“The earth laughs in flowers” according to a line in a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. That is a sentiment that is easy to understand. Flowers can certainly bring joy to people. It was evident on a recent hike on an old rail bed that runs from Riverside Road to Warren that people were desperate for a splash of color on a recent Earth Day hike.
Splashes of color were celebrated. Bright yellow Colt’s Foot popped out of the soil, similar to a
merry dandelion. Hepatica bloomed on ridges mounded along the trail, in whites, pinks and
purples. Bright green leek leaves dotted the forest in large patches. After a long winter of
browns, whites and grays, the colors were almost shocking. It was an absolute delight to see all the signs of spring popping up. The patches of spring made everyone smile.
The Emerson poem about the earth laughing in flowers has nothing to do with flowers, however. The poem is called “Hametreya” and is mostly about farming. The poem is about the farmers, working hard to plow the land, growing flax, corn and food, walking their pastures as others walk a park, but not thinking about the fact that they “steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet clear of the grave”.
This is not, perhaps, the most cheerful of spring thoughts, but it seems appropriate on this old railroad bed. The trail is wide and straight and clear, designed, perhaps, to bring coal from Pennsylvania to the old power plant in Dunkirk, New York.
The people who built it are long gone, leaving echoes of their passing in the straight line
through the landscape and the machines rusting into the ground near the trail. Large mounds
line the trail in some parts and green, algae ridden ditches in others. A large clear pool next to
the trail glows blue green in sun.
The railroad is long gone, too, and nature is slowly reclaiming the remains. The wet areas near the trail are full of the red-brown streaked, tent-shaped Skunk Cabbage flowers and the
budding green of Cowslip soon to bloom. The ditches by the railroad now serve as breeding
grounds for Wood Frogs and salamanders. Green Herons, small one-foot high herons with
bright yellow legs and a blue-green back, wade through the old ditches searching for food.
There are many of these old abandoned railroad beds throughout the area. Rails to Trails is a
national organization that helps turn them into trails for biking, hiking and relaxing. The
Chautauqua County Rails to Trails is a non-profit group that owns and maintains trails
throughout Chautauqua County. Many of them go through beautiful natural areas full of forests, flowers and other amazing natural features. Learn more about Chautauqua County Rails to Trails at chaurtt.org.
Local communities are also taking advantage of old railroad beds. Jamestown is expanding their trail along the Chautauqua Lake Outlet with a beautiful paved section of trail that runs from near McCrea Point to one of the tiny side streets along Fluvanna Avenue. There is another beautiful section of trail in Warren, Pennsylvania that follows the Conewango Creek to North Warren.
Both of these trails are filled with abundant wildlife. Bald Eagles soar overhead, while ducks
dive and dip into the water. Wooded sections are home to deer, rabbits and other animals that
scurry out of the trail as bikes go past.
These trails are relics of a bygone age that are repurposed for people to use. I love getting out
on the trails to bike, hike, and wander. The wildflowers are starting to pop up along the wooded edges of the trails. Birds are singing in the bushes. Spring is in the air, and these trails provide a fantastic place to get out and experience the season.
If you are interested in learning more about the wildflowers that come out in spring, there will
be a presentation on May 2 at Audubon, from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. called Spring Wildflower
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and
nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are
open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m.
until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found
online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345