Friday, February 9, 2024

PA Kellys Run Preserve

Close to home today, I hiked the four-mile loop at Kellys Run Nature Preserve in Holtwood, PA. The past week of failing forests has really saddened me and I needed this hike to work out the sads and the mads. 


Kellys Run is hands down one of the most popular preserves located along the Susquehanna River in southern Lancaster County, PA. I met only two other people out early - and their leashed dogs (thank you!). The mature and thriving Oak-Hickory forest here provided much needed contrast to the declining forests of earlier in the week.  Today's loop hike combined the blue blazed trail & orange blazed Conestoga trail with the red blazed connector trail. My hiking stick came in handy many times today since all the creek crossings are 'wet-footed' and the trail turned out to have some ice on it.

A healthy woodland

We crossed the high meadow on the bluff and down the hill to the old paved road. The sky was so blue and the air warming up so fast that I forgot it was gloomy ole' February still.  After two weeks of non- stop work (at two jobs) this hike felt more like an act of resistance than a much needed break. Gosh, how I am aching to return to the long trails and truck camping with Amos. End-of-winter affects me this way. I ache for things I haven't done in a while. I miss the people I've not seen lately. I get restless.

February is when I look for loud colors and listen for bright sounds. More than at any other time of the year, I push back against schedules and workloads in sometimes desperate efforts to find new ground, explore new things.  Its my spring mental cycle; don't worry, I'm not quitting my jobs. Cabin fever? I can hike a little more defiantly, but will also stop a hike and turn around if winter conditions warrant it. 

Abandoned Holtwood Road

Deckless but still a beauty

Kellys Run ravine

I can't say that this loop lends itself to one of our more pedestrian strolls.  We crossed the mouth of Kellys Run at the bottom of the hill and began our ascent up the ravine with not a soul in sight. The solitude was matched by the ruggedness of the trail and I was glad I had decided to spend a whole hour on my morning yoga as I was bending, stretching, and reaching every which way. 

One of many cascades

I try to do this loop every February and some years I can't complete it due to dangerous trail conditions. I note the hike in my journal and compare it past years. One year ice was so thick on the old Holtwood Road I never made it to the creek. Another year I made it halfway up the ravine before the trail became quite dangerous for me and my dog. This year it is open - though at times still icy - from the very start of the ascent. It was nice to focus only on the next step, securing the best handhold, and enjoying the slow progression up the boulder path. 

Rock Polypody Fern

I was so focused that I began to really hear the ravine in all its beautiful watery music. Ice dripping, cascades tumbling, even Amos' thick claws on scratching on rock. A pair of Ravens were calling out from above a massive outcrop. In contrast to the local Crows carrying on below me, I heard clearly the difference in their language, in tones and pitch and volume. It has been over a century and a half since Ravens were last observed in the River Hills region, now home to two nesting pairs, one nest above the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail on the cliffs about five miles north of here and this new  pair scouting around for a new nesting site. I've been watching them for about three weeks, as they arrived in late January, and I've been able to observe them from both the York and Lancaster County shores. 

Ravens above me

The shape of the walk took on depth and edginess. Scooting across an icy ledge I stopped to look up and found I was just about as tiny a thing as I could imagine at the bottom of this chasm. Ice shimmered from outcrop shadows. The ravine itself controls who comes this far and whether they continue up, down, or turns them around.  I reached the turn around place from last year's aborted winter hike. Moving past it, I rocked hopped on towards a set of hand carved stone steps on the opposite side and climbed safely up to an old wagon road. 

The road is an old one and in places it is washed away forcing a scramble here or a scoot there. A tattered old yellow "No Trespassing" sign hung in two parts from a tree up the slope, but I know this is all Conservancy land now and whoever the former landowners had been long ago, paid little attention to the steepest sections of their boundary since the growing girth of the tree had long ago torn the sign apart. The old road climbed further on leaving the trail to make a hard right across the creek again.

Tulasnella violea

A glowing pink log drew my attention from the tattered yellow sign.  Tulasnella viola, a winter fungus so bright it tricks some to thinking it might be spray paint, was popping  out along the length of a fallen Yellow Birch. February is the best time to observe this outrageously pink wood eater. Its cousins in the Tulasnella genus are equally outrageous with their shocking orange, blood red, and yellow crusts. They provide some of the wildest winter colors.  This is the genus most recognized as mycorrhizal partners to our splendid North American orchids.  

Christmas Fern 

Intermediate Wood Fern

Before crossing the creek for the third time, I noted two more evergreen ferns to go with the Rock Polypody spotted earlier. Christmas and Intermediate Wood Fern are perennial ferns, green all year long, very tolerant of damp, wet habitats that are part sun, shade, ice, and snow. One last creek crossing and Amos and I were well up into shady Rhododendron banks. 

Almost done

We finished our hike back at the truck with a celebratory meat jerky stick. After two years of turn-arounds, made it all the way on a winter day (in the 50s) in February! Watching us closely was a Grey Squirrel that I had a feeling would have rushed for the  meat sticks if it wasn't for the dog. February is the hungriest time of year and winter-active animals are running low on stored reserves of fat. At the bird feeding station at home, squirrel thievery is definitely a thing. I can't seem to keep a suet cake for more than a few hours before they're running away with it - sometimes cage and all! Guard the jerky, I said to Amos and he gave his best ARROOOO. 

That hungry squirrel had his own sads and mads when we loaded up and drove off. 


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