Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The X-C Files: Carter's Pond

     Not sure if a 'track tour' is even a thing, but I think I just went on one. It was at the Carter's Pond Nature Trail in the Town of Greenwich. Gwenne and I spent a pleasant hour skiing the woods there. But a good part of that hour was spent looking at the myriad animal tracks criss crossing the forest floor.

     The snow was soft and powdery - great for skiing and for preserving a record of all kinds of critter activity. Beds where deer had settled into the snow were common. Also, lots of small rodent prints with an obvious tail drag mark. Piles of cone debris at the base of a tree were sign that somebody's lunch counter was in the branches above. We saw beaver gnawed trees and a couple of lodges out in the pond. Sportsmen place nest boxes here and Gwenne noticed a couple of ducks in the open water of the outlet stream.

     Carter's Pond Wildlife Management Area is a 453 acre block of state land in south-central Washington County. Most people will access it by turning onto Rt. 338 (aka Co. Rt. 49) from Rt. 29 halfway between Greenwich and Salem. In a mile or two you'll come to a couple of parking areas. The first is for the nature trail and the second for  boat launch and ice fishing access to the pond. One word of caution - neither area appears to be plowed which makes winter activities a little dicey. This is a place where they spend tax dollars encouraging people to visit but neglect to tell you to bring your own plow and shovel.
     As it turned out, getting into the parking area was the biggest adventure we had all day. The skiing here is relatively tame. The trail isn't groomed or particularly wide but it is mostly level. First thing you'll see is a wooden viewing platform overlooking the pond. The trail here is hardened and constructed with wheelchairs in mind - at least in summer. A nice touch making this a destination for handicapped folks looking to immerse in nature.

     On our visit we skied a short distance to a small dam that creates the pond. There were views to the north of a valley surrounded by hills. These are the folded and faulted low Taconics consisting of rocks that were formed to the east and subsequently thrust into place 450 million years ago. While the topography can seem chaotic and jumbled there is a discernible north - south trend to the ridges and intervening valleys. In this particular valley Cossayuna Lake, several small impoundments and the extensive wetlands of Carter's Pond are tied together by Whittaker Brook, which eventually empties into the Battenkill River.

Ice fishing tent on Carter's Pond

     Glacial deposits from thirteen thousand years ago shape the landscape we see today. Wetlands and lakes are the result of blocked drainage. Outwash and kame deposits are currently mined for sand and gravel. We skied on a sinuous raised ridge that might be the remnants of an esker - a snake like mound of gravel left by streams running beneath glacial ice.
     With deep snow this ridge and short steep banks dropping down to the stream could provide skiers with a few thrills. In winter there isn't a real need to stay on the trail. The hardwood and pine forest is open and the area so small and contained that there's no chance of getting lost. I've heard there are plans to build a bridge across Whittaker Brook which would give access to more of the area on the Ferguson Road side.

     The nature trail traverses the southern point of the arrowhead shaped WMA. To the immediate north is the pond and then extensive wetlands along with small upland areas. Drive up 338 to the hamlet of Cossayuna and you can take a right on Mill Road, east across Whittaker Brook to another parking area on the northern border of the WMA. This offers the possibility of skiing on the open uplands and exploring the marshy areas along the stream. That's if you've got any energy left after shoveling out a spot for your vehicle in the unplowed lot!

     The dead of winter is actually full of life if you're out and observant. At Carter's Pond, on the farm and elsewhere Gwenne and I have recently seen a fisher, a porcupine, Red Tail and Coopers hawks, flocks of crows and several deer. We've heard a barred owl hooting at night in our big maple tree. And we've seen tracks and sign of beaver, fox, mice, rabbits, squirrels, turkey and woodpecker. In the cold, white spareness of winter there is something uplifting in these sightings. Life persists and if we bravely meet the seasons challenges another spring will be our reward.

     Shortly after our visit we had a January meltdown with rain and temps in the 60's. Time to switch from skis to surfboards! But as I write it's cold and snowing again so who knows? No matter how you get out there, winter is a good time for tracking and wildlife viewing. There's a new book that could help. I've heard it's good.

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