A few weeks back I went to the Town of Georgia Park and Rec Department website to get information about the Georgia Shore Park. While on the website I saw a listing for three other trails- one of which was right on 104A. What? I drive that road all the time- daily for 6 years- I have never seen a trailhead… I needed to know more.
Dr. Kent Henderson, Chair of the Town of Georgia Conservation Commission (GCC), responded to my inquiry, and met me at the trail to give me a guided tour. The trailhead at the Russell Greene Natural Area is difficult to find currently, he tells me, due to a shift in the parking. We parked on the roadside at the western side of the narrow bridge on 104A, across from Trayah Rd. We sprayed ourselves with some good bug repellant and I pulled on my low boots as there is evidence of a little bit of poison ivy right at the beginning. After that small spot, there wasn’t any further in and we could walk freely.
As we entered the little-to-no grade path covered in pine needles, Kent told me the history of the land and the work they have done on it.
In 2003, the Harrison family donated this 44-acre forest/wetland area to the Town of Georgia, which has been developed into the Russell Greene Natural Area. The State deems Deer Brook as a class II impaired waterway, due to stream bank erosion from stormwater originating from the VT Rte. 7/104a intersection and Interstate 18 exit. The wetland is a natural filter to trap sediment and Phosphorus before Deer Brook enters Arrowhead Lake. GCC was allowed to create the footpath through this wetland area, with the provision that the path be constructed for single file hiking with a series of boardwalks and bridges through the fragile vegetation of over 50 varieties of ferns and flowering plants.
In spring 2014, Vermont Youth Conservation Corp and GCC members constructed the trail which held its opening on June 29. Since the path was opened, there have been small tours and class field trips coming through. There is a gathering spot in a clearing along the path overlooking the marshland on the Deer Brook. As we approached, a mother duck warned us and flew off as her ducklings scampered for safety into the cattails. The Redwing blackbirds chided us for interrupting, and stood their ground. The logs that students would sit on during a discussion have neat rows of gnaw-marks, where beavers meticulously removed the bark for a mid-winter meal.
The entire path is about a mile and a half long. There is a very easy, wide path that had been a service road that wanders in and out of the woods, at times basking you in sunlight and wildflowers, other times going through a tunnel of the woods’ canopy, leaving you to wonder what you will discover around the bend. We experienced so many different smells and visual textures – trees in various states of growing or decaying, light coming in to help the undergrowth reach up with drifts of ferns of different shapes and sizes, the warm sun reflecting off the trail, or the cool green of the shaded trail. We saw snakes and frogs, saw evidence of deer and beaver, and heard a woodpecker drilling way up in a tree. We were there in the morning, so the biting insects were not as plentiful as I had feared.
A loop cuts off the main trail that descends into the wetlands. Dogs are not allowed in this section of the trail. Even if the owners were to pick up after them, their presence would still leave a scent that would discourage the natural wildlife from inhabiting the space. As we walked over the boardwalks, Kent pointed out the Vernal Pools- areas that stay damp throughout the season, long enough for the salamanders that live there to complete their life cycles. This path ended at the river’s edge, where the clear water of the Deer Brook cut through the sandy shores, slowly rewriting the course of their flow. There are plans to fell a few of the larger trees right along the shore to one day construct a bridge across to extend the trail. But that is for another time.
Right now the focus is on building a parking area out front, so it is safe enough for explorers to park and large enough for a school bus to enter and drop off a field trip of students. The current timeline of permitting process and construction would anticipate completion of the new parking area in October 2016. The learning opportunities are endless, for students and leisure hikers alike. I learned that I need to get back there and explore more!
A video filmed by Lake Champlain Access Television in 2014 can be found here.