Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring in Wilderness

Stepping onto the narrow footpath on a cold, cloudy morning last week, I had great hopes the sun would break through during my hike. I spent the day in a designated wilderness, a large area of land set aside for its inherent wilderness qualities. This area possesses naturalness, shaped primarily by the forces of nature, not man. It is undeveloped and of a primeval character, and untrammeled. I went there because it also provides for another wilderness characteristic- solitude and unconfined, primitive recreation opportunities. Sadly, with the area located not too far from a thriving urban area full of fellow seekers of the natural world, the weekends here are usually incredibly crowded...thus knocking down the solitude feature. But that day last week, I only encountered two other people on an 8 mile hike. So that wasn't bad.

I followed the trail to judge the quality of it, this multi-use hiking and equestrian trail. There were honestly only a few localized areas where the trail showed notable degradation; throughout the 8 miles, the trail was a nice little narrow footpath. Several waterways course through the area, requiring hopscotching on rocks or during high water events soaking your trousers up to the knee. The Louisiana waterthrush have returned to the streambanks, bobbing their little tails and sounding off with the most dulcet of birdsongs. Bird life was alive that afternoon when the sun finally appeared, warming the area enough for me to ditch my jacket. Red-headed woodpeckers dominated, chuckling as they moved through the oak woodland.

Spring wildflower season is certainly here in earnest. Dutchman's breeches must be the most common of all in this wilderness, not restricted to moist bottomlands but all over the woodlands. I visited the area for a rapid assessment of the wilderness character and the open woodlands, sweeping vistas, and natural setting certainly fit the bill. Unfortunately, and now all too common throughout the Ozarks near urban areas, it wasn't only native spring wildflowers and shadbush that have woken up from a long winter. Bush honeysuckle peppered the landscape and in abandoned homesteads, multiflora rose existed in impenetrable thickets. Granted, I'm less concerned about the abandoned homesteads and more concerned about the future of the naturalness in the area. Exotic species like bush honeysuckle thrive in closed canopy conditions like this one. As an unofficial part of the Honeysuckle Eradication Project spearheaded in my town, I pulled probably 30 or 40 plants just on the hike. Indeed, the bush honeysuckle issue degrades the wilderness character. On a positive note, it's still in the manageable stage for now, unlike a lot of similar areas near urban settings.

It was pleasing to spend the day here and not see major threats to the wilderness, despite development encroachment near the area's borders. At the crest of every hillside, the sweeping vistas, the viewshed, remained wild. But the bush honeysuckle is rabbit in the headlights of a steamroller moving at 90 mph. If the issue is not addressed soon, immediately, actually, we'll lose the very naturalness and primeval state for which this area was protected.


Patricia A. Laster said...

Oh, how I enjoy "shadowing" you in your walks. Honeysuckle (non-bush) is rampant on my acre, too, along with privet, both of which I try valiantly to eradicate, but unsuccessfully, so far. I discovered of the many non-native, invasive plants on this one acre of inherited land, there are FIVE of those so-called plants: vining vinca, wisteria and English ivy. My(nearly 80)body will take so much work at a time before naps are needed. But I keeping on keeping on. Like you apparently do. Love your blogs Even tho' my two Ozark-based books are published, I still have one foot in the Ozarks.

Allison Vaughn said...

It's a constant battle to keep exotics out. Our privet problems are generally localized in the Missouri Bootheel (southern) but the honeysuckles are really taking off in closed canopies. Once they're cut and stump treated, we generally manage with regularly occurring prescribed fire. At home, my exotics are restricted to the fencerows I share with neighbors--if the roots are on my side, I pull them out!
Most old homesteads are always going to have exotics like the ones you mention. You should see the bluebells this year in the Ozarks! Off the charts.