The Thrill of the Trail Team

Below is an excerpt from the book Experiences: Life in a Continuing Care Retirement Community,which is a compilation of essays and poetry written and published by residents of Kendal at Longwood.

“The Thrill of the Trail Team” by Joan Stemmler

walking-path-for-websiteNaturally, when I came to Kendal, one of the reasons was the approximately 500-acre woods. On our first visit, I saw a woman with white hair, a large brimmed hat and lace up boots just like mine walking into the woods with a lopper over her shoulders. I knew at that moment this was the place for me. That woman was on her own mission. She had found and freed a stand of native holly trees from the invasive vines that threatened their existence. She’s a friend of mine now.

Ed and I came to Kendal from the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The preservation of the natural beauty of the surrounding six thousand-acre forest bordering the George Washington Forest was a covenanted ideal. Residents of the community, under the leadership of an inspiring field naturalist, became devoted volunteers. We learned the native flora and fauna of Virginia, led hikes, helped maintain the trails, removed invasive plants. I was in the thick of it there.

The first time I went out with Kendal’s “trail team” there were a couple of women and more men: we all wore heavy gloves, boots and long pants tucked into our socks to protect against ticks. We carried our clippers, hand saws, loppers, bug spray and water. Less than thrilling is the twice weekly task of cutting back overhanging vegetation, encroaching bushes, and removing fallen branches. Occasionally, high winds, heavy rain, ice storms or hurricanes bring trees down across the trails. Then, the team men go into action, wielding the chain saw, crowbars and saws to open up blocked trails. Mark Swick’s maintenance men then can come through with mechanized mowers to smooth the three foot wide path.

In time, I began to meet folks who turned out to be my naturalist teachers about these Pennsylvania woods. They introduced me to the new invasive exotic plants choking much of our native flora. In Virginia, I had met the high altitude invaders, also here in Kendal: Asian stilt-grass, floribunda roses, bull-thistles. Here I first saw the scourge on the coastal plain: autumn olive, mile-a-minute, oriental bittersweet, non-native honeysuckle. We come upon trees or shrubs blanketed with mile-a-minute vines right before our eyes. The native shrub is dying, deprived of light. The killer’s seed-carrying berries have not yet ripened. We wrest the attacker’s thorny tendrils from the succumbing shrub, pull off its engulfing burden of leaves, gather them together, uproot them if we can. How thrilling it is to restore life-giving air and sun to the now saved shrub.

A team member has completed a new map of all the trails of Kendal and Crosslands which is now printed. Others have installed clearly marked signs indicating all the new and old trails through meadows and woods. The pleasures of this extensive trail system, unique in a CCRC, are many. Frequently folks make their daily constitutionals on the two mile paved path. The “Promenade,” suitable in many stretches fro wheelchairs and provided with benches, is ideal for restful green views. Bird watchers, exercisers, solitude seekers hike the seven miles of the woods trails. Bi-yearly get-togethers, complete with refreshments, encourage residents to visit the woods and trails, with destinations being one or the other of our two ponds and Bennett Creek.

Our large old canopy trees, oaks, beech, hickories and sugar maples; the understory dogwoods, hollies and spice-bushes; and the wildflowers, ferns, fungi and mosses provide food and shelter for our wild animals, plentiful birds and the population of insects and worms and microbes that keep the whole ecosystem healthy.

For the trail team, getting out in the woods with like-minded people and working in the open air is a joy and a rewarding way to contribute to our community.

If you’re interested in reading more from Experiences, you can purchase the book by clicking here. All proceeds from the sale of Experiences will be donated to the Kendal at Longwood Reserve Fund.