The Raleigh Naturalist

February 13, 2010

Snowy Tree Blocks Buckeye Greenway

Downed Tree on Buckeye Trail in East Raleigh Blocks Snowy Greenway

High winds on top of rains toppled quite a few trees in the area, including this pair of medium specimens lying across the Buckeye Trail greenway at the bottom of Suicide Hill, as it was labeled by the cross country runners who used the greenway before its recent upgrade.  Lowered grade, I should say, since the cruelest, steepest stretch was lengthened and terraced to bring this oldest section of greenway into national codes.  Suicide Hill climbs a rugged quartz and sandstone outcrop that forms the Rocky Overhang, one of the seminal pillars of this blog, as it represents my favorite Crabtree hangout.

Raleigh Nature’s  “scoop” on this downed tree is wonderfully fitting as I get back to basics after a bit of hiatus. Enamored of the Ken Burns series, engulfed by teaching responsibilities, and constantly lured by my current intellectual fling, Ray Johnson/Black Mountain/mail art, I have wintered in the blog a bit, but could not resist the lovely, harmless 3 inch fluff that ended on a Saturday morning.  So I took off for my favorite sight-seeing greenway, Buckeye Trail from Milburnie Road. At the edge of Rollingwood, Crabtree has carved out a tall bluff (at least for this part of Raleigh) and under this 40 foot hump the creek has gouged a fishing hole complete with overhanging boulder shelves from which to cast.  Drowning worms  and hauling up the occasional catfish or bream at the Rocky Overhang is a family tradition for me as child and parent.  Heck, I took dates there, I loved the place so much. I was slightly horrified the day soon after Hurricane Floyd came through to see that a very large sycamore tree across the creek had fallen directly onto the Rocky Overhang, and for several years it was too tangled to get down there.  The kids and I mourned but also learned some valuable lessons about how Crabtree changes over time.  Now that tree has finally eased its way mostly into the fishing hole (after forming a hideous litter trap for more than a year on the way in) and the boulders have cleared somewhat.  In the spring, we’ll take a look, but for now here are more snowy scenes from Buckeye Trail, a gall tale, and a link to the photo album from my snow walk.

 

The baby beeches we have admired before looked nice mixed into the snowy pines.  Below is the scene at the beginning of Buckeye, where Longview Branch parallels Milburnie as it slides into Crabtree.

 

Below is a  ditched brook that brings water from the slopes of Rollingwood under the greenway and into Longview Branch just before it reaches the creek.

Just off  Milburnie is the old landfill that now forms a rich meadow, a favorite browsing place of the numerous deer living in Crabtree’s floodplains in East Raleigh. 

Below are some deer and coon tracks in the February snow.

The stump of a large oak I miss very much looked just as sad in the beautiful snow.  This tree had the largest gall I ever saw – a triple-grapefruit sized lump that housed the larvae of box elder beetles.  Greenway maintenence brought it down – I doubt the gall was a factor, but I’ve wondered.

the oak gall

Photo Album of my snow walk

 

December 27, 2009

The Most Dangerous Species Grudgingly Groks Predators

Filed under: About & reflection, Exotica, green initiatives, Greenways & Parks, Nature Lore — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 9:40 pm

Wolf Face by Photos8

The wolf and bear are perfect bookends for a volume-sized summary of Ken Burns’ enormous film series about the national parks.  We came to this country and decimated the vibrant diverse native human population, mostly through disease, and then scoured the country for dangerous animals, paying bounties to cleanse the land of wicked ferocious predators.

When it came to the emerging national parks, it was no different.  Only until Alaska provided a landscape  huge and truly untamable did wildlife inside the parks begin to hold equal sway with the natural landscapes.  Many park officials recognized the vital role of wildlife all along, but wolves and bears were removed nonetheless.  Now we are slowly coming around to a national policy that recognizes the irreplacable contribution large predators make to an ecosystem.

The wolf –  free, wild and dangerous – is portrayed as the symbolic epitome of our estrangment with nature in the final segment of Ken Burn’s film on the national parks.  Wallace Stegner’s ideas frame the parks as a survival necessity – not just  for “the trumpeter swan and bison… but us.”  Stegner knew we needed “sanctuary from a world paved over with concrete by the raw engineering power of the 20th century.”  The ultimate sanctuary, in park terms, was Alaska, where park superintendent Adolf Murie championed the wolf as the crowning jewel of “a glimpse of the primeval.”  From Alaska came the research and experiences that brought about re-introduction of large predators into the continental U.S. parks.

