By Rick Koval, Pocono Record, link to original post
NAME: Austin T. Blakeslee Natural Area
Size: 30 acres
Directions: Route 940 East to Blakeslee; turn left onto Route 115 South. Drive 8/10 mile to second parking area with sign (first parking area provides shorter trail to waterfall).
Trail: About half-mile from parking area to waterfall, along creek.
Highlights: Forest of hemlock, pines, rhododendrons and hardwoods — beautiful Tobyhanna Creek and waterfall.
Big surprises come in small packages. Such was the case as I casually unwrapped the fascination and wonderment of nature, hidden in a small, yet significant, 30-acre place in the Poconos called the Austin T. Blakeslee Natural Area.
Along Route 115, less than one mile south of Blakeslee, the Austin T. Blakeslee Natural Area is as inviting to the everyday passerby as to the ardent nature hiker. The colorful signage and well-maintained parking areas capture your attention enough to pull in to take a quick look. That’s exactly what my friend Steve Chisarick and I did last week.
It’s pretty exciting — yet comically ironic — to enter a protected natural area only to see recently landscaped trees cut down, not by vandals, but by hungry beavers. I assume the row of chiseled stumps pointing out from the mulch-mounds were somewhat a sculptured “thank-you” wood-crafted by the appreciative rodents.
Steve and I walked toward Creek Trail. We entered a dark conifer forest and were greeted by an inquisitive red squirrel chattering high up in a white pine. Perhaps the little fellow warned us not to mess with its collection of tasty spruce cones, piled in a high mound along the edge of the forest.
The well-maintained trail led us to a spring seep guarded by tall rhododendrons. A series of cut stumps positioned across the seep offered a secure passage over the wetland. Colors of bright burgundy and lime green protruding up from the cold trickling waters called attention to the winter flowers of skunk cabbage — a very uncommon wildflower of the Pocono Plateau.
We followed the trail along Tobyhanna Creek and were quite impressed as the creek gently cascaded over a broad sandstone formation, forming a picturesque waterfall. The frothy waterfall emptied into a broad, deep pool, undoubtedly teeming with life lurking beneath its icy waters.
The warm temperatures that day stimulated an emergence of aquatic insects called winter stoneflies. These small crawling land-critters are the transformed larvae of the aquatic nymph stage of the stonefly. Stonefly larvae develop in cold, well-oxygenated, unpolluted streams and rivers and emerge as adults during their breeding season in late winter and early spring. Stoneflies are considered bio-indicators of high-quality streams and rivers.
Several hundred yards downstream, three young men from the Drums area of Luzerne County took advantage of the warm February weather in hopes of catching trout. The anglers were successful that afternoon, but little did they know that the stonefly emergence stimulated hungry trout, adding to their success.
They questioned me about the tiny black bugs that ventured out from the stream, and I gladly shared some tidbits about winter stoneflies and stream ecology.
I captured a photo of the jubilant anglers, wished them good luck and followed the trail to the parking area. The path led uphill into a deciduous forest mixed with oak, beech, maple, birch and pine. The light snow covering on the trail revealed the tracks of whitetail deer, gray squirrel and deer mice — tell-tale indicators that we had ventured into a forest of seed-producing trees upon which these animals forage.
Several hundred yards before the parking area stood a grotesque tree of sorts. A lone black cherry drew our attention as we stared at the humongous growth on its trunk called a burl — a visual deformity on a tree in the form of a large ball. A burl results from a tree undergoing some stress such as a virus, fungus or injury. Perhaps a rhetorical question — “What in the world happened to you?” — was appropriate at the moment. The size of the burl only a few feet above the ground intrigued Steve the most.
We returned to the parking area delighted by our experience. Yes, indeed: Small packages do offer big surprises. The Austin T. Blakeslee Natural Area proved that old saying.