Thornwood nature reserve hidden gem among area parks

I would like to introduce you to the parks department’s latest gem: Thornwood Nature Preserve.

The site is located south of town on Morristown Pike. Thornwood is 40 acres of woods and pasture.

If you look closely, it is a good example of a mixed forest. As you cross the bridge and enter the woods, you are entering what can be called a floodplain forest. Look around you; you have trees such as sycamore, cottonwood and elm. These trees don’t mind getting their roots wet.

As you move toward the back (east) and start climbing, you will notice a change in the trees; up here, you will tend to get more oaks and shagbark hickory. These trees prefer to keep their roots drier.

The plants tend to change a bit also; down toward the creek, you tend to get more sedge, while up higher you get more diversity in your plants.

Five trails have been developed for your enjoyment, two of which are designed for easy traveling. Also among the features are our seasonal wetlands of which we have at least four. These are there during the wet season and then disappear later.

The five trails mentioned are the Red, Green, Yellow, Orange and Pasture. We were able to lay out the trails without cutting a single live tree, which was really great from our standpoint (and the EPA). The trails followed old farm roads and cattle paths. Let’s talk about the trails.

Red Trail: This is one of the easy ones. It is basically on the south side of the preserve. It goes from the floodplain to the upper following one of the creeks.

Green trail: This trail is generally in the middle of the preserve. It shares part of the Red Trail. It’s a bit trickier, especially in wet weather. There are two boardwalks on the trail (and maybe a third at a later date). There is one area of the Green Trail that you need to be careful while walking. We call it “Toad Alley;” there are more toads in this area than any place else in the preserve.

Yellow Trail: This trail leaves the Green Trail in the north part of the preserve and heads down off the ridge and into the floodplain, wanders through this area and back up the ridge to rejoin the Green Trail.

Orange Trail: This trail leaves the high ground and goes back into lowlands. It rejoins the Green Trail briefly before crossing one of the creeks (sorry, no bridge), back up to the ridge and then crossing the Little Brandywine (no bridge here, either) to link with the Pasture Trail.

Pasture Trail: This tail makes a circuit through the pasture, starting at and returning to the parking lot.

We also have an outdoor classroom planned for the preserve. This is located on the Red Trail close to its junction with the Green Trail. This will be used for nature programs and any school that wants to use them (and this also includes the home-schooled and church schools)

We have five benches (with plans for three more) placed throughout the preserve, just to give people a place to sit and contemplate the world around them or just to take a load off.

We also have blue post sites scattered throughout the preserve. These are spots within the preserve that we felt were of an educational value. There are signs located there to give you information about the site.

We also plan to start planting wildflowers at the southern end (near where the barn was, for those who remember), so they will spread through the pasture. Plans are also in the works for a mini amphitheater on the slope in the pasture.

The main plan for the preserve is to interfere with nature as little as possible. Trees that fall over a trail will be cut to clear the trail and that’s it. The only plant material we are going to eradicate is the Multiflora rose that grows there. More on that plant later.

As of this writing, we still have a parking lot to put in plus a bridge to get over the Little Brandywine Creek.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department.