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On the Trails: Strolling on the Treadwell Ditch Trail

Posted: October 18, 2013 - 12:01am
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A translucent jelly fungus grew on top of a stump.  Photo by David Bergeson
Photo by David Bergeson
A translucent jelly fungus grew on top of a stump.

One fine day in early October, three friends set out to walk the Treadwell Ditch from the Dan Moller trail to Paris Creek. On our way up from the parking lot off Pioneer Avenue, we noted major timber cutting not far above the trail; trees had fallen over the trail earlier but had been trimmed back. The lower part of the Dan Moller trail, up to the Ditch, winds through some pretty, little meadows, but the boardwalk is in serious need of repair: there are many broken boards and popped-up nail heads. A big, sad contrast with the Dan Moller trail above the Ditch to the cabin, where the trail is in pretty good condition.

The Treadwell Ditch trail south of the Dan Moller has received a huge amount of recent work and is now in good shape, as far as Paris Creek. In addition to the big bridge over Lawson Creek, there are many new, smaller bridges that save hikers and bikers and skiers from scrambling in and out of eroded gullies. One especially nasty gully is now circumvented by a re-routed trail with steps that may be tricky for skiers and snowshoers in winter. A few muddy spots remain to be “hardened” by the deposition of gravel, but we strolled by a lone volunteer who was in the process of doing just that. Thanks to Trail Mix for all the good work!

We’ve been told that a bridge over Paris Creek has been planned and funded, so eventually Treadwell Ditch walkers can readily join up with the Mount Jumbo trail to the south. That will avoid the risky, slippery-log walking now required for the creek crossing and the extremely muddy informal trail that parallels the creek down to the lower end of the Jumbo trail. We did none of those things, but back-tracked to the CBJ trail down to Crow Hill.

So much for the trail report (in brief). Now for the fun stuff.

Fall is a good time for fungi of many sorts, and this trip was no exception. We were particularly pleased with the numerous delicate white ones known as angel wings. These dainty fungi grow on conifer logs and stumps, especially on hemlock. Although it is often said to be edible, it is reportedly toxic and potentially lethal for some people. Another interesting one was a small, translucent jelly fungus growing out of the softer growth rings on top of a stump.

The muskegs were awash with colors, a real treat for the eyes. The sedges provided a backdrop of lustrous golden orange. Bunchberry leaves showed off every possible shade of red. Avens leaves were deep red and high-bush cranberry leaves ranged from pink to red. Low-bush blueberry leaves gave us muted maroons and purples, and deer cabbage added some yellow and orange. We don’t have the blazingly colorful tree canopies of the boreal aspen forests or of the eastern forests with their maples and ashes, but if you look lower and think smaller, we sure do have spectacular fall colors!

In the forest, the devil’s club leaves had mostly turned yellow, brightening up the somber tones of the conifers. They were so conspicuous, I paid them more attention than I had earlier in the summer. If you look carefully at these leaves, you can observe that they are usually spaced out laterally so that they don’t shade each other. When one leaf does occur above another, there is usually quite a good vertical distance between them. That way the lower leaf still gets some light. It turns out that the bigger the leaves, the more vertical distance that is needed so they don’t shade each other too much, so the big leaves of devil’s club will be more widely separated than the small leaves of willows or blueberry bushes. In fact, this intuitive principle has been quantified and formalized mathematically, for the benefit of those who like such things.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.

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