Noblemen in Scotland employed ghillies as caretakers of the forests and streams on their extensive estates; that seems like an appropriate description of the role I have assumed in my regular visits to the natural park adjacent to my home.
Part of my responsibility is to inspect all parts of the park. It is a distorted rectangle, running roughly east and west. The east/west length is about one thousand yards; the north/south width varies from five hundred to one thousand feet. Its area is just over fifty acres. Most of it is a hillside, sloping up several hundred feet in the southerly direction.
An aerial photograph from 1939 shows that the eastern half was primarily open meadow in those days, while the western half was heavily wooded. In the intervening eight decades the eastern half has grown up as a succession forest. The park was acquired by the township in the late 1960s and a local conservancy group formed to preserve its natural aspect. In the 1980s a regulation size soccer field was constructed in the middle of the eastern half of the park.
A typical inspection trip of the eastern half begins with my entering the woods and finding a north/south trail leading directly up hill. This is a moderately steep trail, heavily eroded. Hurricane Ida’s scars are deep enough to expose the clay layer well beneath the topsoil. About halfway up it I pass a large flat rock with obvious dendritic fossil remains on it. Nearby is a mature maple tree whose massive root structure has been exposed by erosion. It would make an excellent illustration for a botany textbook.
Eventually I reach the top of the ridge and turn right onto a trail paralleling the southern edge of the park. This is an old trail – it can be seen on the 1939 aerial photograph. On this trail the Conservancy has installed a bench; not a conventional one with a seat and back, but a set of horizontal two by six planks turned vertically and separated by spacers. Beggars dare not be choosers; we nonagenarians are happy to take advantage of any bench, even this style.
A short distance farther, the trail encounters an area where the Conservancy performed a major bit of surgery six years ago, replacing invasive “honeysuckle, English privet, and vines” with native plants, including serviceberry, oxeye sunflower, and black-eyed susan. Today it is a thicket of knee-high thistle.
This trail exits the park onto a public street. In the late 1980s we had a brindle boxer named Maya who was terrified by street traffic, so I cut a new trail, downhill, staying in the woods. It has been improved in the ensuing years by the Conservancy, with crushed limestone and transverse landscaping timbers providing terraces. I wonder if they know it is “Maya’s Trail”.
At its bottom Maya’s Trail meets a west/east trail that skirts the top of the cut above the scar cut by the soccer field, set back enough that it still has a natural feel. It boasts a number of boardwalks over frequently wet areas, constructed as Eagle Scout projects. Near one of them is a plaque honoring a deceased scout leader, with a Baden-Powell quotation, “It’s the spirit within, not the veneer without, that makes a man”. I wish Bridgeville had something similar in memory of Eddie Croft, my Scoutmaster in the 1940s.
As ghillie, I am also responsible for wild life in the park. I am always thrilled to hear the hammer of a pileated woodpecker or to surprise a doe and her fawn feeding in a thicket. Squirrels, rabbits, possum, raccoons, red-tailed hawks, and owls are other frequently encountered animals.
This trail passes through my beloved “brick garden”, the place where someone buried a load of paving bricks years ago. Each spring, frost heave produces another crop of “Porter Nationals”, “Bessemer Youngstowns”, and “C. P Mayers”. Finding a Mayer brick there years ago initiated my brick-collecting hobby.
At the end of the trail I turn downhill until I encounter an east/west trail that parallels the bottom of the soccer field fill. It too is sufficiently offset to retain a natural feel. Halfway along it crosses an attractive small stream, with a huge boulder in the middle. Another Eagle Scout project avoided the boulder by putting a vee-shaped kink in a bridge over the stream.
I turn downhill when this trail intersects the “Markham Trail”, a highly developed one that neighborhood children use to go to the local elementary school. I take a short side trip to check out the tulip tree we planted five years ago in memory of my wife and confirm that it still is prospering.
My return to the beginning of this inspection tour is a trail paralleling our street. It winds back and forth along a small stream, crossing it at one point on a substantial bridge. Halfway along the trail is a bend in the stream that has threatened to produce an alternate route for years. Sure enough Ida provided enough rain that the stream has now bifurcated, with two downstream branches.
Not far from this is a spot that is the favorite playground for the current crop of neighborhood children. They obviously are “playing war”; they have built an excellent foxhole complete with a log parapet, a hut constructed from small logs, and a makeshift bridge over the stream. I am reminded of a similar group of children on Lafayette Street in the mid-1940s. I return to Youngwood Road on a trail that exits the park “two doors” above my house, through a lovely patch of ferns.
Forty-five minutes and about a mile and a quarter for this inspection tour, and I am prepared to report to the Lord of the Manor that all is well in this portion of his estate. My report on the western half of the park is due later this month.
This series of columns is also archived on the Bridgeville Area Historical Society website under the masthead title “Water Under the Bridge. Readers wishing to receive individual digital copies each Thursday should contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.