Category Archives: Hikes

Spring nature report

Wild Times at Pine Hill Park
Spring, 2021 Summary

By Tom Estill

I always make a point of going on hikes throughout the forest during the first day of each season. On the first day of this spring I saw my first robin. They always seem to arrive at Pine Hill Park on, or very close to, the first day of spring. What I’m wondering is if this will be the case years from now. Also on this first day of spring, mourning doves were “cooing”, turkey vultures were flying overhead, and crows, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, hairy woodpeckers and cardinals were all flying about.

The lower Giorgetti trails were mostly bare ground with icy and snowy patches in protected spots, while the upper trails had much more snow covering the ground.

Both Rocky and Muddy ponds were mostly still frozen over, with a few small perimeter areas starting to show open water. The haunting sound of under ice rumblings could be heard at both ponds, as the ice was beginning to break up.

Gray squirrels and Eastern chipmunks were scurrying around, looking for acorns left over from the previous fall. Wintergreen was covering bare ground areas.

The next day(March 21st) I went back to the park and saw a few Canada geese at Muddy Pond in a small area of open water, along with northern juncos, and a pileated woodpecker. The first butterfly of the season, a Compton tortoiseshell, was also seen.

On March 27th, both ponds were now almost completely open, with only a few small areas on the west sides of both ponds showing the presence of ice. Wood frogs could be heard calling for the first time in areas where they’ve always been heard at the beginning of the season, and that is the Rocky Pond outlet area, and a wetland area in the woods at the south side of Rocky Pond. Also, a mourning cloak butterfly was seen on Trail 16A, near one of the American Chestnut planting plots, just where I see them at this same time every year.

On April 5th, the first wildflower, Coltsfoot, made its appearance. It’s always the first plant to flower. This was also the day I saw my first yellow-bellied sapsucker and Eastern Newt at Rocky Pond.

A few days later, trout lily leaves were starting to emerge from the forest floor, and oak trees were beginning to flower. One osprey was seen sitting on last years’ nest. Spring peepers were also heard for the first time. And I noticed many small insects flying about. Painted turtles were sunning themselves at Muddy Pond. For the most part, the forest was still very quiet.

During the middle of April, temperatures were cold on a very quiet evening walk through the forest. Wild lily-of-the-Valley leaves were emerging from the forest floor and a hermit thrush was singing its beautiful evening flute-like song. Beavers were active on the west side of Muddy Pond, and a single osprey was on its nest.

On May 1st, I went for a quiet evening walk and saw black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, robins, hermit thrush, yellow-throated vireo, and belted kingfishers and 3 osprey at Muddy Pond. In the pond were seen a large snapping turtle, painted turtles, and a river otter. Trout lily and wood anemone were in flower.

On May 9th while on an early morning bird walk, not only did I see the usual contingent of early spring birds, but also saw the relatively uncommon red-breasted nuthatch, the first time I had ever seen that bird at Pine Hill Park. A house wren could be heard singing near the trailhead.

On May 22nd, I saw my first firefly of the season, MUCH earlier than usual. A large black northern water snake was seen at Rocky Pond, and Moccasin flower, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and foam flower were all flowering. Many birds were seen, including South American migrants.

Birds seen included Hairy woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, Eastern pewee, least flycatcher, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, hermit thrush, veery, ovenbird, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, black and white warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, American redstart, indigo bunting, and rufous-sided towhee.

On May 31st, the Wild American Chestnut tree was finally located on Svelte Tiger trail. Tree leaves had finally emerged, and the specific tree was easily identified.

During a walk the first week of June, I noticed large numbers of partially eaten tree leaves covering just about every trail in the park, and soon realized that the park is undergoing an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars. By June 10th, the infestation was so bad that if you stood quietly on a secluded trail, you could hear the droppings of the caterpillars falling on the ground and upon other leaves. It sounded like a gentle rain. I’ve been hiking Pine Hill Park since 2013, and never saw as bad an infestation as this year.

I measured the height of the Wild American Chestnut tree on June 10th, and found the tree to be 66’ tall. Unfortunately, though healthy looking, it did show signs of the blight infection. On my hike back to the trailhead, I came across a recently born fawn. It calmly walked right in front of me and off into the forest.

