Saturday, April 15, 2017

PA Muddy Run Park: Following the Coonhound

On this Holy Saturday, a day for contemplation and quiet in the Christian tradition, I took my coonhound for a walk at Muddy Run Park across the river in Lancaster County. Being a coonhound and not of any particular tradition, she was her usual vocal self baying at bounding deer and following her nose across the wooded hills with me hanging on for the ride. So much for contemplative and quiet!

Bug pulls me across the bridge to the woods trails! Follow the nose!
Muddy Run Park is a power company facility that encompasses a large flooded valley that is pumped full of water up from the Susquehanna five hundred feet below. The dam that impounds the reservoir is the longest in Pennsylvania and you can drive across the top and look far across the river to York County from the top. But we're here to hike so no ride across the dam.

The lake is the drowned valley of Muddy Run, once a steep ravine creek.
The woods are beginning to blossom. Black cherries are in their finery with delicate clusters of pinkish white blossoms. Spicebush glows yellow in the old meadow woods. Buds on the blueberry and sassafras are about to burst. Invasive honeysuckle shrubs have already leafed out. Bug rustled up two deer and let out a loud bay that I was sure would flush all of the woods of every living thing. The farside of the hill was old pasture having gone to woods, so I hung on as Bug pulled me over the crest in search of groundhogs and more deer. We found both much to her delight!

Spicebush glow.
Nothing here is pristine or original. When the property was claimed from hard scrabble farmers, most of what is now extensive cherry woods was heavily farmed through the 1950s. Stately sycamores that marked the springhouses of several farms stand now surrounded by mature pioneer forest transitioning to something new. Old apple orchards are dwarfed by locusts and maple. Old farm roads serve as grass paths through glades of spicebush, cherry-birch, black cherry, and pin cherry - all in bloom.  

Cherry woods in bloom.
Cherry trees are the primary pioneer tree of old fields in this part of Pennsylvania. Not too far south, across the Mason-Dixon Line, the primary pioneer is red cedar but no cedars anywhere to be seen in these hills. I could make out old fence lines from where birds perched on wire or oak boards and "planted" straight lines of cherry. Birds are the planters of pioneer cherry woods. 

Old apple trees mark an orchard.
Cherry-birch with sapsucker holes.

Bird-planted cherries along a now gone fence line.

After several more groundhogs and another pair of deer, Bug pulled me over the hill to where the oak woods met the old fields cherry forest. As we followed a grassy path the oaks stood on one side of the farm road while the oaks stood on the other. I could now see the pumped storage reservoir, a long lake that drowns the steep creek valley of Muddy Run. Built by the Philadelphia Power Company in 1968 the lake is drained through a set of powerful turbines at the bottom of the outflow canal back into the Susquehanna. The powerhouse machinery was designed by Westinghouse engineer Eugene Whitney who also designed the giant machinery for the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia. Some of the impressive vintage equipment can be seen in front of the Visitor's Center.

Oak woods on the left and cherry woods on the right.

Yellow-blazed lake trail
Up until recently, Muddy Run Park had been completely fenced in to protect the reservoir. This created a big problem for the herd of deer contained inside. Without predators, the herd increased to unhealthy numbers. Even with an annual bow hunt, the herd was browsing the park to nubbins. The fence has since been opened by staff by removing panels of chain link and the deer trails pour through these gaps into the farmland beyond the park. It will take some time for these woods to recover. As we walked along the rocky north slope on the yellow-blazed lake trail, I noticed the heavy browse of the lowbush blueberry. Another pair of bedded deer popped up ahead of us and Bug began to cry her famous deep bay. 

Stilted tree.
The soils on the north slope are very poor. Fallen trees become important sources of nutrients released into the poor soils. As they rot, they often become seed beds for saplings as nurse logs. Once the nurse log rots away, the maturing sapling retains it's nurse tree "stilts" to show that it once wrapped its young roots around and under the log. 

Moss "shadow" of fallen tree.
Quad poplar!
This woods has been worked hard in the past. Plenty of stumps rotting into the rocky subsoil illustrate that the hillside was logged heavily for a long time. Some stumps re-sprouted and developed multi-stemmed trunks. This made for some Holy Saturday contemplation as I looked around and realized how much of the forest had regenerated from fallen trees and cut stumps. 

Stump shadow.
Tree pollen on lake surface.
Muddy Run reservoir.
I couldn't contemplate for long, however, as Bug the coonhound caught scent of something more exciting than deer or groundhogs. I went tripping along her trying to hold tight to the taut leash. She led me straight to the water and jumped in - almost pulling me in with her! All she wanted was a good cool soak after our two hour hike through the woods!


Muddy Run Park is nice place to spend a day or a week. Very nice family-run campground and darn good fishing! The lake, however, is not open for swimming. Unless you are Bug the coonhound.

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