Let’s begin a mind’s-eye hike at the Swift Creek Forest Trail parking area. Moving south, we shortly pick up the Fendley Station Trail and pass the northern intersection with Fendley Station Loop A. We are now in the watershed of a small stream which is evident as we pass through a low area and cross a culvert through which water flows to the east. Proceeding up a slight grade, we come to the southern intersection with Loop A, and we turn onto it. Continuing eastward for some distance we begin to descend through the watershed, eventually reaching a ford where the trail again encounters the same stream, now somewhat more robust.
Here we go off-trail to follow this stream, a tributary of Swift Creek called Shawondasee Creek (Shawondasee was a god of the American Indians). As we bush-whack downstream southward, water from another brook joins the creek, keeping the water flowing through all months of the year. After a few minutes of tromping through this area of deciduous forest, we begin to see the water of the creek widening into pools. The pools are backed up behind dams of sticks, built by beavers that have found this area to be suitable habitat. Continuing along the creek, we find a series of these dams and the tell-tale chewed tree trunks and saplings. Four such pools are pictured below.
Eventually we come to the park boundary with YMCA Camp Thunderbird. The creek feeds into the camp’s Lake George, a reservoir which is also beaver habitat. The camp staff find that they and the beavers can coexist peacefully, and they have designated the landscape of beaver dams as Beavertown.
Back in 2005 a biologist added an entry for the Northern River Otter to the ongoing inventory of life in Pocahontas State Park. There is no detail in the record about where it was sighted, or if it was only inferred from signs. Today I was tramping along an off-trail border of the park when I came across this apparent mud-slide into Swift Creek. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but it could be that we still have river otters here. There is still quite a lot of wild land along Swift Creek, through and below the park. Otters are sensitive to water quality, so their presence would be another sign that Swift Creek has not been overly degraded by upstream suburban development.
Thoughts on the park, its residents and how to preserve its natural beauty.