Hogback Mountain Conservation Association
Route 9, Marlboro, Vermont
Preserving a Mountain Treasure
Fourth Work Session:
November 8, 2014
Done. Or as done as we'll ever be on Meadow. Over 50 people helped, many several times, on weekends last fall and this, in nice weather and nasty, to try to set back the clock and rejuvenate the growth on this former ski slope. This winter, as the cold winds blow down from the north, many small mammals will find snug homes in the brush piles scattered up and down the slope. Come spring, the new growth will burst out, and creatures large and small will move in to the newly created habitat niches. Let us know what signs of wildlife you see when you're up there: animal tracks in snow, bird nests in young saplings, spoor on the trail.
Clearing Meadow was just the first stage in a 10-year plan. We'll be clearing each of the five major ski slopes, one every two years. Our first cut on the former Meadow ski slope was a test. Is it possible to complete a project of this scope using only volunteer labor? The answer isn't clear yet. We had hoped to clear the entire ski slope, all the way down to the base of the lifts, about five acres. We didn't make it quite that far. We ended up clearing about three acres near the top of the slope, where the former ski trail had been widest. This is the best location for wildlife, since a short, wide patch is more useful than a long skinny one. Will we be able to sustain the interest over the years? Will volunteers continue to help? Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped with this first phase of the project. Check back next summer to see the schedule for tackling phase two of the project: The Great White Way.
Left upper photo: Amanda Whiting, Laura Schairbaum, Rachel Keller, Hal Himmelstein.
Left lower photo: Devin Green, Bob Anderson, Laura Schairbaum.
Upper photo: Rachel Keller, Devin Green, Amanda Whiting, Hal Himmelstein, Nancy Anderson, Diana Todd.
That's Diana on the left in the photo below, wearing her cake-pan hat. Literally, it's a cake pan that she sewed onto the top of her hat. What's it for? To attract signals from outer space, of course! She's added an external antenna to her GPS unit, which attaches magnetically to the cake pan. By keeping the antenna on top of her head, she minimizes body blocking of the GPS signals that happens when you carry the unit in a pack or pocket. The metal disk of the cake pan is also supposed to "boost" the signal. She has found her recorded tracks are more tightly grouped, more reproducible, when she wears the cake pan hat. She uses the GPS unit to make the maps that are guiding this project.
Third Work Session:
October 13, 2014
We took a break from chain sawing and brush hauling and used this work session to scope out the extent of next year's project: clearing the Great White Way. That was the name of the wide, north-facing beginner's ski slope labeled 16 on this trail map from the 1970's. (Meadow is number 2 on the map.)
The slope is heavily overgrown, but it's easy to tell where it used to be. We just followed the line between the large, old trees at the edges and the younger growth that has filled in the middle. We stumbled across some interesting "cultural artifacts" including the hulk of an ancient truck and bits of the old lifts.
from left: Diana Todd, Staley McDermet, Amanda Whiting, Jim Irish.
Second Work Session:
September 21, 2014
It felt like summer up on the former ski slope, with bright sun and temperatures in the 70's. We concentrated on widening the broadest part of the ESH cut, to acheive as wide a spot as possible on the inherently narrow site, since bird nest predation decreases with distance from the nearest forest edge. We also focused on the making the hiking trail that meanders through the site on its way down to the Bishop cellar hole more passable, cutting back the blackberry canes that arched over the path.
The hawthorns that we left in place last year are bearing a nice crop of bright red fruit, about the size of a raspberry. These fruits are traditionally known as "haws." The University of West Virginia web site reports, "Fruits are eaten by grouse, turkey and numerous songbirds, especially fox sparrow and cedar waxwing. Fruits are preferred by deer, rabbits, black bear and raccoon. The fruits remain on the shrubs all winter and become very important when food becomes critically scarce in February and March. Leaves and twigs are readily eaten by deer and rabbit."
The crew: Staley McDermet, Diana Todd, Amanda Whiting, Laura Schairbaum. Not pictured: Nancy & Bob Anderson.