Murie wrote a pro-coyote report concerning Yellowstone that almost got him fired – and did get him packed off to Alaska, where he helped establish the greatest U.S. nature preserves of all. In 1867 “Seward’s Folly” was derided as too remote to be valuable.   111 years later, Morris Udall and Jimmy Carter culminated Alaska preservation by signing off on 17 national monuments comprising 56 million acres (in Alaska communities, all hell broke loose about the feds stealing the state). The Alaska Coalition that facilitated the legislation represented the largest grassroots conservation effort in history.

Denali National Park in Alaska

The final segment of National Parks: America’s Best Idea folded an eclectic concoction of historical and policy facts around Alaska and our large mammals.  The crucial theme of preservation balanced against use is applied to various projects as well as the pure numbers.  By 1950, National Park visitors reached 32 million in number: by just the mid-50’s that number hit 62 million – 98% by car. These numbers would have crushed any system, eventually even Alaska, but for the strong atmosphere and policies created by National Park Service professionals, developing park policies based on scientific research from the emerging academic discipline of ecology. Aside from limiting roads and managing tourist hordes, one of the toughest policies to implement was the simple directive:  Don’t feed the bears!  Though wolves were extirpated from Yellowstone, the “cute” black bears were fed and habituated to tourists for years.  We can minimize our contact and effect, but we can’t really avoid interactions with wildlife, and interactions with dangerous predators require intense management.  The thorny problems inferent in the situation are not least of why Dayton Duncan emphasizes that “each generation must re-protect these lands.”

Burns and Duncan are stalwart in offering breathtaking proof of the value of such work.  They also did yeoman’s work in coverage of the National Park Service’s vast mission, which now includes hundreds of National Monuments and National Historic Sites.  This final segment also continued the thread of appealing human interest stories, from fish guiding Biscayne Bay to home movies of Echo Park.  But I was ready for the end, which came beautifully with the 1995 release of wolves into Yellowstone.  The elk are all the better off for it, and the creekside willows they eat are again thriving.  We can get it right sometimes in this great country, and the national parks are a great example.

All Raleigh Nature posts on the Ken Burns film

PBS website for National Parks: America’s Best Idea

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Wildlife in Raleigh is regaining some small aspects of full-fledged wilderness with top-of-the-chain predators.  “Black bears are here to stay,”.  a NandO story just proclaimed.  “Coyote Pyrotechnics at RDU airport” was the title of the WRAL story relating that 2 regional jets carrying about 50 passengers each struck coyotes in a recent week.  Raleigh Eco News has thoroughly documented the establishment of coyotes in the Triangle.  Can we co-exist with coyotes? Probably so, because they are quite discreet. Can we, through the 21st century, co-exist with wolves, mountain lions, and bears of all kinds?  It remains to be seen.

coyote

The Daily Coyote

is an amazing record of human co-existence with a very personable “domesticated” coyote.  Very thought-provoking!

November 1, 2009

Park Your Car – Drive Your Park

Filed under: About & reflection, Exotica, Greenways & Parks — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 11:01 pm

Continental Divide_1_1

“The advent of the automobile was the great democratizing factor” in the development of our national parks.  This statement by Lee Whittlesey frames the theme of Ken Burn’s film as it explores the expansion of the national park system east of the Mississipi and within reach of the three-quarters of the American people who lived there.  The railroad liasons encouraged by Parks superintendent Stephen Mather were forsaken by him for a love affair with the automobile that co-evolved with our broader national shift on a similar bent.  The automobile became America’s way to visit the National Parks, and they became available to many levels and locales of American society.

In 1920 National Parks visitors reached the one million mark for a year.  Mather, whose central vision of the parks involved recreation, had achieved this through strategies that included golf courses, zoos, summer camps, and a proposal for Yosemite Valley as a prime site for the Winter Olympics.  In the years following , Mather worked with auto clubs, chambers of commerce, “Good Roads” initiatives, and highway builders to begin and promote a national park scenic roadway.  Within two years, the visitor count had doubled to two million a year.  For Mather the car and its highways were the “Open Sesame” to a new era.

South Mtn development_1_1

For us Tarheels, an important part of that new era was the formation of  The Great Smokies National Park.  It was the first National Park built partly with federal funds, and benefited from CCC and WPA work during the depression.  The film devotes a nice section called “Back of Beyond” to the creation of the park, primarily through the efforts of Horace Kephart, a genius librarian with a life broken by marital woes and drinking, who moved to the Smokies for a life respite and spent the rest of his life working to protect the landscape he said had saved his soul.  He received tremendous support from  Asian photographer George Masa as well as the collected funds of grade school children from Asheville to Tennessee.

