Let's take a walk through the park. It's cold today and we’ll have the place mostly to ourselves: a good day to look at the trees. Some years ago, I realized that it's in winter when the trees are at their best. Sure, in summer, they’re decked out in their showiest livery, all green and shady with their flowers and fruit growing. But it's not until winter that we can see the REAL tree: their full trunk, all the limbs and then the branches. Don't think less of me if I find them quite spellbinding and beautiful. Let's start at the footpath in front of the admin buildings and head downhill towards Upper Farm Park Rd. Keep your eyes up in to the trees!
Faces in the trees: There's a row of trees along here that separate the road from the pathway. One day, looking closely at the trunks, I saw an owl! Well, maybe not a real owl but certainly the face of one. Where some limbs had been lost, there were 2 large “eyes” left behind. In the way of all living things, the surrounding bark adapted to this change and grew around the eyes until over the years... an owl's face appeared. Thinking myself a bit loony, I moved on and looked at other trees along the way: more owls! And a few other images as well. Since then I’ve developed the habit of looking at the trunks I pass, and sure enough, have found lots of interesting images. Try it: all it takes is careful looking and a bit of imagination!
These trees are confused! As we get to Upper Farm Park Road, the path starts to wind through the woods and along Kepner Creek. Here we'll see plenty of examples of what I call “confused” trees. You'll know them by the way their limbs grow: normally for a bit, then changing direction – out/down/up again/etc – once, twice, sometimes more. Why? What causes them to grow so crazily? Your assignment: look up the reason and write a follow-up story for the newsletter! We’re at parking lot 2 now, where the Boy Scouts and Dan Schunder built the Tree Identification trail between here and lot 3. Twelve trees, marked with signs. Pick up a hint sheet from the box in lot 2 and see if you can figure out which tree is which. It's easier in the summer with the foliage & fruit there to help. I only got 9 out of 12, even using my field guide. So much for a career in botany.
Where are the nests? Where are all the bird's nests? In summer, there are millions (well, at least 1000's) of birds living in the trees: that should mean lots of abandoned nests. Only a few remain: Did they take them along as they moved to warmer climates? OK: we're turning on to Stony Creek Road. Walking along here we'll spot quite a few sycamores on the left, with their almost white bare patches along the trunks: these are probably among the showiest of winter trees, and a good example of what's hidden from view, mid-summer. They seem to like the low-lying land on the creek-bank. If you look along the edges of the creek, there is plenty of evidence to show what hard lives the trees lead: broken limbs & branches, collected by the partial flooding of the summer rains, then re-deposited in clumps and clusters when the water recedes.
Half way home: We're half way out, half way home as we turn on to Lower Farm Park Road and cross Stony Creek. Up ahead a little bit, on the left is one of the few stands of conifers that I know of in the park (pines, firs, balsams, and cedars). Here's where I occasionally hear the owl's hoo-h'HOO-hoo-hoo. They use their hoot to mark their territory or as a mating call. I sometimes wonder if I'm the prey they're targeting.
Lower Farm Rd. seems to have younger, smaller trees: as they thin out we’ll make the turn and cross Meadow Bridge. The Canadian Geese are still out there in the corn fields, pecking away, and I guess still searching for leftover corn. Cresting the uphill portion here, if you look right, you’ll see the sledding hill. The smaller trees in the meadow were planted by park staff and volunteers. Some of these are cared for by “Tree Tenders”. You (yes, YOU!) can volunteer to be one. And now we’re at the section of trail from the Getty cottage to the main parking lot, and the Millennium Grove. These trees – 100 of them – were a gift (thank you, SmithKlineBeecham) as part of American Forests Millennium Project in 2000. With two groves in each state: ours is one of Pennsylvania’s pair: be proud! How many times have you walked past these trees without reading the placards? Here's a plan: slow down and read one sign on each walk, a guaranteed way to increase your enjoyment. When you get to the Burr Oaks, check out the ground around the base: if the squirrels haven't hidden them all, look for one of this tree's unusual acorns.
Finally... Finally, my favorite tree. As we 'round the bend and head towards the main lot, look left, just before the ranger's parking area... that truly regal silver maple. Stripped of its summertime cloak, I can’t help but stare: the massive trunk, the broad limbs, its huge spread and gentle branches that held and protected countless homes for the birds lucky enough to have lived there. More compelling are the scars and wounds. The jagged ends where branches and limbs cracked and fell stand as evidence of fierce battles of will and might as the wind and the tree struggled like gods to see who was the stronger. Close your eyes and imagine: the howling wind ripping at our maple's branches as it stands stoically tall and strong. Take your best shot, Wind! So far, my tree stands as the victor, but I know not forever, as the wind is a relentless foe, and never loses in the final tally.
The End: or maybe just the beginning for you.I hope you enjoyed our walk as I did. And maybe you have been inspired to look a bit more carefully and learn to more fully enjoy the beauty of our park.
Common Trees of Pennsylvania_: a first rate and FREE introduction to Pennsylvania’s trees by the Dept of Conservation and Natural resources. Go to www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/plants: click on the Common Trees of PA link.
Arbor Day Foundation Tree Identification Guide_: also free: www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/.
Trees of Pennsylvania_: A complete reference guide by Ann Fowler Rhoads and Timothy A. Block.
Trees of Pennsylvania: Field Guide by Stan Tekiela: small, pocket sized on heavy, glossy stock, filled with easy to use references. Stick it in your pocket before leaving for any hike.
Farm Park Trees – Additional Information
Courtesy of Ken Shellenberger, Park Supervisor
The medium sized pines & the small maples behind the Shannon Mansion were planted in the mid-90’s by park staff.
The stand of small trees in the sledding hill’s meadow were planted circa 2000 by staff and volunteers.
The historic “Millennium Grove” trees, a gift of SmithKlineBeecham, were planted by staff in 2000 as part of the American Forests Millennium Project.
The trees along Whitehall (but not the Bradford Pears) were gifts from PECO, planted by area school students coinciding with Arbor Day in 2000.
The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission have donated trees at various locations throughout the park.
Over 1000 native saplings were planted in 2003-04, along the riparian corridors in the park.
Rare trees: Southern Prickly Ash; Willow Oak; Post Oak; Royal Paulownia.
Invasive Species: Bradford Pear; Norway Maple; Ailanthus.