Lawson meadow meanderings

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2011

The meadows near Lawson Creek are a favorite destination for a Parks and Recreation hike or for just exploring. Hikers can now get there from the snowmobilers’ parking lot on Blueberry Hill, up to the Treadwell Ditch, then south on the Treadwell Ditch Trail and over the new bridge at Lawson Creek. The upstream loop of the old Ditch Trail is now cut off by the new bridge, but it is accessible by going partway up the valley on the old Ditch Trail after crossing the bridge or hop right up into a chain of meadows that stretches up the valley.

Photo by Bob Armstrong
Photo by Bob Armstrong

Alternately, hikers can start on Crow Hill, go up the CBJ trail to the Ditch and then, instead of going left on the Ditch Trail to Gastineau Meadows, go right. Rather than using the Ditch Trail here, I prefer to go up the little slope into the first big meadow. From there, continue around the slope and head up Lawson Valley through the chain of meadows.

Eventually, the meadows run out and the forest takes over. Parks and Recreation hikers usually turn around at that point, have lunch and head back down. On a recent excursion, our lunchtime “caf¿” was sheltered from the rain by some tall, dense conifers and we looked out our “window” at the last meadow.

The snow was heavy and wet, and the skiers in the group found it fast going, making it back to the cars in record time. The snowshoers took a good bit longer. On this wet day, the muskegs on the CBJ trail were overflowing the trail in some places, creating deep slush but no problems for our passage. (Right now, as I write, it is hard to even think about rain and wet, with low temperatures and howling winds that lift the snow into swirling clouds hundreds of feet tall. The mountain peaks are invisible.)

There were deer tracks in the lower meadows. The deer were sinking in pretty deeply and probably found it hard to move from one relatively snow-free, forested area to another. In winter, deer find their food under the trees, where the snow pack is less than in the open. There were also several sets of snowshoe hare tracks, partially covered by a little recent snow. Best of all was a set of porcupine tracks, small and close together, showing where a young one, now independent of its mother, had wandered around snacking on shrubs.

Two other wintry walks yielded a couple of tiny treasures that I’ll share:

Before the rains, during an earlier the deep-freeze, I found lots of silken threads dangling from branches. The silks were probably left by juvenile spiders, which use these threads to become airborne on a passing breeze. That’s how they disperse away from their mothers to begin their independent lives. On that day, each silk was covered with layers of tiny crystals of hoarfrost, which sparkled like holiday tinsel — only better!

The second little treasure, at the edge of the Mendenhall wetlands, was short-lived. I heard an unusual bird song nearby and soon spotted a magpie under some alders. The bird was fossicking about, occasionally pecking at the ground, and singing a very soft, sweet, delightful little song, all to itself. It sang for several minutes, and gradually went out of sight, and hearing, in the alder thicket. The bird seemed happy. I certainly was!

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



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