First Work Session:
August 30, 2014
It was a fabulous day to kick off the second season of work on the former Meadow ski slope. The major task that the group tackled was removing the final remnants of the ill-conceived "vegetation bridge" that was left in place last fall. Last year's plan had included leaving a swath of full-size trees and undergrowth in place every 500 feet or so, to provide a "bridge" from one side of the ESH opening to the other, for those animals that are nervous crossing open spaces.
However, once the 2013 work season was over and we looked at the GPS'ed outline of the opening we had created, we realized that the top vegetation bridge, less than 200' down from where the ESH patch starts on the Tower Trail, cut right across the widest possible part of the ESH opening. Studies have shown that bird nests suffer greater predation the closer they are to the wooded edges of an ESH opening. Thus the rounder (wider) the opening is, the more nest-safe area is created. Since we're working on a former ski slope, our opening will be long and narrow by default. But at the widest possible part of the old ski slope we had left a wooded path right through the middle. At the best possible place for birds to build nests, we had left a wooded highway perfect for predators to sneak in and . . . (gulp!). We decided that removing that uppermost vegetation bridge was a high priority. We removed half of it in the spring, and got the rest of it cleared on this first work session of the 2014 fall season.
The crew: Diana Todd, Harriet Todd, Rob Todd, Amanda Whiting, Mike Mirer, Lee Todd.
Visual Comparison, July 1, 2013 versus July 1, 2014
360 degree panorama, starting and ending facing magnetic north, taken 100' downslope from the top of the ESH opening where it intersects the Tower Trail. Top photo: July 1, 2013, before any clearing was started. Bottom photo: July 1, 2014.
June 29, 2014
The regrowth has started. Vigorous sprouts are shooting up from the stumps of the cut hardwoods, and animals are enjoying the tasty tips. Notice the nipped stems in these photos where some animal has been munching.
Some of the hawthorn that we left in place is already bearing fruit. Previously, it didn't get enough sun and there weren't any berries. In future years, we should get even more fruit from these and the shad bushes and wild apple trees that have been released.
Milkweed! We didn't see any of that last year before the cut. Maybe we'll attract some monarch butterflies and other wildlife that eat milkweed.
Impromptu Spring Work Session:
April 9, 2014
Spring 2014 kept flirting with us, but wouldn't seem to hang around for long. But on Friday morning, April 9, spring was out in glory. Diana Todd, Staley McDermet, and Mike Purcell went up to the ESH cut to do some work.
After analyzing the work done in the fall, we realized that a section which we intentionally left uncut as a "vegetation bridge" across the ESH was actually undermining our efforts to provide hospitable habitat for birds. Studies have shown that bird nests are less likely to suffer predation the further they are from the edge of the forest opening. So rounder openings are better than long narrow openings for nesting birds (more area is further from the forest edge).
Since our ESH project is designed around reopening the former ski trails rather than cutting the mature forest, our openings will be long and narrow by definition. But we can do our best to take maximum advantage of the widest sections of the former ski slopes. The "vegetation bridge" we had left in place to provide cover for mammals who are uncomfortable out in the open cut straight across the widest part of the former Meadow ski slope. We had left a wooded highway for predators right into the heart of the optimum bird nesting area. We decided it had to go.
While Diana worked on removing the vegetation bridge, Mike and Staley worked on rerouting the trail so that it zigzags up the slope rather than running right up the fall line. The rerouting will make the uphill hike easier, will lessen the probability of trail erosion, and will reduce human traffic in the heart of the ESH.
About half of the vegetation bridge has been removed. We hope to have the other half removed before full leaf-out.
Fifth Work Session:
November 29, 2013
The crew: Chris Harris, Staley McDermet, Malcolm Moore, Mike Purcell, Linda Lyon, Roger Wilson, James Simpson, Rob Todd, Diana Todd, Lee Todd. Not pictured: Bob Anderson, Bob Engel, Nina Eslambolipour, Amanda Whiting.
It was the day after Thanksgiving. There was a thin layer of snow, but the sun was bright and the wind was light, so it was a great day for working outdoors. The crew concentrated on clearing out the thickets that separated the openings that had been created during the previous work sessions, and by lunchtime they had succeeded in merging the patches to create a clearing nearly two acres in size.
