Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary

On Wednesday, October 21, I visited the Mariton Wildlife Sanctuary, one of 42 preserves in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey protected by the Natural Lands Trust (NLT), a regional land conservancy.  The visit was a special treat for members of NLT's White Oak Society; anyone who has been a NLT member for 10 years or more continuously is automatically enrolled.
Mariton Sanctuary manager Tim Burris (center, with binoculars)
The Mariton Sanctuary is managed by NLT employee Tim Burris.  Tim used to be the head naturalist for my organization, but he moved on one year after I took my job here in 1988.  (Do you think it was something I said...?)  Tim and I have remained friends and colleagues since he left, but I hadn't seen him in quite a few years.  We gave each other big bear hugs when we got reacquainted.
Trail to the Delaware River Overlook
The Mariton Sanctuary is located in extreme southeast Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, right along the Delaware River, about 1.25 hours north of my preserve.  The eastern boundary of the sanctuary drops precipitously to the river road paralleling the Delaware. 
Tim addressing the members of the White Oak Society
"Mariton" is a contraction of the names Mary and Tony, the first names of the couple who owned the property and set it aside for conservation.  Tony and Mary originally bought 38 acres of overgrown agricultural fields and kept adding land as it became available until, by the time they died, they had accumulated 200 acres.  The surrounding countryside is more developed than it was when Tony and Mary owned the land, but now it would be fair to characterize it as exurban - a refuge caught between the sprawl of Philadelphia and the former industrial cities of the Lehigh River valley (i.e., Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton, Pennsylvania).  
Stone wall in the woods
The sanctuary is perched on the top and eastern flank of a Brougher Hill, a very rocky knob.  Much of the land had been cleared for agriculture, and stone walls constructed of the stones removed from the fields criss-cross the property.
American chestnut leaves
American chestnuts, both naturally occurring as well as some planted by Tony, occur throughout the property.  Tim told us that one technique that early chestnut restorationists tried to prevent chestnuts from dying of the chestnut blight fungus was irradiating chestnuts before planting them, hoping that the zap of radiation would protect the trees.  Of course, the irradiation didn't work (since the fungus is in the soil, not on the chestnuts).  But, some of the irradiated nuts that Tony planted have grown into 25-foot-tall trees that are producing abundant nut crops.

Ann Rhoads, probably Pennsylvania's premier botanist (retired) on right with blue backpack
Tim manages much of the sanctuary in fields and brushy young shrub habitat.  Sassafras trees are abundant in these brushy patches.
Sassafras produce four leaf shapes on the same plant

The day was almost perfect - low humidity, clear blue skies, good fall color.  If I had any complaint, it was that it was a bit too warm; we had temperatures above normal in the mid-70s.


packrat said...

As always, Scott, reading your blog posts--and learning new things about interesting places--is a pleasure. I get a good feeling seeing (via your photos) how many people have an abiding interest in all things regarding preservation of our natural world.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Great that a little land has been saved for nature. I know I'd love it there as I always enjoy finding bits of stone wall surviving amongst deep woodland and trying to recreate the past in my mind.

Scott said...

Packrat: I was surprised how many people were there on a weekday. They're repeating the walk (for folks who couldn't come on Wednesday) this Sunday afternoon, but the weather's gotten colder since I was there, and there may be spotty showers on Sunday, so I'm glad I went when I did. The average age of our group was probably 70; maybe the Sunday group will have younger folks (who are still working), but the environmental community is generally 55+.

Scott said...

John: It was incredible how many stone walls were in the woods. The farmers were very diligent about removing the rocks from their fields. What struck me, though, was that there just weren't more rocks right under the rocks they removed. The soil on Brougher Hill is shallow; rock removal must have been a constant project. Our leader, Tim, did a good job of recreating the sense of place when the area was heavily used for agriculture.

robin andrea said...

Looks like a wonderful wildlife sanctuary. I'm always very moved when people make an effort to preserve land and keep it wild.

Carolyn H said...

Looks like a wonderful walk. That's a place I've never heard of before. I've always loved stone walls. My family's farm has an old one. I find them all through almost every woods I walk in.

Mark P said...

It would be nice to be able to leave a legacy like that.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Our guide, Tim, told us that he imagines that Tony's and Mary's neighbors must have thought them insane when they set aside overgrown, weedy agricultural fields back in the 1950's. Aren't we fortunate now that they did so!

Scott said...

Carolyn: You said you'd never heard of Mariton. It's a nice place, but probably not worth a visit from your location (where it's got to be at least a 2-1/2 hour drive) unless you were already in the Easton neighborhood. Some of the stone walls were huge and impressive, others were more typical of what comes to mind when I hear "stone wall."

Scott said...

Mark: I had always dreamed of leaving a legacy like that, too. Alas, reality intruded and Kali and I will be lucky if we don't outlive our nest egg, let alone make a huge gift of land.