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Happy trails

Outdoor lovers help preserve wooded oasis

Created date

March 26th, 2013

There are two types of people indoor people and outdoor people. Kay Henderson, a lifelong gardener, is the latter. So when Kay sold her Columbia home and moved to Charlestown, the Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., she was naturally drawn to the half-mile-long nature trail hidden near the community s Cross Creek Clubhouse. Just a few days after I moved into the community, I was eating at the caf when a resident introduced herself and told me about the nature trail committee, says Kay. I had already walked along the trail, and I knew it was something I would enjoy, so I went down right away and got involved.

Committed to preservation

For the last 14 years, Kay, along with about three dozen other outdoor enthusiasts, has volunteered her time preserving and protecting the nearly 70 species of wildflowers and 30 species of trees found along the trail. The trail is divided into sections, and each committee member is assigned a section to maintain, says Kay. You can go down whenever you like and work. Group work days are also held. Any heavy work like a downed tree or hauling mulch is done by Charlestown s grounds department. We wood chip the entire trail once a year and, when necessary, fill in any ruts that occur after heavy rains, says Patricia Watsic, grounds supervisor at Charlestown. We also replace any of the wooden rails and markers along the trail when needed, do weekly inspections of the trail for any hazardous trees or limbs, and collect the trash from the receptacles along the trail, she says. Markers placed along the trail on trees and near wildflowers identify the different species, and a collection of wildflowers is kept and catalogued by the committee. Each April, the nature trail committee hosts Wildflower Day, a celebration inviting visitors to see the wildflowers at their peak. The first week or two of April is usually when the first wildflowers bloom, and then there will be a succession of them throughout June, says Kay. If you really want to see all of the different varieties in bloom, it s best to visit the trail once a week throughout the spring and summer.

Backyard observatory

The nature trail was the innovation of Paul Gaudreau, a naturalist who once lived at Charlestown. Gaudreau envisioned a trail that followed the course of a stream in the woods and proposed the idea in a letter to management. Within days, work on the nature trail began, and Gaudreau s vision took shape. As the trail became a reality, Gaudreau recruited his friends and neighbors and started the Charlestown nature trail committee. Paul and Margie Gaudreau were some of the first people we met when we moved to Charlestown, says Carl Tongier, who joined the committee in 1995. Carl and his wife Marian enjoy a bird s-eye view of the nature trail from their third-floor apartment home. One time while we were entertaining in our apartment I was standing at the window talking about the different kinds of animals we have on the trail, when a fox appeared almost on cue, says Carl. Committee co-chair Carolyn Denton says the natural environment attracts not only foxes, but tortoises, squirrels, rabbits, and a variety of birds. It s very tranquil and relaxing, says Carolyn. We have benches along the trail where you can sit and watch the birds, and there s a covered bridge that goes across the stream. There s also a butterfly garden at the entrance to the trail which features a gazebo.

Protecting native plants

Arborist Harper Griswold uses his expertise to identify and protect the trees along the trail. Keeping up with the invasive plants like English ivy is a full-time job, says the Charlestown resident, who grew up on a farm in Connecticut. Over time, it forms a canopy over the foliage and cuts off the sunlight, suffocating the trees. So we are constantly going down and cutting these vines off. I guess you could call it forest management. For the last two years, Harper has been raising weeping cherry, sweet gum, and red bud seedlings, which he plans to plant along the trail this spring. I ve lived and worked outside all my life, says Harper. The outdoors is my favorite habitat. Watsic says the nature trail committee plays an important role in helping to keep the community beautiful. The planting of wildflowers, ferns, and a rock garden have added to the beauty and helps with erosion while preserving the natural atmosphere and tranquility of the trail, says Watsic.