On the map (click the button below) you'll see a "vegetation bridge" near the 200' mark that we've left uncut. The "bridge" is the line of trees in the middle distance in this photo, just behind the people. This is an experiment. Will animals that are timid in open spaces use this narrow swath of trees as a covered bridge to cross the open terrain? Keep your eyes peeled for animal tracks when you go up there this winter and let us know what you see.
The light coating of snow made it clear that a large number of animals are already using the ESH area, especially the brush piles. Bob Anderson and Diana Todd went back up to the site the next day to take an informal inventory. Walking down just one side of the ESH area, we saw the tracks of three rabbits, about a dozen smaller mammals (probably squirrels and maybe a weasel), and at least two different kinds of tiny mammals (mice? shrews?).
Patches of early successional habitat are most beneficial when they are at least several acres in size. We started our work back in September by tackling the easy stuff, creating many small patches. Now we're starting to link the many little patches into one large opening.
Fourth Work Session:
November 9, 2013
The crew: Harriet Todd, Anthony Berner, Nina Eslambolipour, Carol Berner, Augusta Bartlett, Hal Himmelstein, Amanda Whiting, Matt McIntosh, Rob Todd, Diana Todd. Not pictured: Althea Holzapfel, Forrest Holzapfel, Leander Holzapfel, Ed Metcalf.
Forrest, Leander, and Althea Holzapfel proudly display their "un-copse," the knoll they cleared with chain saw, machete, and loppers. They used ear protection even for the non-sawyers - a wise decision. It got loud up there with five chain saws going at one time.
The chain sawyers arrived at 9:00, followed by the brush haulers at 10:00. That gave the sawyers time to lay down a swath of saplings, then move on to another location. The haulers could then work safely. We're hoping to reroute the hiking trail next year, so that it switchbacks back and forth across several of the former ski slopes, making for an easier hike than the current straight up and down trail. In this photo, the brush haulers are moving debris out of the line of this potential trail re-location.
Scroll down to the report on our first work session, back in September, and compare it to this picture. You'll get a good sense of how much has been accomplished.
One more work session to go! Plan to join us on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Third Work Session:
October 26, 2013
Things are really starting to open up. Part of the sense of openness comes from the fact that most of the leaves are down, but mostly it's because we've cleared some of the very dense thickets of soft maple near the top of the slope.
The photo below gives a before-and-after view in a single shot. On the left you see the before: dense clusters of saplings and pole-sized trees. On the right, the after: the cleared slope. What's clear this fall should be thickly regrown in hip-high stump sprouts by this time next year, creating the dense young growth that so many kinds of birds and animals use for courting, raising their young, feeding, and resting.
The early birds: Diana Todd, Wayne Kermenski, Augusta Bartlett, Mike Purcell, Hal Himmelstein. Seven more people joined them: Mike Clough, Bob Engel, Chris Harris, Angelique Krohn, Liza Mitrofanova, Michael Schneeweis, and Amanda Whiting.
At left, Bob Engel, Amanda Whiting, and Angelique Krohn build a brush pile. Here's what the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife says about brush piles:
"Few wildlife management practices can provide a more important part of wildlife habitat for the amount of effort as brush piles. In just a few minutes, a person may construct a place suitable for wildlife to escape from severe weather and predators, as well as a place to rest or raise their young. The main benefactor of brush piles is most often thought to be rabbits. While it is true that rabbits will readily use them, brush piles are also havens to box turtles, fence lizards, songbirds, small rodents and other mammals as large as black bears."
Ruffed grouse are known to nest in brush piles. A doe will sometimes hide her fawn at the edge of a pile. Other users include chipmunks, porcupines, weasels . . . the list goes on and on. Take a tramp over to the slope this winter and look for animal tracks around the big brush piles we're creating.
The pink surveyor's tape in the foreground marks saplings that are not being cut, small trees like wild apples, hawthorn, and choke cherries, that provide good sources of food for wildlife.