On a walk in mid-June, I was surprised to see a Cedar Waxwing in the forest. I usually don’t see them until the end of summer, and always up around Rocky Pond. An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly was seen feeding on red clover, bullfrogs were croaking at Rocky Pond, and American redstart warblers and tufted titmouse birds were seen feeding on gypsy moth caterpillars. Hopefully, these, and other, predatory birds will keep the gypsy moth caterpillar numbers in check.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails, and enjoy the Wild Times of Pine Hill Park.

RTP GRant Awarded

We are proud recipients of a Recreation Trail Program grant (RTP) through the VT Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation who administers the grant. Out of 23 applicants we were one of nine chosen to receive an $18,000 grant. This will pay for a 3 week VT Youth Conservation Corp crew in 2022. This crew will work on Maximum Capacity and Bone Spur which are both located near or off Milk Run.

We would like to thank Kim Peters and Nikki Adams at Rutland Rec for helping the write the grant. Joel Blumenthal and Nicole Kesselring were instrumental in helping with the maps and Act 250 questions that we had to answer. Without everyone’s help our grant would not have been a success.

With some luck, YES plan from Rutland High School will return in the spring of 2022 to help with our fantastic trail system.

Update on trails

UPDATE April 8th: Trails are riding great. With the wind we have been having trees are falling down so reports are appreciated. pinehillpartnership@gmail.com. Trails that are still closed Exit Strategy, steep hill on Droopy, Lichen Rock. Voldemort should be open later today April 8th.

UPDATE April 5th: Opening up trails this afternoon except for our normal winter closures. Hopefully our 15 degree nights are done. Thank you for being patient.

UPDATE April 3rd: Trails are still going through freeze/thaw cycles with the cold weather that is back. We have frost poking up on the trail tread. Please NO BIKES.

UPDATE March 29th: Trails are slowly drying out. With all the rain on Sunday(28th) things got pretty soggy again but it did drive the frost out of the ground. Snow is in the forecast for later in the week so we have to wait until after that event to melt. We will be monitoring trails regularly to see when we can open for bikes. We need a bunch of windy days to dry the park out. PLEASE BE PATIENT!

We are in the middle of freeze/thaw cycles when the trails are super fragile. We would appreciate folks staying off the trails at this time. Hikers if you would stay on the Pond Rd that would be greatly appreciated too. Thank you.

Why we leave leaves

Why we do not remove leaves there are several reasons. One we move all hard earned dirt by hand in 5 gallon buckets and leaf blowers blow all that dirt off the trail tread. Second the ground up leaves will actually help hold our dirt on the trails and protects the trail tread. Plus freeze/thaw cycles the leaves help hold our trail tread in place and not get sucked up on boots or tires.

We are not blessed like other local trail systems that have an abundance of dirt. Pine Hill Park is not one of those areas.

We know leaves are slippery especially when wet but with the traffic the park is seeing currently the leaves will get ground up quickly.

Thank you for understanding.

Here is a great video on why we leave leaves.

WE’RE DIGGING IN !

Update October 28, 2020: We received a check from IMBA/Shimano for $2300. to help pay for the VYCC crew we had in the park the end of July. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this fund.

We have been selected as one of 10 recipients of the IMBA Dig In Grant program. With the support of Shimano, IMBA is doing a grant to pay for trail building at Pine Hill Park. Read the announcement from IMBA here.

This program will help us raise money needed for the VT Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) to come in at the end of July and help finish off a couple of trails in the park that volunteers have been working on. (map below)

Thanks to COVID-19, large volunteer groups are not happening in 2020. VYCC will be a big help, but we will have to pay for their services.

Our newest trail, Milk Run, was started in 2018 with the help of volunteers. At the end of July we are having VYCC come in and hope to use their time to get all the organic material off so that we can open the trail up to the top of Upper Halfpipe. This is about 1500′ of organic top layer to be removed.

Why remove organic in Pine Hill Park? We have found for long term sustainability, our trails hold up better by removing it early. Early on in our learning process of building trails we would do a ‘rake and ride’. Those trails now have been rebuilt at least once if not twice.

