Saturday, October 13, 2018

PA Steinman Run Nature Preserve

Steinman Run Trail

It's been a while since I posted. Too busy for what's important, anymore, it seems, but I did get out today after the rain stopped. I needed to clear my head and think through a writing block I've had with a tricky chapter in my manuscript on pilgrimage. I think so much better when I'm hiking and this short two-and-a-half mile double loop trail did the trick.

Steinman Run Nature Preserve is a 350-acre park managed by the Lancaster County Conservancy. For a county that has few large woodlands, Steinman Run is an important woodland site that occupies two distinct areas. The loop trail north of Clearview Road (in the park it's an old woods road) is a former clear-cut area, while the loop trail south of the old road is a more majestic mature forest. The ridges contain outcrops of schist while the valleys contain limestone. It's an interesting mix of habitat, soils, and wood type.

Red Oak stump

From the shady parking area the trail to the right (all blue blazed) leads through a cut-over forest where standing trees are no more than twenty years old. Red oak stumps dot the hillside from the final cut. An old logging road serves as the return trail and ends at the other end of the parking area.

Tulip Poplar showing its age.

The first "big tree" I encountered was at the bottom of the descent from the clear cut woods. It was a grand old Tulip Poplar showing its age with twisted limbs and plenty of limb-drop. I figured it would take about four adults to hold hands at its base for a tree-aging hug but I'm not sure this tree has been surveyed as the PA Big Tree roster has no Liriodendron is currently on the list. Maybe I should suggest this tree to them?

Rock Lichen

Today was the first chilly day of fall, October 13. It's been a long while since we had cool weather. We had so much rain this year. One for the record books. There are springs near where I live that have run full all summer long. Here in the preserve, the trails are oozing with water as the water table is so high. In some places along Steinman's Run, a summer of flash floods has rearranged the trail, blocking it with log jams in some places. Trail crews have been quick to cut the trail open. The smell of sawdust is still fresh.

Leaves are finally beginning to show color and today, it seems, is the first day of leaf fall. The matrix of small streams that runs through and beside the preserve run high and are noisy. Geese have been arriving on the strong north winds. Wood warblers have headed south. The Wood Thrush is gone and so is the Waterthrush. But there are plenty of birds that will stay in this valley and the change in weather today brought them out. Pileated Woodpeckers hammered and laughed and swooped from tree to tree. I was scolded by a Northern Flicker as I stopped to photograph some mushrooms. Blue Jays rummaged through the leaf litter for acorns. No doubt these nut-planting birds have helped re-establish the woods here.

The north loop meets the south loop at Steinman Run below the old Tulip Poplar on the closed section of the old road. I walked up the old road to find the south loop trail, dropped down to the stream, and followed it over log jams and around flooded parts of the trail until it left the valley and climbed through a beautiful mature oak forest. Still, there are plenty of old logging sites to be observed, though most of the stump-sprouted trees are over sixty years old.

Stump sprouts are now mature trees but still circle the original stump of a cut sixty years ago.

I slowed way down through the older woods. The writing problem I've been wrestling with began to unravel bit by bit. I didn't think to bring anything to write on so I talked to myself with hopes that the solutions were being set in my memory. This is how Socrates did it anyway. He walked and thought and talked out loud until his ideas were planted like seeds.

Scoured trail after flash flooding.

Trail almost taken by high water.

The end of the southern loop ended near the culvert of the old road and Steinman's Run and just beyond was the ancient Tulip Poplar. I retraced my steps along the stream up the old road and bypassed the south trail cut-off heading into the eastern half of the northern loop. Up and up the trail climbed through a darkening woods. I almost didn't see the sweet little patch of Grape Fern as I passed over the ridge but the low sun burst through a bank of clouds just in time to illuminate the stalks of golden spore cases in a patch of a dozen plants and I stopped in my tracks to admire them.

Grape Fern, Botrychium dissectum

The trail descends into a rich dark hollow where more Turkey Tail sprouted from downed limbs and strutted its beautiful banded colors on the sun dappled forest floor. The sounds of the forest filled the cool air: crickets, Jays, leaves rattling in the breeze. A hunting dog bayed in the distance and a truck door slammed close enough to where I stood that I knew a bow hunter must be heading to his stand on the edge of the woods. I reminded myself, out loud again, to start packing my hunter's orange beanie and vest. It's fall at long last and it felt really good to hike in the chill of the waning afternoon.

Turkey Tail.

Return trail through old logging area.


Steinman Run Nature Preserve is one of many small preserves to explore in Lancaster County. The conservation of woodland is a priority with the Lancaster County Conservancy and this park contains a rich sampling of young trout stream, mature woodlands, and a recovering clear-cut.