The Marlboro College contingent: Amanda Whiting, Angelique Krohn, Liza Mitrofanova, and Michael Schneeweis.
Second Work Session:
October 13, 2013
"A real fifty-center." Know that phrase? It's the best you can get. The phrase was coined back in the day when a cheap five-cent ball fell apart the first time you hit it. A ten-cent ball was usable. A twenty-five cent ball had a horsehide covering and a tightly wound core of yarn. But a fifty-center? Now that was a baseball! And a real fifty-center was what we had on Oct. 13. Perfect crisp autumn air, the last of the stunning foliage, and a great group of people committed to revitalizing the habitat on the old ski slopes.
from left: Chelsea Ferrell, Hal Himmelstein, Amanda Whiting, Staley McDermet, Harriet Todd, Mike Purcell, Rob Todd, Diana Todd. Not pictured: Malcom Moore.
There were lots of hikers on the mountain enjoying the day's beautiful weather. Many stopped to learn about the project before continuing their hike.
As the slope is cleared, the long-hidden view of distant hills is being revealed.
First Work Session: September 21, 2013
The mountain was shrouded in fog when the volunteers gathered a little before 9:00 on Saturday morning, Sept. 21, but by the time we snapped the group photo, just before heading out to the slope, the sun had burst through and we were treated to a fabulous day.
Ten people worked until lunchtime, clearing the former Meadow ski slope in order to stimulate regeneration of young, shrubby growth. In a little less than three hours, we cleared 0.6 of an acre. The densely overgrown portion of the slope is 2.7 acres, so we're well on our way toward successful completion of the project.
We have four more work sessions planned. The next one will be from 9:00 to noon on Sunday, October 13, Columbus Day weekend. Join us!
from left: Diana Todd, Nancy Anderson, Chris Harris, Bruce Howlett, Viv Woodland, Cara Melbourne, Bob Unsworth, Carol Dickson, Del Ames, Bob Anderson.
It's only a short five minute hike to the work site, but even in that short distance, a chain saw can start to seem heavy. Happily, Bob Anderson is letting us use his 4WD "mule" to carry gear up the mountain.
Note: motorized vehicles are not allowed in the conservation area for recreational use. Snowmobiles are allowed on VAST-approved trails.
Back in early July, we did a small test cut. Checking out that area, we saw that the stumps were already vigorously sprouting, and that something had already been vigorously eating them! Moose? There's been one sighted recently on the mountain. .
We're not hauling away all the brush. Most of it can just lay where it falls. But we are keeping the hiking trail clear of the fallen debris, as well as some rock outcroppings that make nice spots to stop and soak in the view.
We are also intentionally building a few brush piles, because they offer great nesting places, hidey-holes and winter dens for many types of small and medium sized wildlife. Working in an area of dense pole-sized red maples, skilled sawyer Bruce Howlett dropped all the trees in the same direction and Carol Dickson (in photo) readily built this tidy (but massive!) brush pile.
September 2013 - Test Cut Update
Where the cut stumps are still shaded by surrounding trees, the sprouts are less vigorous than in the sunny spots. Where the brush has been cleared from around the stumps, the sprouts have been throughly nibbled.
The stump in this photo is hidden under the dried leaves and branches of the debris pile created during the test cut. But the maple sprouts are growing vigorously, coming up thickly through the slash.
Diana Todd and Bob Anderson
Dense copse of young growth before cutting
Brush neatly stacked after cutting
Exciting results! When we checked the site of the test cut in mid-September, we saw that the stumps of the trees we had cut had already sent up a thick set of sprouts, and something had already been snacking on it! Moose tracks on the trail leading to the site of the test cut suggest who the muncher might have been.
We could sure use some help - Chain sawyers, sapling lopers, and brush haulers welcome! Contact us to have your name added to the distribution list for announcements of workdays, which will start in mid-September and be scheduled throughout the fall.
Want to Help?
Brush piles can be a very beneficial part of an ESH environment. We don’t plan to move all the debris, but we will be hauling the brush clear of the hiking trail, and building a few large piles here and there.