If you’d like to help us with this effort, please consider making a donation here. As always, thank you for your support!

2020 spring wild times

Thanks to Tom Estill we have these great nature reports.

Driving up to the pine hill park parking lot on the first day of spring, I was pleasantly surprised to see my first robins of the season scurrying about the ground looking for worms and other food to eat. Otherwise, the only other birds I saw that day were downy and hairy woodpeckers, crow, Canada geese at Muddy Pond, and tufted titmouse. At Rocky Pond, I observed a pair of turkey vultures circling above the rocky overlook, then land among the rocks. Thinking they might be considering nesting there, I walked up the trail and took a closer look but found no birds, nor nest. Rocky Pond was mostly open water, with a thin layer of ice covering the south and east shores. Numerous Eastern newts could be seen swimming near the shores where there was open water. Two days later, all ice was gone from Rocky Pond. Muddy Pond, on the other hand, still had a small amount of ice on its west side shore. At Muddy Pond, you could see Mallards, wood ducks and Canadian geese, along with 2 osprey flying overhead.

March 26th found Eastern bluebirds sitting on the trailhead area bird houses, occasionally flying in and out of the boxes. Very exciting to see, but tempered with the knowledge that they probably would not nest so close to all the park visitors going into, and coming out of, the park. And after watching the boxes closely for a few weeks, that’s exactly what happened. On this day, all ice was gone from both ponds, and numerous wood ducks could be heard calling in the wetland area just south of Rocky Pond. The first butterflies of the season, the mourning cloak and the Eastern Comma were seen, as well as the first wildflower of the season(as usual), the Coltsfoot. The last thing of interest on this day was the sighting of an Eastern garter snake near the quarry cliffs.

The last day of March found the oak trees starting to bud, common mergansers at Muddy Pond, and barred owls “hooting” near Trail sign #14.

The first week of April found both hooded and common mergansers on Muddy Pond, white breasted nuthatches building nests in tree cavities, osprey nesting for the 4th year in a row at Muddy Pond, and spring peepers starting to make their presence known with their piercing calls. While walking along Crusher Rd., I heard numerous gray squirrels and Eastern chipmunks sounding their alarm calls, then watched a beautiful red fox run across the road. During an evening walk, I noticed how quiet the forest was but knew that soon it would be filled with the sound of numerous birds as they established their territories, and began their mating rituals.

On April 19th, bluebirds were still flying in and out of the birdhouses, which surprised me very much. Were they actually going to nest in those exposed boxes, I wondered. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers had returned, and you could not walk anywhere within the park without hearing the drumming of those birds. It seemed the park was filled with them. I had never heard so many.

A broad-winged hawk was seen flying through the forest with a chipmunk hanging from its talons. Hermit thrushes had returned, along with the first warbler of the season, the American Redstart. And at Muddy Pond, Canada geese had begun nesting atop beaver dens.

By April 23rd, the forest was alive with numerous southern migratory birds having arrived, wood frogs calling during the day, Canada geese and Osprey nesting, trailing arbutus flowering, and turkey vultures continuing to fly over the Rocky Pond lookout. I had the feeling that they were probably interested in nesting there, but the presence of hikers would keep that from happening. The evening was still very quiet.

By the last week of April, spring peepers were being heard all over the Rutland Area, trout lily was flowering, tiny wood frog tadpoles were emerging from their eggs, painted turtles were sunning themselves, and the forest was filling with birds. On one birdwalk April 28th, I saw a cardinal, tufted titmouse, yellow-bellied sapsucker, rufous-sided towhee, yellow-rumped warblers, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, robin, crow, Eastern phoebe, ring-necked ducks, Canada geese, red-shouldered hawks, osprey, and yellow-throated vireos.

The first week of May found a pair of broad-winged hawks checking out a nest near Trail Marker 12. But its proximity to hikers would keep them from nesting there, unfortunately. And on May 2nd I saw something I had never seen before. A yellow-bellied sapsucker and hairy woodpecker were fighting up and down this tree for the longest time until they both flew off into the forest. Fiddleheads were emerging, wood anemone, barren strawberry, painted trillium and purple violets were flowering, and on May 2nd, dozens of painted turtles could be seen sunning themselves on Muddy Pond. Black-throated blue warblers, black and white warblers and black-throated green warblers were seen for the first time.

