*This article was printed in the November addition of the Charlotte News.
Summer in Vermont was hot and dry this year, but the cool and wet fall weather seems to be making up for it. So my friends and I brought rain gear for a hike up Snake Mountain during October, when the day turned from cloudy to a steady rain. We are an intrepid group of nature explorers who have spent enough time outdoors to know that if you don’t like the weather in Vermont, wait a minute, it’ll change, which is part of the adventure. We also knew that wet weather in fall is prime for wild mushroom hunting.
The forest did not disappoint us. There were mushrooms and fungi growing on the ground and on dying or dead trees everywhere: turkey tails, boletes, puffballs, chicken mushrooms, tree polypores, jellies, amanitas, mycenas and much more. I leafed through an identification book trying to name each species as we walked, and thought about the vital role mushrooms (fungi) play as decomposers and nutrient recyclers of forest debris. Without decomposer fungi we would be buried in debris, nutrients would be more easily leached from the soil, and forest health would suffer. No truffles, chanterelles and morels either!
When our group chooses a hiking location, we either count on personal recollections of the area, or do enough research to learn more about it. A fact sheet I found from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife states, “Snake Mountain is a wildlife management area, an island of upland forest in the heavily farmed Champlain Valley.”1 Several forest communities with a great diversity of plants and wildlife exist there, including a rare plant species and a 9,500 year old bog.
It is interesting to consider the statement about “an island of upland forest” in a sea of farmland, and how it relates to and possibly impacts the water that we drink. The forest at Snake Mountain—like forests in general—not only provides wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. It also absorbs and filters water, which eventually trickles down to aquifers that provide drinking water. According to American Forests, “forests provide natural filtration and storage systems that process nearly two-thirds of the water supply in the United States. In their natural and healthy state, riparian forests help to keep the water in streams clear.” 2
Our forests are critical resources for many reasons, including the protection and regeneration of potable water supplies. Forests provide the most basic elements for survival: clean air and water. “Though forests provide many additional services, these two are the backbone of the symbiotic and essential relationship between trees and people.”3
A spirit of camaraderie with friends, maintaining a connection to nature and contemplating where we fit into the cycle of life may sound like heavy stuff for a nature hike. However I always look forward to the opportunity, and return with a deeper appreciation for where I live and how precious our natural resources are.
- VT Department of Fish and Wildlife Snake Mountain Wildlife Management Area (pdf)
- American Forests – http://www.americanforests.org
- American Forests