Spring Discoveries at Ft. Yargo

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 30, 2014.

This is a beautiful time of year for walking in the woods, and last week we had an especially fun hike at Ft. Yargo State Park. Besides the weather being perfect, we discovered wildlife, blooming flowers and a new trail.

After studying the map of Ft. Yargo, I have learned that one of the trails we walked on is not on it. Right across the big bridge, the Lake Loop Trail splits and if you head right, it’s not marked on the map, but there is a clear trail with yellow blazes. At the end of it, we turned right and headed up a bike trail.

Now I have learned from the park’s website that hikers are discouraged on these bike trails because of the speed of some cyclists, but I’m glad we didn’t know hikers were discouraged from walking there because it ended up being a beautiful trail and parts of it were right along the lake. I guess it’s fortunate we went on a Monday, and I only remember passing one jogger and one cyclist going at a slower speed.

It’s on the west side of park and passes through an area called Deadwood Hill. It was named so because many of the trees in this area are dying due to disease and lightning, but everything we saw was still quite pretty.

The dogwoods were blooming, looking like points of white light peeking out from between new spring green leaves. There were pink and white flowering bushes right along the edge of the lake, and when I got closer, I could see they looked like a kind of honeysuckle.

I only had my son’s point and shoot on this walk, but at least I was able to capture one turtle before he escaped into the water!

We have never seen so many turtles before in one place. There was one fallen tree in the water with eleven turtles lined up on it, and as we got closer, all but one brave little turtle plopped into the water. We found many other turtles along the way, but they were too far away to identify. I’m guessing some of them were yellow-bellied pond sliders, though.

Several geese live around Ft. Yargo. On another hike a few weeks ago we found a nesting goose near the dam, and on this particular walk we heard some fierce squabbling from two geese that were either mating or protecting a nest.

We spied a bright red wild honeysuckle, which I also have growing wild in my backyard. We found where the fish were hiding along the edge of the lake (those fisherman on the bridge said they weren’t catching many), and some kind of large wasps were making nests in the brambles on the edge of the water – not something I like to see at home but interesting enough to watch with little boys on a trail.

I also found a fern growing in the underbrush that is new to me. From my search on the web, I think it is a Woodwardia areolata or Netted chainfern. If I’m right, it grows all along the eastern U.S. and as far west as Oklahoma and Texas.

It is fun to return again and again to a favorite park or trail and watch the seasonal changes. Over the past few years we have seen other wildlife at the park such as a great blue heron, and once we heard wild turkeys gobbling at some distance in the woods. I’m sure if we could get ourselves out of bed at an earlier hour, we might get lucky to find the more elusive animals, but for now we’re content to find deer tracks on our afternoon hikes. And despite how common they are, I’m still thrilled every time I catch sight of a red cardinal or a flash of blue from that bossy blue jay.

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