The Deerfield Trail is a small wonder of the New River Valley nature scene.
A good friend of mine tipped me off to its existence early this spring, when she and her family walked the trail at dusk in order to hear the woodcocks “peenting” their mating song.
I didn’t get out there fast enough (or at the right time of evening) to catch the woodcocks’ serenade, but I have walked the trail several times this spring and summer and, most recently, last week, so it’s one I can highly recommend, particularly for families with young children.
Here are the Deerfield Trail’s highlights:
- It’s only a five minute drive off of Route 460 via Tom’s Creek Road.
- There’s plenty of parking.
- The entire trail is both wide and paved; less tripping hazard for little feet and thoroughly stroller-friendly.
- It’s only .7 miles long, one way, and there’s very little incline.
- Around the half mile mark, there’s a wonderful grassy area complete with big, shady sycamore trees and at least two benches, right on the banks of Tom’s Creek.
- This area of Tom’s Creek (as long as it’s not raining upstream) is nice and shallow, perfect for exploring and splashing.
- In addition to the creek, this trail also features open meadow and woodland habitats, and more habitats means a greater variety of species to see.
- Wildlife I’ve seen on this trail include:
- Songbirds (cardinals, blue jays, Eastern towhees, robins, etc.)
- Great Blue Heron
- Canada Geese
- Mink (playing in the farm pond)
- Speaking of wildlife, dogs are welcome as long as they’re on leash.
- This trail has lots of great interpretive signage, too, provided by a local Girl Scout troop when the trail was first built and designed to encourage visitors to use all of their senses to experience nature along the way. Easy reading for elementary students, these signs are full of wonderful information.
During my walk last week I enjoyed watching the progression of fall on the trail. Palest purple asters (Aster spp.) and bright gold wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) were both in bloom, as well as a few goldenrod and some surprising pink gaura (Gaura spp.). The blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace were just finishing their bloom, browning, and curving upward and inward, sort of like an umbrella that’s been blown inside out.
The black walnut trees along the trail had dropped plenty of baseball-sized, bright green fruit on the ground. (Even that hard nut is protected by at least a half inch of dense material inside a tough, leathery husk.)
As the trail crossed Tom’s Creek, I saw the evidence of the recent floods: grass and wildflowers still flattened in the direction of the floodwaters, bent permanently by the sheer force of the rush. The banks of the creek were obviously significantly eroded, scrubbed sheer and concave by the power of so much water headed down even this gentle slope. There’s a lot of impermeable surface – pavement, roofs, sidewalks, etc. – in the Tom’s Creek watershed, so even a moderate rain can generate a fairly large flash flood.
Then, following the trail into the woods, my footsteps became noisy as I crunched through drifts of fallen leaves. It was my first autumn leaf shuffle, and in some spots the leaf litter was deep enough to kick, Rockettes-style, into the air. Which, of course, I did, because I had the trail all to myself. Well, I was away from other humans, at least; there were plenty of obvious animal trails visible in the thinning undergrowth and lots of skittering and rustling in my peripheral vision.
The great thing about a straight (non-loop) trail is that, if you pay attention, you see lots of things on the way out that you missed on the way in. Here are some more great autumn wildflowers that caught my eye:
As I inserted these last pictures into the post, an overall takeaway occurred to me: the most noted wildflowers and seedheads of early fall are (generally) members of the Aster family (e.g.: Joe Pye, Aster, Thistle, Goldenrod, Ironweed, and Coreopsis) and the Milkweed family (e.g.: Common Milkweed, Butterflyweed, and Swamp Milkweed).
This is, no doubt, a general rule that should have occurred to me before, but I don’t mind figuring it out again by looking closely at each of these gorgeous flowers and then backing out to the bigger picture. Just one more reason I love to hike.