habitat for wildlife.

Counting the growth rings on a log  can be a great project for patient naturalists of any age.

Stop invasives from spreading

Another priority is to tackle the invasive species on the preserve. There is one large patch of invasive plants, on the orange trail near what was an old home site with disturbed ground. That’s where invasives come in first. We will try and get them cut and berries removed and bagged out, to prevent further spread into our newly opened areas. A team is already organized to start the effort ASAP. The effort will be ongoing.
As we all get familiar with the landscape, we are researching what may be the best way to help nature re-establish in the larger opened areas. As an example, in 2013, Avalonia conducted a young forest/restoration project on the Peck and Callahan preserves. It, too, was stark and barren looking at first, but as soon as the growing season began, the land just burst with new plants growing from seeds that were in the soil, waiting. In the first year the area became so dense with new, native plants, it was completely green. Now it is impossible to walk through. The wildlife has multiplied, there are greater numbers and species of plants, and we did very little to help Mother Nature. Mission accomplished. We expect the same at Hoffman.
The goal is to be able to introduce some native species that may not have been in the area, or may have died out in the half-century of evergreen darkness. We also have to consider that our climate is changing, is warming. Hoffman Preserve was planted to resemble a great northern forest that Mr. Hoffman loved. With the change that is already beginning, we have to think of plant species that will adapt and thrive in the new normal. We need to recognize what an important role forests play for our climate in taking carbon out of the atmosphere, and also balance the need for diversity in habitat to support diminishing wildlife populations. Both are at critical stages.
We still have a lot to research, a lot to think about, and many wonderful partners, scientists, ecologists and researchers are guiding us.
If you are interested in helping, contact the Avalonia office and we can add you to our list of volunteers for work parties there.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Colors of the season

By Beth Sullivan

A friend of mine, who knows my woods-wandering ways, sent me this little thought that had been circulating on Facebook:
“An essay in the Old Farmers’ Almanac divided autumn into four distinct foliage phases. The first is Scarlet Fever, when the first trees to change are the red swamp maples and sumacs. Next comes Conflagration, the riot of all colors at once. This is followed by the Empire of Gold, as the reds and oranges fall away, leaving the birches and beeches to hold the field. Finally comes the Tannery, where the oaks, the final holdouts, turn russet. “

Those of us who are observers of nature, cycles, and seasons, have consciously or subconsciously known this. As we walk or even drive along wooded lanes, we are aware of the changes in colors and tones of the landscape. We notice the light as it changes not only hour by hour, but season by season. To me, the later afternoon sunlight in the autumn is the absolute best. There is something that intensifies the clarity of colors. Maybe, in part, it is the beautiful blue of the sky for contrast with the warmer tones of the foliage.
At the edge of a swamp, the red maples show color first, along with blueberry bushes below them.

Sumac is a native shrub that provides beautiful red foliage and great food for wildlife.

It starts with red

When I first read this, we were already well into the Scarlet Fever. There are areas nearby that are wetlands, and that is where the change seems to start. The red swamp maples are the first to show color, and that color is truly spectacular. There is something so eye-catching about a stand of red, marking a swamp or lake edge, where those maples reflect their color in the standing water. In the understory and thickets, there is nothing more striking than the native highbush blueberries and sumacs that are far more pure, natural red than the invasive, non-native “burning bush” euonymous.

The Conflagration slips up on us quickly. The reds just seem to shift into oranges. The sugar maples, that are sadly becoming more scarce here in southern CT, tend to go to a more orange-red. The sassafras trees tend to grow in colonies as they are somewhat clonal. Their foliage is all shades from red through orange to gold. A group of sassafras along a path, or near the shore line, tend to light up the landscape. Once in a while you will find a big, old sassafras tree in the woods, solitary and outstanding. Its leaves tend to hold on longer than some of the surrounding trees, and they wear their colors tall and proudly.
The late afternoon sun provides the most dramatic lighting.

The Woodlot glows with a clear yellow tone in the understory of spicebush, as well as from the canopy.

This big hickory is like a golden torch dominating the landscape.

An empire of gold

The Empire of Gold seems to have the largest number of members and lasts longer. That’s where we were when I began writing this. You can’t beat the late afternoon sun, slanting through the woodlands that are all tones of yellows and golds, from canopy to forest floor. The ferns have gone to yellow along with wild sarsaparilla. In the mid-level, the spicebush and sweet pepper bush create an eye level haze of warm color. The birches begin to fill the canopy. The hickories can tower like tall torches of gold, and at the same time, they are pelting down their nuts in abundance. The beeches are fickle. Sometimes they hold onto their green for a very long time. Some go to yellow and others go to a lovely beige and even hold a few of their leaves through the winter time. Another yellow to look for requires a sharper eye. The spidery yellows of the witch hazel flowers are beginning to show up. They are easiest to notice once the leaves are off.

Thanks to the severe wind and rain events of the last week, the woodlands have been stripped, pretty early, of all leaves except on some beeches and the oaks. We are in the Tannery now. I think it is an injustice to call all oaks russet or brown. The colors are so beautifully subtle, and varied. Some of the oaks will go to gold-/brown. Others orange-brown, and still others are truly a deep scarlet-brown. Drive down a road with a far horizon, or view of some hillsides. There are many areas where the forest is still in leaf, and almost all of the trees are oaks. Notice the variation. I am not sure an artist could capture all the shades of color of the Tannery.

We must not forget the evergreens that punctuate the forest or make large statements of their own. We will notice them most when the other colors are gone, and they alone stand out against the grays and white of winter.

Cherish the colors of the season.
The oaks at Cottrell Marsh show all the shades in the Tannery.

When the leaves finally fall, the spidery yellow flowers of Witch Hazel are easier to find.

In the winter, we rely on the evergreens to be our color focus in a landscape of gray and white.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan.