February 27, 2016

North Country Trail: Nelson Swamp

When I was reviewing online trail maps before my recent Art Park hike, I discovered there is another cross-country section of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) just a mile or so down Stone Quarry Road from where I turned around on that hike.  I didn't have time to go further that day, because I needed to get back in time to pick Frankie up from school.  Also, I'm not remotely interested in hiking on roads.  However, I am definitely interested in exploring new trails.  Between that hike and the one we did today, I've definitely got the bug to keep exploring new sections of the NCT.  We hiked a few sections of the NCT last summer, and Frankie was enthusiastically and affectionately calling it "the interstate trail" (he loves highways), so I thought he'd be excited to hike more of it today.  Plus I saw pictures of the foot bridge over Chittenango Creek, and I knew he'd like that.  Pooh sticks!

This section of trail follows an old railroad bed through Nelson Swamp Unique Area.  I love the concept, but rail trails conversions aren't usually terribly interesting for hiking -- although I often find them more appealing on a bike.  The beginning of this trail is no exception, starting out arrow-straight and perfectly level.  Long sight lines seem to make a trail feel monotonous, even if it's actually not.  I also feel a sensation of separation from being elevated, as if I'm only passing through the woods, but am not actually in the woods.  And yes, I realize that sounds a little crazy.  Nevertheless, I want to be in the woods!  Rationally, being elevated is a good thing in this case, because the trail goes right through a massive wetland.  The old rail bed affords hikers dry passage through the swamp with adversely impacting the wetland or the rare plants that grow there.

There are two bridges along this section of trail, the first over a fast-flowing tributary, and the second larger bridge over the slow-flowing and bloated Chittenango Creek.  There were spectacularly odd ice formations at the edges of the water, which fascinated me, and Frankie was thrilled to finally play Pooh sticks.  This is a game from the A.A. Milne book, where multiple players drop sticks from the upstream side of the bridge; the player whose stick emerges on the downstream side of the bridge first wins.  Because we hiked this as an out-and-back, we played four separate rounds of Pooh sticks.  This prolonged our outing considerably, but I can think of many worse things than hanging out in such a beautiful place.    

yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

bridge over Chittenango Creek
Chittenango Creek, looking downstream (southwest)
Chittenango Creek, looking upstream (northeast)
Pooh and Piglet
playing Pooh sticks

jumping for joy

red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
bark beetle handiwork

the Fenner wind turbines in the distance
the cross-country segment ends at Hardscrabble Road
I told Frankie we had to throw a snowball in the road before turning back
this turned out to be a great idea

checking out an old springhouse

checking out an old bird nest

giving sticks a bath -- this was an elaborate activity he devised while I was looking at ice
the interpretive trail is a small loop that goes by a faster flowing section of Chittenango Creek

This map from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation illustrates our route.  We started at the parking area on Constantine Bridge Road and followed the Link Trail "hiking trail" all the way to Hardscrabble Road, then turned around.  On the way back we took followed the "universal access trail" spur, which loops south to the river before rejoining the main trail.  MapMyRide tracked the hike at 3.6 miles round trip.

Download map here.

February 24, 2016

North Country Trail: Art Park

My normal work schedule is four days a week, so I occasionally have part of a day to myself when Frankie is at school.  Between appointments and errands, snow days and school vacations, it doesn't happen every week -- not even close.  But every now and then, things line up perfectly for me.  I am excruciatingly prone to cabin fever this time of year, so when I realized I'd have such a day to myself this week, I was determined to get out for a hike.  It was a no brainer.   

I've been hiking at the Stone Quarry Art Park many times over the years.  A section of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) passes through the property, and I have often wondered where it goes once it leaves the Art Park.  I decided I'd find out today.  I left my car at the trailhead along Mill Street just south of the village of Cazenovia, and hiked the cross-country portion of the trail to Stone Quarry Road, then turned around and re-traced my path back to my car.  I used the MapMyRide app to track my mileage at 4.9 miles round trip. 

When I hike with Frankie, I generally look for favorable atmospheric conditions; we're fair weather hikers for the most part.  Luckily I am not bound to such conventions for solo hikes, because the weather today was practically foul.  It was pouring rain when I woke up, and still raining when I took Frankie to school.  It was 31 degrees, so my car was nicely coated with ice, but the roads were not slippery so I continued on my way.  It rained for the entire drive to Cazenovia, and was still raining when I got to the trail head.  I donned my rain gear and headed out.  When I got back to my car afterwards, it was still raining, but had warmed up to 32 degrees.  I didn't see another human the entire hike. 

I didn't even bring my camera because of the rain, but did take a bunch of pictures with my phone.  Between the trail I hadn't been on before and the different installations at the Art Park, I couldn't just couldn't resist!  The first part of the trail passes quite close to a residential subdivision, skirting a few backyards.  However, the trail is a super narrow single track (the best!) and moves away from the houses quickly.  It winds through stream valleys and squeezes through hedgerows along the edge of farm fields.  There are a lot of welcome improvements in the way of plank bridges.  The trail is extremely well signed, with lots of blue markers evident. 

There is no signage indicating the Art Park boundary, but the petrified stump exhibit is a give away that one has arrived!  The Art Park has a lot of trails I did not walk on today (and a lot of additional installations); I stuck to the NCT and followed the markers all the way across the property.  Stone Quarry Road was my turn around point for the day.  Despite the cold rain, I really enjoyed myself out there.  I don't have enough solitude in this phase of my life, and just hearing my own thoughts in my head was a real treat.  And I found the trail to be charming and lovely, as well!

The shingles are a nice touch on the bridges -- they significantly reduce slipperiness in wet conditions.
white pine (Pinus strobus)

In south-facing areas, the snow had mostly melted except a spine along the trail.

Rest in peace, Mike.  Thank you for sharing your property and waterfall! 
Mike's Falls

The petrified stumps serve as notice that the trail has crossed into the Stone Quarry Art Park.

I guess it's maple season already.
The sap is flowing.

My favorite installation is still here!

I'd never seen these whimsical horses before.
My turn around point: Stone Quarry Road.
The blue NCT markers are visible on the telephone poles down the road. 
I left the trail briefly to get a closer look at the horse sculptures.
The ski slopes are barely visible through the rain to the southwest.

beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana)