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Walking Back

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The Gardens’ Bulletin
Vol XV Number 5
August, 1961

“who would live turmoiled in the Court,
may enjoy such quiet walks as there.”

King Henry VI

Gardens’ Bulletin, Volume 13, Number 3, which appeared in June 1959 served as an introduction to the newly opened Coldspring Valley Trails.

At that time a promise was made that a future issue would describe these trails in some detail. The completion of a new map for the area provided the incentive to fulfill this promise.

This map shows the location of the entrances to the trails. The use of various symbols points out the course of the trails, and the map draws attention to interesting features in topography as well as the fauna and flora of the Valley…

The trails have been designed in such a way that there are several loops and alternate routes available to the visitor. It is the writer’s intention to describe a typical nature interpretation tour over one of these loops.

The tour begins at Lakelet Avenue entrance as we pass through a Wild Grapevine arch to enter the cool shady forest. After a few steps a large patch of dark green banded spears can be seen growing on both sides apart quite readily and fit together just as easily. This is Scouring-Rush, a member of a very primitive family of plants. Due to an impregnation of silica in the plants, early settlers found that made good pot cleaners, and the name Scouring-Rush has been handed down.

The path continues downhill though a grove of maples giving way to elm and willow as the ground grows wetter. A new trail encountered just past the culvert, is Prospect Circuit and here we should bear right. Again we pass through maples; the Red Maples have sharp sinuses in the leaves, while those of the Sugar Maples are rounded. The sinus is that part of the leaf between the lobes.

Ahead now are the dark greens of evergreens and as we approach they are recognized as hemlocks with their short needles very light on the underside. If we look on the ground under the hemlock we find that they too shed their leaves but not all at once like the deciduous trees. The trail goes down a ramp now and at the bottom is a post with directional signs on it.

We choose the trail to the right called Erigan Trail. Erigan is the name of an ancient river which used to flow through this area but has long since been replaced by rivers such as the Niagara. Some very large old stumps are located at this point, some were White Pines, others were Oaks. The Pine stumps are very durable and may last for a hundred years after the death of the tree. Many of the old stumps support lovely miniature gardens with mosses, lichens and perhaps small flowering plants growing on them.

Soon the trail reaches a long wooden causeway built from railway ties. The reason for the structure is obvious, as it crosses a very wet section of bottomland fed by a small spring creek. Very often, raccoon tracks are visible on the creek bank and at times deer tracks can be seen as well. While crossing the causeway there is always an opportunity to study the Alder and Highbush Cranberry bushes and then we notice the leaves of Marsh Marigold, Skunk Cabbage and Swamp Buttercup growing in the ooze. Once the path reaches dry ground again we should be on the lookout for a patch of Canada Ginger on the right of the trail. It has heart-shaped hairy leaves and a sharp tasting root. Some Indian tribes used the Ginger along with many other plants for food and internal medicine.

The way leads along for several hundred feet though young deciduous woods until a junction is reached. The trail which goes uphill is Maria’s Walk leading to Thorndale Entrance. Erigan continues straight along into an open field. At various intervals in the field, groups of shrubs have been introduced. These are especially selected because they produce fruit attractive to birds. Various types of Crabs, Roses, Caragana and others which have fruits persisting into winter are included in these plantings. Erigan continues along the woodland flank and here are labeled specimens of Red Oak, Black Cherry, Sassafras and Butternut. Soon the trail dips to the valley bottom and we are greeted be a dense profusion of herbaceous plants and annuals competing for space in the hot sun of the open glade. The vines climb all available trees, and in so doing they produce a leafy canopy that cuts the sun from the tree foliage resulting eventually in the death of the tree. Good examples of vine strangulation are evident here and if the Gardens’ staff did not lend a helping hand to the trees by severing the vines the open area would continue to spread.

The ripple of water is heard now and soon the trail skirts the banks of the Coldspring Creek. Although subject to some pollution the Creek is an interesting feature. Along the bank we find several Black Walnuts, in this their preferred habitat. The seeds or nuts which produced these Walnuts were floated down the Creek at flood time and deposited on the bank under a layer of silt, and, given the right conditions they have grown into trees. Along with Walnuts and Elms; Black Willows are the most frequently occurring trees on the valley floor. These Willows occupy most of the very wet area but in dryer condition along the stream banks they are being replaced by Ash, Black Cherry, Elms and nut trees – Butternut, Hickory and Walnut. This is a natural succession where the first fast growing trees are replaced by the slower growing but more durable woods.

At the junction of Erigan, Coldspring and Transvalley we turn left on the latter named trail. Those who continue along Coldspring will be rewarded by the vast stands of Ostrich Fern and they will get a glimpse into the mysteries of the wilderness area across the Creek. This will be kept in an undisturbed state to be visited by only the most hardy individuals. Transvalley traverses the very wet willow-covered valley floor although the trail itself is elevated.

Vines are very much in evidence in Coldspring Valley. The environment appears to have stimulated even the Poison Ivy. It is common to find this ivy clinging to the trees, and climbing up to 30 or 40 ft. above the ground. The Conservation staff of the Gardens carries on an annual ivy control programme, but a few specimens are allowed to remain for the purpose of nature study. Some of these specimens are along Transvalley Trail. Lining the path at the southern end of Transvalley is a fine stand of Sensitive Fern. This distinctive fern is sensitive only in name although the early frosts will lay it low. With a turn to the left the trail reaches firm ground and here we encounter a fine old specimen of American Beech much scarred by the whims of homo sapiens. Here too can be noted trees growing on elevated roots above the water. This results from seedlings becoming established on old stumps or fallen logs. The supporting wood has rotted away leaving the new tree perched on a group of roots.

At this point we find the sign which sent us on our way along Erigan Trail; the loop is completed. The return journey to Lakelet Avenue can be accomplished by going counter clockwise on Prospect Circuit to the lecture area just completed. This lecture area is one of the tangible signs of the Gardens’ nature programme. At other points along the tour we have encountered poster boards with information relevant to the natural history of the area pasted on them. A new series of these is produced each year and are renewed weekly along the trails in Hendrie Valley, Westdale Ravine and Coldspring Valley. This inexpensive method allows the Gardens to continue its programme in spite of spasmodic vandalism. We now turn to the left and follow a gravel path back up to Lakelet Entrance. Before driving away, it is interesting to visit the old Binkley-Bowman Cemetery where many old monuments conjure up links with the past.

Coldspring Valley has interesting prospects for the botanist, the ornithologist and for those individuals who appreciate a mingling of all the natural sciences in a living display.



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