On May 7th, adult Canada geese were seen swimming with their 4 goslings at Rocky Pond, and gay wings and dwarf ginseng were in flower.

On May 14th, night temperatures reached near 32 degrees F, which turned out to be the last near freezing temp. of the season. During that day, I saw my first blue-headed vireo.

Two days later, the American chestnuts began “leafing out”. All 50 chestnuts had survived the winter except for one. One of the trees is now 11 ft. tall!

By the start of the third week of May, summer resident birds had all pretty much returned with the exception of only a few birds. Residents now included the beautiful scarlet tanager and indigo buntings, Eastern towhee, ovenbird, and various flycatchers.

On May 19th, while walking along Crusher Rd., I once again heard numerous chipmunks giving warning calls to one another, and sure enough, a moment later, a barred owl came flying across the road right in front of me. Gray treefrogs could be heard throughout the whole forest with their distinctive call.

On May 21, Shelley Lutz and I went on an interesting bird walk. While I used my Bird Calling App. to attract birds, she had her camera ready to take close ups of the birds as they came near to investigate. You can see some of her amazing photos on the Pine Hill Park Partnership website. I’ll tell you, she got some amazing photos. See for yourself!

On May 23rd, while walking on the Carriage Trail, suddenly out of the woods right in front of me jumped a mother ruffed grouse with “fluffed” up wings, coming at me aggressively, and making a high pitched squeaking noise. Hiding in the shrubbery nearby were her chicks. I just casually moved away not wanting to bother her anymore than I had to.

During the last week of May I saw the ruby throated hummingbird feeding on honeysuckle flowers, a small toadlet crossing the carriage trail, 2 broad-winged hawks fighting near the quarry, a beautiful tiger beetle, and a chipmunk feeding on red oak leaves. By the way, leave the tiger beetles alone, they have a nasty bite.

On May 28th I found a chestnut-sided warbler nest being built just a few feet away from Trail Marker #11. A few days later, the nest had 2 eggs in it. Then a few days after that, the eggs were gone and the nest abandoned. I have no idea what happened. The nest hadn’t been damaged. That same day, I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak in the forest. In fact, Shelley identified its call, before I even saw it.

By the end of May the common buttercup, forget-me-not, pink azalea and starflower were all in bloom.

Mid June found 2 families of geese on Rocky Pond, yellow wood sorrel, dwarf cinquefoil, thyme-leaved speedwell, common fleabane, king devil, and dame’s rocket all in flower, adult veery were feeding their young, schools of baby brown bullheads could be found in Rocky Pond, and fireflies were seen the first time on June 17th.

On the last day of spring, I saw a gorgeous white-tailed deer crossing Crusher Rd. Since then, I see THEM almost everytime I hike in that area on my early morning hikes.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails, and enjoy your walks, hikes, and times at Pine Hill Park.

Trail build out

We are reaching our limits of trails in Pine Hill Park. We currently have 17 miles. With Milk Run, Bone Spur and Maximum Capacity all adding about another mile and a half we will have reached our limit for density of trails inside Pine Hill Park.

This is a rough map of where Milk Run is completed in 2018, 2019. 2020 we hope to break open the rest of Milk Run with a VT Youth Conservation Corp crew in July. They are a paid crew so we are trying to raise money to cover this expense.

Bone Spur will be a pretty bony section off Milk Run.

Maximum Capacity will branch off Milk Run and head towards Intersection 20. This will be a fun trail utilizing trail contours.

If you are able to donate money to help defray the cost of a VYCC crew it would be greatly appreciated. We are applying for multiple grants-we have been turned by a couple and are patiently waiting to hear on other applications. https://pinehillpark.org/donate-2/

Community work nights

Community Work Night: Bring a weed wacker

Wednesday, August 12th

5-8pm

Meet at Giorgetti parking lot 5pm. We will be trimming the Carriage Trail back from the top of Library Pass back to Rocky Pond. We will shuttle folks up to Rocky Pond in vehicles from there hike in with weed whackers. We will have a few spare weed whackers for folks to use.

