Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Joy and Misery at Valley Forge

Washington's Headquarters during the Valley Forge encampment
With the end of the recent federal government shutdown, Kali and I were able to visit Valley Forge National Historical Park again - seemingly along with half the population of Philadelphia - on the second beautiful autumn Sunday in a row.  Although Valley Forge is criss-crossed by public roads, the park's own trails and internal roads were closed during the shutdown; a "trespassing" runner made the local news when he was slapped with a $100 citation for running through the park when it was closed.

Kali and I have come to enjoy the fairly strenuous 4-mile Mount Misery-Mount Joy loop hike.  We usually climb and descend Mount Misery first, cross Valley Creek (which separates the two hills), and then return by climbing and descending Mount Joy.  However, last Sunday, I suggested that we complete the hike in reverse.  At the end, Kali said that she didn't have much of a preference for direction.
Barren understory with stiltgrass
Valley Forge is notorious for its dense white-tailed deer population.  The animals, desperate for food, spread out into the suburbs surrounding the park and are frequently killed on the roads.  In addition, the deer have eaten everything they can reach within the park, so the understory is barren with no shrubs and no saplings to replace the aging trees.  The only plants growing within the deer's reach are non-native, invasive species like stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum).
Autumn colors - though most trees remain green
Kali passing a large rock slab on Mount Joy
Once we had descended Mount Joy, we crossed Valley Creek on a wooden footbridge (though there's an historic covered bridge a few hundred feet downstream).  Valley Creek, mostly spring fed, is cold enough to support trout - the only trout stream in the Philadelphia area.  However, the creek's headwaters were polluted by PCBs dumped in a railroad switching yard, so the trout can't be eaten.
Valley Creek downstream of the footbridge
Valley Creek upstream of the footbridge
Scott captured on the footbridge
On the west side of the footbridge the park service maintains a large grassy area.  During a flood, Valley Creek washed recently mowed grass off the floodplain and the clippings got caught up in the roots of streamside trees - natural artwork of sorts.
Wrapped Roots
Downed trees in the woods along the Mount Misery Trail
Autumn leaves at the base of a maple tree
Near the north end of the Mount Misery Trail, there's an industrial ruin in the woods.  Though the stone wall looks ancient, it is accompanied by decidedly more modern-looking concrete walls nearby, so I don't think the complex is extraordinarily old.  Water gushing from a spring in the hillside runs through a portion of the ruin, suggesting that whatever purpose the building served, it relied on large supply of fresh water.


packrat said...

Great images, Scott. I particularly like the one of the wall. I've never been to Valley Forge; your photos show it to be a place worth visiting. Too bad about the deer problem there, though.

robin andrea said...

Looks like a beautiful place to visit in the fall. Nice hiking weather and lovely colors.

Carolyn H said...

I walked that trial the last time I was at Valley Forge--some years ago now. Thanks for showing it to me again!

Scott said...

Packrat: Kali and I find ourselves at Valley Forge with increasing frequency, probably because the park is among the largest and most accessible open spaces in the area. Though my images are often taken in the woods, the vast majority of the park consists of relatively uninteresting open, grassy fields with replicas of the soldiers' huts and memorials spread throughout. The vistas give the visitor a nice feel for the rolling landscape, and most of the woodlands had undoubtedly been cleared for agriculture when the Continental Army camped there in the winter of 1775-6, but we don't venture through the grasslands very often.

The deer are now being controlled using sharpshooters hunting over bait at night. This is the first national park that has begun to control its deer population. You can probably imagine how controversial it was when the program started two years ago. Kali and I did see three deer while we were walking, but before the cull began, it was not uncommon to see groups of 20 deer.

I find the factory in the woods to be really fascinating. It's about halfway up the steep, rocky slope on Mount Misery, so it's not near any roads that would be useful for transporting goods. I have no idea what the factory was creating, and there are no signs around it to explain its function.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: The conditions were absolutely perfect for hiking. In fact, I had intended to include in the post a short account of our lunch break. We stopped at a picnic table midway through the walk to eat an energy bar and an apple. We were sitting out in the open, and the autumn sun was warming one side of my body while just the hint of a breeze was cooling the other half of my body. We were near Valley Creek, so we could hear the stream splashing gently in its bed, and there was a mockingbird audible in the distance. I just sat for a minute, completely present in the moment, thinking that this is heaven.

Scott said...

Carolyn: There are miles of trails through the park, but Kali and I are gravitating to the Mount Misery-Mount Joy loop with increasing frequency. Valley Forge certainly is a nice place to spend some time.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Nice tour, Scott, I really liked the photos of the leaves among the rocks and roots. I can't believe that parks can be shut down in this way - who owns them anyway? Here you can't close a public path except in exceptional circumstances, such as when paths were closed in agricultural areas during the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak some years ago.

Scott said...

John: Valley Forge National Park is owned by the federal government and administered by the National Park Service. If there is no staff to patrol and maintain the parks, they close them as they did during the recent government shutdown. Most people would agree that shutting down the parks is ridiculous but, in reality, what if someone broke a leg in one of the huge, remote western national parks? There would be no one to rescue an injured hiker, so I can see how they would feel the need to close the parks.

Thanks for the compliment about the images of the leaves among the roots and rocks. (Obviously) they struck me as interesting, too.

Franny said...

It was a root beer bottling plant.