The Naturalist's CornerWritten by Don Hendershot
Last Saturday (April 4) was another sojourn into the town of Waynesville’s 8,500-acre plus watershed. The town initiated these watershed hikes back in 2007 to introduce town residents and other interested parties to this amazing resource that has been set aside in a conservation easement to insure the town has an ample supply of high-quality potable water.
This spring’s hike included a combination of first-time and repeat hikers. We carpooled up to the beginning of the hike. At that point we separated into two groups — those that came to stretch their legs surrounded by this beautiful setting and those who were content to amble along seeking early spring blooms and listening for returning neotropical migrants.
I suffer from chronic naturalist’s-amble. If I want aerobic exercise I put on my running shoes and hit the road or track. In the woods I cannot go far or fast without seeing something that requires closer scrutiny. Sometimes it is something interesting or unique like the broomrape we found last spring or the wood frog hiding beneath the leaf-litter of a vernal pool that we discovered last fall. Often it is something common in unusual circumstances, like the bloodroot we found this year in seemingly dire circumstances — the stem colorless and the leaf still curled tightly — that catches the eye.
This spring about a half dozen participants joined my daughter, Izzy, and me for our amble. I have to admit, Izzy ambles differently than I. She’s 100 miles per hour up the trail, then 100 miles per hour back to see what we’ve stopped for. But even at that speed her youthful eyes are quick to focus on interesting objects and she waits patiently (?) to show us the newest bloom or animal track she has discovered.
It was a crisp morning (mid-30s) when we embarked. And being early April, not a whole lot was blooming. We found bloodroot, golden ragwort, meadow parsnip, cut-leaved toothwort and a couple of species of violets in bloom. The only neotropical migrants we heard were blue-headed vireo and black-throated-green warbler.
As we climbed, so did the temperature. Around 10:30 a.m. we began to shed jackets. And as we stopped occasionally to look down on the reservoir sparkling in the sunlight, we also drank in the warm spring sun like the fecund leaf-littered earth. These settings nurture more than wildflowers.
After a while hiking we found a comfortable spot to stop and cast off our backpacks and drink in the warm spring sun.
“So, who are those people?” asked one of the hikers.
“Oh,” I said, “that’s a group of teachers and educators participating in a Project Wild workshop. They are learning how to incorporate hands-on environmental education in their curriculum.”
“Does a lot of that go on in the watershed?” asked another participant.
“Oh, sure,” I replied. “There are Project Wild programs for educators and for kids in K through 12 grades. Haywood Waterways Association’s Kids in the Creek program uses the watershed to help educate eighth-graders in the county about the benefits of good water quality.
“Community colleges and universities from the region and around the country come here to monitor and learn about best management practices and the forest management tools used to restore the watershed to a more natural, pristine state.
“We can stop at the visitors center on the way out and you can learn about all the recreational and educational opportunities—
“Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! You’re dreaming that watershed dream again.”