Severo Avila, my colleague across the newsroom here at the RN-T, has already lamented the loss of events from the fall calendar due to COVID-19. Thank goodness one of my favorite events is still on the calendar for 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16.
The sixth annual Robert Weed Memorial Nature Walk will be strung out a little longer on the trail in the Marshall Forest on Friday afternoon so that nature lovers and hikers can be properly socially distanced.
I anticipate refusing to wear a mask in the woods.
The Marshall Forest is one of Rome’s genuine gems. More than 300 acres, tucked away on either side of Horseleg Creek Road, stretching from the banks of the Coosa River all the way to the top of the hill that is home to Shorter University.
The forest is one of those exceptionally rare urban, old growth forests, which means it has not been logged in the past.
It has been owned by one family since the days of Cherokee removal and is named for McLean Marshall, who gifted the forest to the Nature Conservancy. It was designated Georgia’s first National Natural Landmark in 1966.
Robert Weed, who was a cousin to Marshall, returned to the states from Munich in the ’70s to help honor Marshall’s commitment to the preservation of the forest Weed passed away in the fall of 2014 and since that time, his family has worked with the Keep Rome-Floyd Beautiful office to host the nature walk on the third Friday of each October.
It’s an easy walk on the historic Braille Trail in the forest.
What’s hard to imagine is everything those trees have seen. Some of them are massive and who knows exactly how old.
There are other trails in the forest, including one that climbs up the side of the mountain and makes a loop on top before coming back down the same route you climbed up on.
I suspect I’m going to have a little extra time Friday and I plan, weather permitting, to hike to the top and back to get a little extra exercise while I’m out there.
I wish the Weed family would consider one other event, in the spring, when some of the wildflowers are in bloom. The area is host to some of the Scutellaria montana, the large-flowered skullcap, which is a federally listed endangered species. It’s a tiny little flower that is easy to overlook, but once you know what to look for, it is a spectacular little flower that resembles a purple or lavender version of a Smurf’s cap.
In fact, it’s the largest population of the large-flowered skullcap known in Georgia.
The Marshall Forest is home to over 300 species of flora and 55 tree species.
A couple of distinct ecosystems within the 301 acres have been classified as at-risk, the lowland shortleaf pine-hardwood forest and the montane longleaf pine-hardwood forest.
While most people assume that the forest is on the west side of Horseleg Creek Road, there is also extensive acreage on the east side of the narrow two-lane road. We hear there may an effort underway to open up some of that acreage to public use in the future. Sure hope that pans out.
Katie Owens, the Upper Coosa River program manager for the Nature Conservancy, will make a few remarks about the importance of the forest prior to the hike, which will be led by Owen Kinney of Darlington School.
On another front, I hope to make next week a special Walk in the Woods week that will culminate with the Weed Walk.
I really enjoy getting out on the hard-surface trails that branch out from downtown Rome. I walk them virtually every day, but next week I am going to make a special effort to get out on the natural-surfaced trails like those on Jackson Hill, Garrard Park and Lock & Dam Park.
I might even take an extended lunch a couple of days to venture up to The Pocket and meander on the trails near the campground, or even up to Keown Falls. There’s also several sections of the Pinhoti Trail around Cave Spring that I need to get out on.
Walking asphalt or concrete means you don’t have to be quite as aware of roots that may be a trip hazard because they’re hidden by fallen leaves at this time of year. But there’s some really special about being out in “the wild” that you don’t get on a sidewalk or 8-foot-wide section of asphalt.
The trails on Jackson Hill are in good shape and I have not had the opportunity to do the full trail on Blossom Hill since the volunteers at TRED completed all of their drainage work on it.
The trails at Garrard Park are nice and flat and meander through the acreage between the GE plant and West Central Elementary School.
I love the two primary trails at Lock & Dam. I’ve only been on them once this year since the super successful First Day Hike. I wish there was a way the Lock & Dam trails could take better advantage of the state-controlled property just to the north of the park. That would really open up some additional beautiful land.
Make that another thought for another day.
I’m even trying to convince a biologist friend with the U.S. Forest Service to hike with me one day to Jacks River Falls.