Trailside scrapbook

assorted observations from several winter walks

A common sight in our forests is a ‘nurse log’ that supports a row of small hemlocks and maybe a currant or blueberry bush or two. If the log decays, it will leave behind a neat row of trees in an otherwise rather disorganized forest. If the log persists, retaining its form and even spanning small gaps, the row of supported treelets may eventually stretch roots down to the soil.Then they can grow into tall, stalwart trees, still all in a row, with their roots arching over the nurse log. Although nurse logs with tiny trees are common, it seems to be uncommon for the whole row of supported trees to mature while the nurse log persists, but we found a fine example along Montana Creek.

If you walk long the bluff from False Outer Point to the Rainforest Trail, look down to what passes for a beach in this country. Much of the so-called beach below this trail is composed of boulders. But look closely, and you will see that some of the boulders are piled up in good-sized oval mounds, and several such mounds are lined up parallel to the bluff. According to Dr. Cathy Connor, well-known local geologist, these orderly piles of boulders were rafted here by the big ice that filled Lynn Canal thousands of years ago and got left behind when the ice retreated, about fifteen thousand years ago.

When there was lovely, fresh snow on the ground, the snowshoe hares near Steep Creek had been very busy. Their highways led hither and thither, especially among the young spruces. Out on the silt and sand flats where the willow thickets thrive and would offer a decent banquet for hares, there was little trace of hare activity. I’m guessing that the thick, low-growing branches of the spruces offered thermal cover as well as better places for hares to hide from dogs and perhaps aerial predators, and that took precedent over willow lunches.

Along the Old River Channel near the glacier, the eagles had been dancing, even prancing back in among the bushes. I couldn’t tell what they were cavorting about, except in one place right next to the stream, where pink snow gave evidence of an eagle lunch.

In one pond in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area there are two beaver lodges, right across that pond from each other, with a single cache of branches in between them. This is an unusual situation, because beaver families are typically quite territorial and seldom share ponds. I’ll probably never know why this exception exists, but it is food for thought.

And thinking about beavers in another setting: the Switzer Creek area has two old, abandoned beaver ponds up on the hillside, on tiny streams. The dams are still sound, which is why the ponds are still there. When they are not frozen, they provide foraging areas for dippers, which roam widely in winter, and for snipe, which we sometimes find even in thickly wooded, damp areas near such ponds. I don’t know why these beavers disappeared—whether they were trapped or simply moved on. But this situation reminded me that we have found beaver works in other non-ideal locations, including Eaglecrest!—showing that beavers really get around, travelling quite long distances over land, upon occasion.

Coming down through the lower cross-country ski loops at Eaglecrest, the trail crosses Fish Creek on a fairly new wooden bridge (check out the remnants of an old log dam just upstream) and follows the Treadwell Ditch. Not very far after the wooden bridge there is a very new bridge over a small rivulet that flows down to the main creek. Surprisingly, this bridge is an arch made of reinforced concrete, faced with stone. It is expected to last much longer (possibly hundreds of years!) than traditional wooden bridges. This was a personal project of Dave Haas, secretary of Trail Mix, built with the advice of an engineer and the blessing of Trail Mix and CBJ, and the help of numerous volunteers. It will be interesting to see if this style of bridge might be useful in other sites on our trail system. Go out there and see if you like it, and let Dave at Trail Mix know your reactions!