 Kephart was drawn to the “dreamy blue smoky haze” of the Smokies, where skyline merged with sky.  He found an “astonishing isolation of a majestic region set in the midst…of American civilization.”  He also found a community of outsiders with whom he could identify, described in the film as “moonshiners, Confederate deserters, Union sympathizers and remnants of the Cherokee Tribe who had taken the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.  The film also demonizes (with great justification) the industrial logging which threatened to clear-cut the Smokies.  The park preserves half a million acres, but a lot of the resident outsiders admired by Kephart gave up lands and homes to create it.

The Blue Ridge Parkway was created right along with The Great Smokies, and was originally called the “Appalachian Scenic Highway.”  North Carolina’s mountains serve as a classic example of the automotive travel site, and I personally am very proud of the Parkway and can live, in the longest run, with the sacrifices of our mountain families.  We are all lucky to have the old growth Appalachian forests that we have – if we can just preserve them from acid rain and invasive species!

Stephen Mather may have done his bit to propel us toward a car-dominated society, but his overall accomplishents with the Parks remain massive. One aspect emphasized in this part of the film was his professionalization of the Park Service.  He hand-picked superintendents and allowed a strong culture of preservation to develop that serves even today as a constant balance to the recreational use of the parks.  The Park Rangers are given tribute as the personification of the parks, with the romanticism of a campfire talk by a Ranger as the epitome of a source for natural history.  Look for one more post about the wrap-up of this film, which ended its story at 1980.  And know that a big goal now is to get myself to the Great Smokies for a dip back into our very own National Park!

PBS home page of Nat. Parks film

PBS pages for the individual parks

You may select shorts videos of sections of the film here.

creek into Broad_1_1

Raleigh Nature posts on the Ken Burns film

October 4, 2009

Walnut Creek Wetland Center opening

Walnut Creek Wetland Center_1_1

Numerous city and parks officials joined a large crowd of citizens for the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of  The Walnut Creek Wetland Center.

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Dr. Norman Camp listened to Mayor Charles Meeker, city councilman James West and park officials speak about the new center.  Then the founder of Partners for Environmental Justice , and the man who sheperded this project into being, got up and spoke of the center as a shining new gem in Raleigh’s crown,” as quoted on Raleigh Eco News.

Walnut Creek crowd_1_1

The crowd listened attentively as the benefits for Southeast Raleigh as well as the ecosystem were described and the many supporters and participants were thanked.  Then they were rewarded with a magnificent poem written for the occasion, by Christopher Rowland, a Southeast Raleigh native who wows the crowds at Artspace’s Stammer under the name Langston Fuze.

Chris Rollins reads_1_1

Click here for a 1 minute video clip of the poem 

for the full text of the poem, see the post at

Raleigh Eco News

wetland musicians_1_1

Musicians entertained on the “longest back porch in the Southeast,” and Erin Sterling, architect of record for the project from Frank Harmon Architecture, explained the details of the green design.  The building is 230 feet long and narrow so that all rooms get light from two sides and often three.  It is sloped up to the north and shelters its southern exposure with the long low porch roof.  Raleigh’s final budget did not allow for the planned rainwater cisterns, but they can come later and the gutters now direct into bioretention areas – long rain gardens that surround the space.  The building is on stilts and allows natural water flow under it – important in this floodplain.  Recycled lumber and building materials were used when possible, and native plantings surround the site.

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

On the other hand, several of us gazed from the wonderful porch at a huge stand of Microstegia (bamboo or stilt grass) just at the edge of the construction clearing and bemoaned a bit the vast future work entailed in continued future protection of this site and may others in Raleigh.  The educational center will raise awareness of those issues, and provide a much needed amenity and attraction in this part of Raleigh.

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

The longest porch in the Southeast

The longest porch in the Southeast

Walnut Creek  sign_1_1

September 28, 2009

Walnut Creek Center opens Tuesday

Filed under: green initiatives, Greenways & Parks, Southeast Raleigh — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 1:20 am
Walnut Creek Center under construction in February

Walnut Creek Center under construction in February

Walnut greenway entrance_1_1

Sue Sturgis at Raleigh Eco News has an excellent post about the new Walnut Creek Wetland Center, which has a grand opening at 5:30 this Tuesday, Sept. 29th.  Raleigh Nature featured the center back in February, describing Frank Harmon’s green design, which Sue explains in detail.

