Hiking Trails at the Claytor Nature Center
Cassandra Matthews ~ Assistant Editor
Hiking is just one of the many recreational opportunities that can be explored at the Claytor Nature Center.
The trails reach a total of just under eight miles, and are home to a number of flora and fauna.
Dan Miles is the facilities manager, and he has been in charge of creating and maintaining the trails. “I have enjoyed this opportunity at the Claytor Center enormously. To me, it is an art form. I got my training with the local Appalachian Trail club and during my 17 years as a wilderness ranger and trail crew chief in the National Forests of Washington state.”
He explained more about the trails, saying, “We have several named hiking trails and some unnamed trails which we call ‘grassy lanes.’ One of these, which is about a mile long, was built as a multiple-use trail. One of its intended purposes is to serve as a running trail.”
As for the plants and wildlife that can be seen on these trails, Miles said, “We are blessed in this part of the country with a tremendous variety of flora and fauna. The Claytor nature Center is especially well-endowed, as it encompasses uplands and lowlands, including wetlands, ponds, small streams, and the Big Otter River. April is the best time to see wildflowers in the woods, of which there is a wide variety. We have wooden walkways and an observation deck, which allow close-up viewing of aquatic animals such as amphibians. Beavers and otters are active in the river, where riverside trails go by several really beautiful places. Occasional interpretive signs identify and inform visitors about nature. One of my projects has been to create a Forest Ecology Interpretive Trail, where the history of various forest scenes is described.”
He continued, “The trails go under and on top of beautiful cliff gardens. Along the river, trails access pools, rapids, and nice places to get in the water, and to sunbathe beside it. There are some giant trees in the woods, and rare wildflowers inside special enclosures.”
Miles explained that the majority of the hiking trails were created with hand tools. “We use hand tools for maintaining the trails, plus the occasional use of chainsaws and our tractor,” he said.
Maggy Liell is the groundskeeper of the Claytor Nature Center, and she elaborated on how the trails are maintained. “[We have a volunteer] at the center and he is hiking some of the trails today, picking up sticks and cutting back blackberry bushes,” she said. “Some of the trails we mow while riding a lawnmower and that entails probably once a week at almost two hours of mowing. And then of course sometimes trees fall across the trail and then Dan and I have to get out the chainsaw and he cuts while I haul it away.”
The work is worth the effort. Miles said, “I enjoy creating trails that bring people in close contact with the most interesting and scenic spots at the Claytor Center. There is much opportunity for solitude and quiet, and it is easy to get to all the best places.”