Bring a headlamp, work gloves, water and bug dope.

wild times in Pine hill park

At Pine Hill Park Fall 2019/Winter 2020

As late as the first week of Oct., a few summer resident birds could still be found in the park, including yellow-bellied sapsuckers, Eastern phoebe, and wood ducks. Day temperatures could be considered generally cold. And an occasional garter snake could be seen slithering among the leaf litter. The forest seemed alive with chipmunks scurrying about searching for, and storing, their winter food supply of acorns and other available nuts and seeds.

By mid-October, the forest floor was covered in a thick layer of colorful leaves, a layer which would persist throughout the fall and winter months

By mid-October, the forest floor was covered in a thick layer of colorful leaves, a layer which would persist throughout the fall and winter months. Eastern newts could still be seen swimming in Rocky and Muddy ponds.

By the first week of November, the seasonal birds had left, the hundreds of migrating waterfowl had left both ponds, the forest had become very quiet, trees were bare of leaves for the most part, and both Rocky and Muddy ponds were still open water, with newts seen swimming along the shoreline.

At the end of the first week of November, a thin layer of ice had formed over a few small areas on the edges of the ponds. On a Nov. 9th walk, I saw only one crow, but plenty of gray squirrels and chipmunks scurrying about. On a Nov. 17th hike, I had noticed that most of the oak trees had finally dropped their last leaves, an inch of snow was on the ground, gray squirrels and chipmunks were continuing their collecting of food, both ponds were covered with about 2 inches of ice, and not a single bird was heard or seen.

Two days before Christmas, temperatures in the low 50s were recorded, causing a major snow melt, but both ponds were now covered with thick ice. On Dec. 28th, Dave and Shelley participated in the annual Audubon Christmas bird count, observing tufted titmouse, mallard, crow, red-tailed hawk, raven, black-caped chickadee, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, American goldfinch, hairy woodpecker, pileated woodpecker, and Eastern bluebird.

On Jan. 12th, bluebirds were seen at a birdhouse near the park trailhead. Hopefully, they’ll be nesting in one of those houses in the spring. But because of the proximity to people, that very well may not happen. On this day I saw common resident bird species including downy, hairy, and pileated woodpeckers, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadees and dark-eyed juncos. Both ponds were covered in a few inches of water caused by recent heavy rains, and temperatures in the 60s! Snow was almost completely gone from the forest floor.

The third week of Jan. found the forest floor covered in about 4 inches of snow, with temperatures near single digits. Many places could be seen where white-tailed deer had been digging up the snow in search of acorns and other nuts.

The first week of Feb. found the lower trails forest floor still bare, but the higher trails all had about an inch of snow covering the ground. The forest was still relatively quiet, but I did observe gray squirrels mating. A RED squirrel, an only occasional sight, was seen in the hemlock forest near Muddy Pond, and tufted titmouse birds were singing, signs that spring was not far away.

By mid-Feb., about 6” of snow was on the ground, many animal tracks were seen throughout the forest including white-tailed deer, coyote, fox, squirrels and chipmunks, many squirrels were scurrying about, snow fleas were observed for the first time, and cardinals were singing.

On Feb. 23rd, while sitting on the edge of Rocky Pond, I could hear rumbles, moans, and groans coming from the pond as ice was moving and cracking underneath the snow covered surface. All streams and ponds frozen over.

March 8th was a gorgeous day. Squirrels and chipmunks could be seen active throughout the park, snow was gone on the lower trails with snow found only in protected, isolated areas throughout the upper trails, Rocky Pond had a few spots of open water, spiders were seen crawling about, and streams were starting to run.

By mid-March, snow was gone from most of the park with just a few patches of snow found only in small protected areas. Both Rocky and Muddy Ponds had some small open patches of water along the perimeter with Canada geese, mallards, wood ducks and hooded mergansers found there. Eastern newts were seen in large numbers along the shores in these open areas. Hairy woodpeckers were heard all throughout the park drumming.

All 50 American chestnut trees survived the winter, but 2 of the trees have small spots on their bark which show outer bark degradation. Whether this is the dreaded blight or not is too early to tell at this time according to a VT State Forester who looked at a picture of the spots I had taken for him to examine.
Shelley observed bluebirds leaving and entering one of the bird houses near the trailhead. We can only hope they decide to nest in one of the houses this spring.

