Saturday, April 29, 2023

Odd Orchards

     Say 'orchard' and 'apple' would be my response. Until last week. That's when I spent a couple of hours exploring two conifer seed orchards in southern Washington County. I didn't see any apples but did find an interesting variety of trees bearing cones rather than fruit. 

     One grove is located in Mt. Tom State Forest, accessed from Lincoln Hill Road and the other is in Chestnut Woods State Forest, accessed from Chestnut Hill Road. Both forests are in the Town of White Creek near the Vermont border southeast of the Village of Cambridge.

Mt. Tom and Chestnut Woods State Forests shown on lower right side of map

     The orchards are used by DEC's Saratoga Tree Nursery for the production of seed from 'desirable' trees. At the Mt. Tom site there are Scotch Pine, European Larch, Jack Pine, Norway Spruce and Red Pine. At the Chestnut Woods location Norway Spruce and Japanese Larch predominate. The trees were planted in '60's, '70's and '80's in an 18' by 18' grid. Today, they are large, mature and densely clustered.

The seed orchard is where the green shade on the map connects with Lincoln Hill Road

     The Mt. Tom orchards are on the north side of Lincoln Hill Road where a rough dirt lane angles uphill. Look for a brown metal post that probably once had a sign but no longer does. Best to park here and walk because the lane is blocked by a fallen tree. As you wander up you'll see some scraggily Scotch Pine with its orange upper bark and 2"- 3" long needles in clusters of two. Continuing along an access road the next planting to your right is European Larch. 

Two Scotch Pine frame European Larch in the distance

Larch greening up

     Beyond the Larch in what appears to be a gap filling in with weeds and brush you can see a few tall trees. These are Jack Pine and while I didn't venture into the brambles I only counted about a dozen individuals. Finally the path you are following enters a crowded stand of Norway Spruce. Here the ground is littered with cones. One last group of conifers can be seen by walking to the left up thru an open hardwood forest towards a ridgeline where there is a cluster of Red Pine.

Several Jack Pine in the distance, Norway Spruce on the left

Red Pine showing typical 'bushy' needle clusters

     They may do a little bush-hogging but the orchard seems to get little maintenance. Hardwood trees are invading the conifer orchard along with native White Pine. The Norway Spruce and European Larch seem to be doing OK but the Scotch and Jack Pine not so great. While there, look for an interesting 'lane' created by two parallel stone walls to the left of the spruces, apparently a relic of livestock grazing from times gone by.

Cow (or sheep) highway?
The lane between stone walls.

     To see the stands in Chestnut Woods State Forest drive east on Lincoln Hill Road to a four way intersection, turning left onto Chestnut Hill Road. Soon you will see a sign for Chestnut Woods State Forest but this is not where you want to go. Continue driving up thru a scenic notch, then downhill until there's a woods road on the right just before the entrance to Pompanuck Farm. This road is where you want to go but don't try driving up it. I did but you are smarter than me. It's just barely passable with a hi-clearance 4x4 that you don't care much about. It's a death wish for other vehicles. Best to find a place to park off the side of the town road and walk up the woods road.

The ROW to the northern part of Chestnut Woods doesn't show on this map
It's located just to the right of the question mark shaped squiggle, map center

     As you ascend the Right of Way look for a yurt off to the left (apparently part of Pompanuck) and then a cleared pull-off a little further. This is as far as I drove. I believe this is the boundary of the state forest. The plantations begin here. They seem entirely unmanaged, almost a part of the natural forest. I remember Norway Spruce on the left and Japanese Larch to the right, but there were  other conifers mixed in as well. After a short walk I came to a clearing that seems to be mowed and kept open. It's a scenic spot with a variety of trees, both evergreen and deciduous, around the edges. Since it was late in the day I didn't continue further or examine the orchards but this could be an interesting area to explore. From the upper clearing the Vermont border is less than a mile to the east but it might be a tough mile since there is a high ridge in between. 

At the clearing


     * Conifers are cone bearing seed plants. Most are trees but a few are woody shrubs. They are economically important for softwood lumber, for use in paper making and as landscape plantings. Chances are you have some around your house. They predominate in northern latitudes and at high elevations.

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     * Larches, aka tamaracks, are deciduous conifers that drop their needles in the fall and grow new ones in spring. The needles are in clusters on warty knobs close to the branch. They are a beautiful pale green color when first emerging this time of year. The two species in the orchards are introduced Japanese Larch (Larix kaempfori) and European Larch (Larix decidua). Both favor upland habitat. There is also a native American Larch (Larix laricina) more adapted to wetlands. Locally, do you think Argyle's Tamarack Swamp might be a good  place to look for those?

Larch needles emerging


     * For more on the Saratoga Tree Nursery go here.

     * If all this 'orcharding' leaves you with an appetite you might want to stop at the Round House Bakery at Pompanuck on Chestnut Hill Road. Here's a link. 

     * I want to thank NYS DEC foresters Ben Thomas and Rebecca Terry of the Warrensburg office  for help with this post.     

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Canals at Crandall

     I've spent a lot of time working with backhoes. Most of that time was digging trenches for drainage tile on farm fields. The goal is a ditch about two feet wide and three to five feet deep. A diesel tractor with an hydraulic pump supplies the power to rhythmically scoop out dirt a few linear feet at a time. Perforated plastic pipe goes in and the opening is then backfilled. It's slow, dirty work and it has given me tremendous appreciation for the canal builders of the early 1800's.