Walnut Creek wetland_1_1

 This stretch of greenway presents some interesting wetland areas, but the largest has suffered from lack of water for the last few years.  I haven’t seen the scene above that wet for a long time – the spot is at the edge of the marsh just below Women’s Prison.  Below is a typical stretch of the creek, which continues to be sand-washed and silt laden.  The new  center is just the focal point of multiple efforts to improve the watershed.

Sandy beach on Walnut Creek east of State Street

Sandy beach on Walnut Creek east of State Street

Info from the center’s website:

Walnut Creek Wetland Center

950 Peterson Street Raleigh, NC 27610

You are invited to come enjoy the center at your leisure, explore our educational displays, wander the greenway trails, relax in a rocking chair on the expansive deck overlooking the floodplain, or ask our knowledgable center staff any questions you may have about the wetlands and wildlife you encounter.

Visitors who want to explore the wetlands more can register for low cost instructional programs. Fun activities for all ages will be offered year-round encouraging the sense of wonder all people feel in their favorite woods, park or local greenspace. Using the variety of natural habitats surrounding the state of the art Wetland Center, park staff will guide visitors in programs that engage students on both a scientific and experiential level. Wetland activities will begin inside the comfort of the center, or on the spacious deck, where visitors will be introduced to the concept of wetlands. The real fun begins when classes take the next step and venture into the wetland to experience nature with their own hands.

Hours of Operation
Tuesday – Saturday 10:00am – Sunset
Sunday 1:00pm – Sunset
Admission: Free

You are invited
Walnut Creek Wetland Center’s Dedication & Open House
Tuesday, September 29th, 2009
5:30-7:30pm
Ribbon-cutting begins at 5:30 pm.
Tours and program demonstrations will follow.

Walnut Creek Wetland Center offers a wilderness experience without leaving the Capital City. Located on 59 acres of undeveloped floodplain near downtown, this new City of Raleigh facility will be the first of its kind.

Sunset at Old Garner Road

Sunset at Old Garner Road

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Raleigh Eco News also posted some important info recently:

Keep those pizza boxes out of Raleigh’s recycling bins

An important reminder from the City of Raleigh:

So you’ve been putting yogurt cups, pizza boxes, and ceramic cups in your recycling bin. Guess what? The City of Raleigh cannot recycle these products.

The top three containers that residents are putting into their recycling bins which the City cannot recycle are:

* Non-bottle shaped plastic items, such as yogurt cups, bags, utensils, and margarine tubs. The City also is urging residents not to put acceptable items into plastic bags when their recycling bin is full. Instead use a box or other container;

* Pizza boxes; and,

* Non-food glass products such as ceramic cups, vases, dishes, plate glass, mirrors and light bulbs.

This is a great reminder, on a local and general level.  If we really want to change our habits relative to recyclable materials, we have to be a bit saavy about consistent appropriate use of the system.  Just as we can’t take disposal and landfill space for granted, we have to understand the basic processes of recycling and help the process work efficiently and cost-effectively.  Great work and thanks, Sue!

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Walnut greenway sign_1_1

Walnut Creek greenway sign

September 24, 2009

Ken Burns Recounts America’s Best Idea

Filed under: About & reflection, Exotica, Greenways & Parks — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 10:32 pm
The Bubble Mountains_1_1_1

The Bubble Mountains in Acadia National Park

 September 27 marks the beginning of yet another fantastic documentary by Ken Burns that reveals the heart and soul of America.  National Parks: America’s Best Idea is a 6 part , 12 hour series that

tells the story of an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence: that the most special places in the nation should be preserved for everyone.  The series traces the birth of the national park idea in the mid-1800s and follows its evolution for nearly 150 years.

North Carolina, with a very strong state park system, boasts only the Great Smokies National Park as part of this system; amazingly, the Great Smokies is the most heavily visited national park.  We share the park with Tennessee.  The Great Smokies Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.  This PBS series, which I have eagerly anticipated and urge you to watch, will focus initially on Yosemite, first sighted by white men in 1851 and worshiped by John Muir and many others.  Yosemite was given federal protection by Abraham Lincoln in 1864.

This is the first instance of park land being set aside specifically for preservation and public use by action of the U.S. federal government, and set a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park.     Wikipedia

 As we follow this series on the blog, I hope to find the time to review a relevant and fascinating book:  Humboldt’s Current and the Roots of American Environmentalism.  The evolution of the national parks is an amazing story of very rich people acting not as royalty or capitalists but as Americans.  I look forward to seeing Ken Burn’s take on this, and sharing more about Aaron Sach’s complex book, which traces the influence of Humboldt, a Prussian scientist who was essentially America’s first professional naturalist, on American explorer naturalists such as Muir.

Raleigh Nature posts on the Ken Burns film

 

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