Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Autumn Trail Ramble

Last Saturday afternoon (November 8), Kali and I decided to walk the rail corridor that our county is converting to a trail.  I have mentioned this rail-to-trail conversion in earlier posts; it will bisect my preserve and will undoubtedly introduce all sorts of undesirable behavior into the midst of my natural area.  On the other hand, it will allow me to gain access to a trail less than 0.5-mile from my house and ride my bicycle for 15 miles (one way) without even getting on a road.  So, I have conflicting reactions to the conversion.

The steel tracks and the wooden ties have been removed, so the corridor is already being heavily used even though the final trail surface (crushed limestone grit) is not yet installed and the old railroad ballast is rough and uneven.
A fallen limb festooned with bracket fungi alongside the corridor

View from one of the three railroad bridges spanning the creek within my preserve
A rock cut
The railroad builders in 1876 took full advantage of the creek's erosive action and placed the rail-bed as close to the creek as they could to avoid cutting and filling.  But, in some places, steep rocks sloped sharply down to the creek and the builders couldn't avoid making cuts.  There are at least four such rock cuts in my preserve, including one where a horrendous head-on collision occurred in 1921 that killed 27 people.  That rock cut is known as "Death Gulch."

There are also several stone quarries alongside the railroad line, including one very impressive quarry with a sheer wall at least 60 feet high with plenty of huge boulders at the foot.  Rock climbers have long begged us for permission to climb there (we've always turned them down, reasoning that rock climbing is incompatible with our mission as a natural area).  Now that the trail conversion has begun, I'm getting reports that climbers are drilling holes in the rocks in order to set climbing screws, and people are using the large rocks at the bottom of the face for bouldering.  This is only the beginning of the types of intrusions that are sure to increase.
A slow stretch of the creek from the vantage of another railroad bridge
As Kali and I neared the end of our return walk, I looked over to the east and noticed the buck in the image above.  He was about 200 feet from the rail line and wasn't perturbed at all by our presence (though deer are hunted in our preserve).  As we watched him for a minute, I noticed why he wasn't running off - a doe was slightly upslope and 50 feet away.  I think he had amorous intent.  As she moved away, browsing all the while, he never let her get very far ahead of him.
Late afternoon sun glinting on the creek
The trail is set to open officially late next summer (2015).  Since I intend to retire in May 2018, I'll have 2-1/2 years to deal with the repercussions of/enjoy the trail.


robin andrea said...

That looks like such a wonderful place to walk in the autumn light. So beautiful there. It's so interesting reading your posts and seeing the transitions in an urban area trying to recover a bit of its natural past.

Scott said...

Thank you, Robin Andrea. Sometimes, it's a little bit hard to see the good stuff when you're so close to it all the time (like I am), but I try. Mostly, I just notice the "bad stuff" that needs attention.

For example, when I used to run (before my right knee gave out on me), I routinely ran a trail in the northern third of my preserve. When I saw something that needed attention, I could point it out to the staff. Now that I don't run, I rarely get up into the northern third of the preserve. However, yesterday, I had to take my car in for repairs and rode my bicycle back from the repair shop through this section of the preserve. All I could see was the incredible encroachment of invasive Japanese knotweed. I don't know why this encroachment doesn't similarly alarm my land manager, but for whatever reason, he hasn't mentioned it to me. I guess I've got to get out more (which wouldn't be a bad thing anyway).

packrat said...

Some very fine images here, Scott. I loved the one of the buck--majestic animal.

It bugs me that rock climbers are drilling holes like that. Gutsy people for whom the rules don't apply have always bothered me. And I have no problem at all with rock climbing or bouldering in places where it's permitted.

Scott said...

Packrat: The buck truly was magnificent; I wouldn't want to tackle it! I think the image is a little grainy, but I had the telephoto lens extended to its max and the light was fairly low, so the image isn't the greatest.

I'm afraid that these rock-drillers are only the beginning of the hassles we're going to encounter with this trail. People became used to using the railroad as their own private trail and didn't respect the private property alongside, so now it's hard to "turn back the hands of time." Before the quarry was our property, it was in an individual's hands and he erected a flimsy barbed wire fence along the property line--more as an indication that "this here's private property" in order to limit his liability than to seriously keep people off the quarry face. The fence lasted about as long as you would expect it to; it's actually still there but mushed into the soil.