One of the best things about being outside the fence in winter is the open view through the mature woodlands. Early in winter, the leaves of beeches (Fagus grandifolia) and oaks (Quercus sp.) still cling to the trees, lending their gold and burnt orange colors to the otherwise grey winter. The view becomes less obstructed as winter progresses, and the leaves are torn from the trees by the weather.
The Rocky Run Trail (Blue blazes) is a great path to traverse in winter as it winds along both sides of its namesake for 1.9 miles on gentle slopes through varying forest types.
The trail begins at Gate 1 (near the Pond), and passes through a mature forest. Look for a low, evergreen plant, spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata), and beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana), resembling a twig stuck in the ground. Beechdrops have no chlorophyll and are parasitic on the roots of beech trees. Their presence tells us that the soil here contains much organic material and complex mycorrhizal relationships with the plants.
Farther down the trail (1/10 of a mile), the forest changes markedly. Note how the view through the understory is obstructed as vines cover many of the trees and non-native multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) dominates the shrub layer. Many non-native invasive species have taken over this forest, like Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). This forest is not healthy and contains much less biological diversity, and is less resilient than the forest encountered at the start.
After passing a meadow on the right, the forest again closes in. The meadow was formerly part of what is called “Middle Farm.” This area was farmed in the mid-1800s and is now maintained as a meadow by mowing and burning.
Heading downstream along the trail, note how different species of trees begin to appear. This area is a mid-stage successional forest. Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera) and many species of oak (Quercus sp.), including chestnut ( Q. montana), white ( Q. alba) and red ( Q. rubrum), are giving way to a forest of beech and hickory (Carya sp.), including shellbark (C. laciniosa), mockernut (C. tomentosa), and pignut (C. ovata).
Sandy’s Bench provides a good vantage point of the valley of Rocky Run. This bench is a memorial with the inscription, “Sandy’s Window Now and Forever” on the backrest. It is located on the purple-blazed trail connecting the Blue Trail to the White Trail on the north side of Rocky Run. Look for foraging squirrels and perhaps deer or coyote. Many species of birds can be seen here, like pileated, downy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jay, junco, chickadee, and other usual winter birds.
The Rocky Run Trail bears repeated visits during winter as late winter brings a subtle green and red to the valley from early growing skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and the emerging maple (Acer sp.) buds.
A little way downstream is Indian Rock, a story in itself. There’s so much to see and hear.
Mike Cosgrove loved Tyler’s trails for they connected us to the wonders of Nature. This article is part of the Beyond the Fence series that Mike authored — taking us on journeys through the woods, meadows and streams. We miss you Mike.