     Their trench was much bigger (originally twelve feet wide, four feet deep and 62.6 miles long) and they dug it with crude tools and muscle power - human and animal. Try digging even a small hole with a shovel in heavy clay and you'll get a sense of what was involved. Hit bedrock and the task gets even harder. The completion of the Champlain Canal in 1823 is a feat worth celebrating and that's what two exhibits currently on view at Crandall Library does.

     In the upstairs mezzanine gallery a variety of works in different mediums make up the Through Inland Waters: Champlain Canal at 200 show. Over thirty artists have contributed oils and acrylics, watercolors, pastels, pen and ink, photography and textile creations. The result is an expansive, pleasing mix of ways to see the canal. While the exhibit is only up until April 28 the art will remain online  here.

     Downstairs in the Folklife Gallery Champlain Canal Stories is on view till the end of the year. This exhibit is tied together by a series of survey maps of the canal as it existed shortly after completion. The maps stretch from Whitehall to Waterford and are quite detailed. Historical photos, drawings, artifacts and current navigation charts round out the offering.

     Note that a free concert of Erie Canal songs and stories on Thursday, April 27 at 7:00pm complements the exhibits. You might also enjoy reading about the canal in books such as The Champlain Canal: Mules to Tugboats by Captain Fred G. Godfrey and A History of the Glens Falls Feeder Canal by Michael LaCross.

Lock 9 of the Barge Canal

     Of course, nothing beats exploring the canal in person.  Remember that there are actually two canals: remnants of the original Champlain Canal along with the modern Barge Canal which opens for cruising in the spring. Even if you don't have a boat the locks are fun places to visit with their park like atmosphere. For cyclists, the Empire State Trail connects several of the locks making for an interesting tour.

Canal boat basin from Bound by Fate brew pub deck in Schuylerville
(had to set my beer down to take this shot)

     To see what remains of the old canal try visiting Schuylerville, the Lock 12 mini-park near Fort Miller, Fort Edward or the Towpath Road in Kingsbury. Also the Feeder Canal thru Glens Falls and Hudson Falls with its adjacent walkway and the impressive Five Combines locks below Burgoyne Avenue are a great destination.

Lock 12


Old locks at Fort Ann

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Mushroom Meg

     I use to carry a torch for Middlebury. This was back when Holly was looking at colleges. The small Vermont school had a lot to like. A top notch liberal arts education in a classic New England town surrounded by all manner of outdoor recreation. At only a little over an hour from home I figured it would be easy to see our daughter now and then. I imagined sneaking in weekend hikes, bikes and skis together.

     This was before I fully understood the maelstrom of the college years. Before she heard the Bulldog's bark and debunked for New Haven, Connecticut. Four hours away was too much for me to fit between milking cows morning and night, so for six years I didn't see a lot of the kid. 

     But I still had Middlebury. It's a beautiful campus in a town that's vibrant without being overwhelming. And there's all those mountains, streams and backroads to explore. So I've continued to pay the occasional visit, sometimes driving up Rt. 22, other times taking Vt. 30. Both are scenic delights. The northern Taconics, the Greens and the Champlain Valley just feel comfortable to me.

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     My most recent trip to Middlebury was just a few days ago. Ironically, it was with Holly, whose college days are now in the rear view mirror. We had a busy Vermont agenda that included stops in Bristol, Montpelier, Barre and Rutland, but there was just enough time to squeeze an hour for Middlebury into the schedule. The plan was to check out the Urban Cadence exhibit at the college's Museum of Art. Alas, the student who was on Sunday museum duty partied a little too hard the night before and didn't show up to open the galleries. Despite assurances that she would be there "any minute now" we couldn't wait. So, no art this time, but on the way out I picked up a couple of free newspapers - Seven Days and the student published The Middlebury Campus. I'm glad I did because both publications mentioned an intriguing woman who I want to tell you more about.

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     Her name is Meg Madden and mushrooms are her claim to fame. Or, more precisely, gorgeous images of mushrooms. Madden is a Middlebury local who says "being a renaissance woman, I have dedicated my adult life to the pursuit of knowledge and hands-on experience." That pursuit has included stints growing flowers, working as a carpenter and cabinet maker, creating jewelry and now focusing on all things mycological.

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     She leads mushroom walks thru-out Vermont, did a BioBlitz looking for fungi last fall, is working on documenting every fungus found in the Green Mountain State and has recently written This is a book for people who love Mushrooms. Obviously a busy girl.

     What fascinates me about Madden is her willingness to follow her inclinations, to turn a whim into a field of expertise and a way to support herself. Many of us have something we're passionate about but it's placed on the back burner as we focus on 'practical matters', our 'regular job', on 'making a living'. Not Meg. She just seems to go for it, trusting that her enthusiasm and creativity will carry her through. As she said in one interview "Embrace being uncomfortable." She may not be the best person to go to for a loan but, boy is she inspiring.

Meg in her garden
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     If you want to buy her book, go on one of her nature walks or just see more of her photos try Goggling 'Meg Madden'. I know she has a very popular Instagram page. Of course, locally we have Sue Van Hook, the mycologist based in Cambridge who leads occasional guided trips. Going on an outing with a knowledgable leader and a group of enthusiasts is a great way to learn and so much fun. With a little bit of effort you should be able to find birding, wildflower, geology and, yes, mushroom walks. Try the Pember Museum, Merck Forest, Audubon, Grassland Bird Trust and Ag Stewardship Association websites to see what's upcoming. See you out there... 

Meg Madden 
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