That’s it for this issue. Please stay on the trails and enjoy your walks through the beautiful trails of Pine Hill Park.



Park is now open for bikes

UPDATE MAY 2nd: We are open for bikes if you are driving less than 10 miles.

Please keep your social distance from others, step off the trail for others to pass. Studies are now show hiking, riding spacing should be 15′ or more as droplets be suspended for quite sometime.

We have not changed the heading on TrailHUB because as soon as we do an email blast will go out to over 14,000 followers. We do not need that information to get blasted out there.

We are all volunteers that work in the park. Please leave a donation in Tinman or make a donation via our webpage or snail mail. We are trying to raise money to bring a VYCC crew in to help replace our large volunteer groups this year that won’t be working in the park due to COVID-19 restrictions. https://pinehillpark.org/volunteer/

DOGS MUST BE LEASHED at all times. Animal control officer is patrolling the park.

UPDATE APRIL 24th: Trails are in good shape to ride. Carriage Trail is wet out past the powerline heading to Proctor. The big outer loop on Redfield trails is wet too. We would prefer folks not to ride those trails.

Please remember to keep your social distance from others, step way off to the sides of the trails . Studies are now show hiking, riding spacing should be 15′ or more as droplets be suspended for quite sometime.

DOGS MUST BE LEASHED please!

We will not be posting this on social media or updating TrailHUB. TrailHUB will still show closed to the right of your screen and it will stay that way for a little while.

UPDATE APRIL 10th: Trails are in good shape. It is currently snowing and it is slowly sticking to the ground so not sure what conditions will be like first thing Saturday 4/11. Please remember to keep your social distance from others, step way off to the sides of the trails . Studies are now show hiking, riding spacing should be 15′ or more as droplets be suspended for quite sometime. DOGS MUST BE LEASHED please! Please read March 27th update on why TrailHUB is not updated. Thank you.

UPDATE APRIL 4th: Trails are in good shape. We are asking folks to respect the social distancing and encourage all users to keep 6′ apart. DOGS MUST BE LEASHED at all times. Please leave a donation in Tinman for future trail work. Thank you.

UPDATE MARCH 27th: Trails are officially open for bikes. We will not be posting this on social media or updating TrailHUB. TrailHUB will still show closed to the right of your screen and it will stay that way for a little while. If the park is super wet we’re asking folks to be smart about riding. Remember your social distancing too. There are a lot of pedestrians in the park so please be courteous. Please have your dog leashed at all times. Thank you for your patience.

UPDATE MARCH 25th: Trails are drying out nicely until we picked up 4″ of snow late Monday. As of late Wednesday there is still some snow on the ground so trails are soft. We need to have the snow melt completely then a few more days to dry everything out before we open to bikes. Please be patient.

When the trails do open it will be a quiet opening. TrailHUB will still show closed. If we change from closed to open an alert will go out to about 24,000 people. Needless to say we do not need to broadcast this to 24,000 people that park trails are open.

Exit Strategy, Lichen Rock and the steep hill on Droopy will be closed until they really dry out late spring.

We are currently hoping to hold our community work day Saturday, April 25th, 9AM at the front entrance.

At this point in time we are not sure about our volunteer groups coming this summer. We know Exit Strategy needs some TLC but as of now we’re not sure how it will be repaired at this point in time.

We are still hoping VYCC will be in this fall but we need to raise $15,000 for a two week crew. If you have not renewed your membership please do and we will take contributions of any amount which are tax deductible. We are applying for grants to help offset this cost but we could use your help.

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Well, folks it’s that time of year with the freeze/thaw cycles. We’re asking folks not to ride any type of bike with the the weather cycles we are currently experiencing. The trails are not freezing at night.

Someone decided to ride one of those warm 50+ degree days and basically destroyed part of Escalator. Our volunteers do not need extra work by repairing the ruts left by this one person who thought the sign at the front entrance did not apply to them.

We know folks are jonesing to ride but please be patient and not create more work for the volunteers who already have enough to do this year.