Saturday, June 2, 2012

National Trails Day 2012

Just got back from a full morning at the Arkansas Trails Council's National Trails Day event at Burns Park in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Too many events and not enough me's to attend them all!

Theo Witsell (backpack) teaching Arkansas Master Naturalists
We started our morning with an 8:30 a.m. plants walk led by Theo Witsell of Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. Theo is amazing! Its not enough he knows there are five species of wild blueberries in Arkansas, but he managed to point out and help us identify each in just the first half-hour. There wasn't a blade of grass or green leaf Theo didn't know the name of and how to differentiate it from other look a likes. The walk was well attended with most of my fellow walkers being Arkansas Master Naturalists or Naturalists in Training.

The shock of the morning was when Theo spied a small three leafed plant at the base of a tree, snatched off a leaf, and shoved it in his mouth. (Yeah, we thought what you're thinking! Is he an idiot or just not allergic to poison ivy?) Turns out that Fragrant Sumac is non-toxic and looks very much like poison ivy. Don't try this trick with friends until you learn poison ivy's center leaf extends longer than sumac's center leaf and can identify both plants with 100% accuracy.

We left the plants walk early due to it overlapping an edible plants walk on the schedule. Heading back to the Scouts trail head we discovered Friends of the Ouachita Trail had set up an informative display. Bill Mooney was representing FOOT. Nearer to the trail head, two more Arkansas Master Naturalists had a Backpacking 101 display set up. Visitors had the opportunity to handle everything from snow shoes to dehydrated fruit to various backpacking stoves. Several nearby EMT's on bicycles where practicing tying the knots shown on a nearby display panel. We showed the friendly medics a trick for tying the bowline that an old salty Coast Guardsman had shown us in our youth. We also demonstrated how to tie an overhand knot in a rope with a single, quick flick of the wrist.

Turns out that due to Arkansas' lingering Spring drought, the edible plants hike was delayed and relocated to a better wetlands area. We quickly followed our new Master Naturalist friends and met up with Mike Thenes and Steve Fortin, our edible plants guides for the morning. We've attended one of Mike's walks before as he is a regular presenter at our nearby state park. We quickly set off down a new trail built by the Arkansas Master Naturalists to be used for future naturalist walks.

Mike Thenes (left) discussing the four leaf cross vine (inedible,
but useful for basket weaving).
For those who have never been on an edible plants walk, this is the least strenuous outdoor adventure you can engage in besides sitting in a lawn chair and admiring fireflies. There's really no walking. Its more like: take ten paces, stop, and stand for several minutes. Repeat until one hour has elapsed. We never got more than 50 yards from the parking lot at our farthest. We also didn't graze as much as we have on previous edible plants walks. We did discover wild garlic, wild onions, hickory nuts, many grasses (all grass seeds are edible, but watch out for purple ergot fungi lest you perish by St Anthony's fire.) We were also reminded that everything on the Pine tree is edible, but it all tastes like turpentine. (Start with pine tea. Chop the green needles very small for more intense flavor.) Had early Americans known how rich pine needles are in vitamin C, many hundreds of deaths from scurvy might have been prevented.

Finishing up our edible plants walk, we hustled down by the Arkansas River Trail where the Arkansas Trail Riders Association was hosting horse rides for kids and there was a scheduled Leave No Trace (LNT) demonstration. The LNT demo was being disassembled as we arrived, but we did receive a waterproof set of front country and back country ethics cards listing all the best practices for leaving no trace in the woods. As most of the kids in the immediate area were still engaged in soccer games on nearby fields, we wandered over and talked with a few horse owners. Most were busy with a potluck picnic lunch and feeding the sole park ranger. It's good to be the ranger! More so on National Trails Day.

Feel free to comment below and discuss any National Trails Day events you attended or what you might like to participate in at next year's events.