As usual, I was in the woods early Saturday morning for my weekly hike. I decided to try a new venue this week. I’ve lived in my current home for 12 years, but have never hiked Putnam County Park, which is only 15 minutes from my house. In fact, I didn’t even know until very recently there were hiking trails there. Located on the back side of the town of Eleanor, WV, PCP is much more remote than my usual Trace Fork stomping grounds, which are much closer to the state capitol.
For the historians among you, Eleanor is supposedly the only fully planned community in West Virginia. Originally named Red House Farms, it was one of FDR’s New Deal communities, and was later renamed Eleanor in honor of his wife.
Except for the yearly County Fair, PCP is a quiet, pastoral setting. It is advertised as covering 300 acres, but seemed MUCH bigger to me. The trail map posted at the trail head really doesn’t give a good indication of how much ground the trails cover. I later learned the trails are said to cover over 11 miles.
When I entered the woods, I took a really steep side trail straight up the slope of a large hill. It was a lung-burning, exhilarating climb to the top of the ridge. The trails had been marked for a recent mountain bike race called “12 hours of Creek to Peak”. I’m a casual biker, and can’t imagine the stamina it must take to climb such steep trails. Other trails were not as steep, but slick and rocky, like these:
Here’s a picture taken early in the day, showing a gas line right-of-way surrounded by lush greenery and haze:
The views from Putnam County’s hilltops are spectacular, but Saturday’s fog lasted late into the day:
Here’s a hill I climbed later in the day. Looking back over the trail, it doesn’t look as steep as it really was:
What I found most interesting in this next picture was the vast forest of Pawpaw (Asimina triloba). The area of trees extended well past the edge of the photo to either side. Known by some as Appalachian Banana, the fruit is sweet and palatable, but can be hard to find, as just about every forest creature pounces on them as soon as they are ripe:
Of course, fallen trees were all around. The third photo shows a huge Pin Oak that just snapped at its base, falling over the trail. Pity all that wood will go to waste:
No hike is complete without collecting a branch or two from fallen trees. One can overdo it, however, as this bundle became heavier and heavier as I covered the miles. Fortunately, I packed a bundle of Velcro straps, so I could use one stick as a handle. Pictured L-R: Yellow Poplar, Northern Red Oak, Boxelder, American Elm, Sourwood, Sugar Maple, and 2 Hawthorn pieces. I have the Sourwood branch clamped to a bench to straighten it as it dries, but there is so much reaction wood in that stick, I’m not certain it will straighten even if I keep it clamped for a year:
I now have about 4 dozen branches in various stages of progress, from green to ready for finishing coats. Species I have are Boxelder, Red Maple, Sugar Maple, River Birch, American Hornbeam, Hickory, Hawthorn, Beech, White Ash, Black Walnut, Yellow Poplar, Sourwood, Black Cherry, Northern Red Oak, White Oak,
Black Oak, and American Elm. With my pyrography projects, that will keep me occupied for several years. From now on, I’ll be more selective about which species I collect. Still trying to find some Persimmon and Sassafras that have fallen.
Given my usual attitude of “Hmmmmm, I wonder where this trail goes?”, my hike was somewhat longer than I had originally planned – more than 6 hours. I enjoyed every second of it, even though the mosquitoes feasted on me. Unfortunately, I may be developing arthritis in my lower back from surgery 10 years ago. I’m usually pretty sore after a long Saturday hike, as well as Sunday mornings. I can usually stretch out the pain by Sunday afternoon. If that’s the price I have to pay for experiencing West Virginia’s best every week, so be it.
By the way, I found several trees I wasn’t familiar with this weekend, so I get to indulge in another passion – botany.
Until next time.