Thursday, October 9, 2008

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve (Orange County, NC)

Overview: Located in Orange county, near the Duke Forest, Johnston Mill Nature Preserve is a Triangle Land Conservancy property appropriate for a quick getaway from the urban grind of Durham and Chapel Hill. The preserve consists of two trails, called Robin's trail (1.5 miles one-way) and the Bluff Trail (1 mile loop) on the TLC map, but given different names once on the property. Robin's trail runs along New Hope Creek and its tributary, Old Field Creek, through bottomland forest and old mill remains. The Bluff trail explores mature hardwood forest on higher ground.

Directions: There are two parking areas at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve connected by Robin's Trail, located off Turkey Farm Road and Mt. Sinai Road, respectively. According to the TLC Johnston Mill Nature Preserve brochure, one can arrive at the the Turkey Farm Road lot by taking "NC 86 north from I-40 (exit 266) 0.1 mile. Turn right on Whitfield Road and follow it for 1 mile. Turn left on Turkey Farm Road and follow that road for 1.2 miles. The parking area is on the left."
One can arrive at the Mt. Sinai Road lot by taking "NC 86 north from I-40 (exit 266) 1.8 miles. Turn right on Mt. Sinai Road and follow it for 1.1 miles. The parking area is on the right just before the New Hope Creek bridge."

My observations & ponderings: As my husband and I explored Johnstill Mill Nature Preserve from the Turkey Farm Road lot on a quiet morning in the middle of the week, we were most powerfully struck by two things: 1) the amazing power of natural disturbance and 2) the surprising density of fascinating natural phenomenon that appears when one takes the time to look and listen.

The effects of natural disturbance is quite evident at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. As we walked along New Hope Creek, it was easy to see the fresh sediments that had been deposited as far as twenty feet from the creek by recent flooding. Although the extent of the flooding is perhaps exacerbated by local land use change, the process is a natural one that replenishes the nutrients of North Carolina's bottomland forests.

New Hope Creek

Other forms of natural disturbance are also evident at the Johnston Mill preserve: hurricanes and ice storms. The impacts of these powerful storms can be seen in the tree falls on the bluff trail, which was affected by Hurricane Fran in 1996 and a severe ice storm in late 2002. The evidence of nature's power at Johnston Mill serves as humbling reminder of both our responsibility to care for the earth and our vulnerability to natural phenomenon.

Taking a slow walk - I'm over 6 months pregnant, so all our walks are slow now - through the woods at Johnston Mill gave us the opportunity to find some amazing organisms, that often go ignored. Due to the recent rains and cool weather, mushrooms have erupted throughout the bottomlands. We were lucky to find a beautiful crown coral (Clavicorona spp) at Johnston Mill. Fortunately, a group of mycologists and mycophiles recently found crown coral (Clavicorona pyxidata) nearby in the Duke Forest, making identification easier.

Crown coral (Clavicorona spp)

Besides observing beautiful mushrooms and ornate bryophytes, we were also greeted by an abundance of insects, still active despite the cooler whether. Butterflies and moths fluttered by as mosquitos hovered around our heads and crickets called in the distance.

Katydid at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve.

The flurry of insect activity drew our attention towards the wild flowers at Johnston Mill. Some flowers, like the small red morning glory (Ipomoea coccinea) though weedy, still managed to awe us with their vibrance. Others, like the downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) that blooms in summer and is now reduced to basal leaves or the crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor) whose winter leaves only now emerge, served as an unignorable reminder that summer was over and autumn had arrived.

Rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens)

crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor)

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