At some point someone somewhere unofficially declared March 30 National Take A Walk In The Park Day. An interesting chronological choice. That's jumping the gun a bit on the South Coast, because that’s when we’re waiting for a final, late-season backhand from the weather gods.
Think about it though, and an enterprising walker can use the date as the launching point for a casual experiment during the next three seasons of walking weather.
Ever walk along a waterfront, or past a garden, or down a bike path ten or twenty or fifty times before you really noticed some feature that has always been there?
Long walks give us an impressionistic view of our environment. Walk in late March or early April and you'll have the general impression of brown, brown, brown, maybe with some gray for the sky. Mid-summer and it's green, green, green plus occasional splashes of blooming plant color. October generates swathes of yellows, oranges, and reds.
This year, aim to focus on a few highlights in that sea of impressionism.
Walk some of your favorite spots in March, then again in July and October, and you're likely to be amazed at the changes.
A late March walk will provide a visual baseline for the changes you'll note over those six months. Also, look around and see what all that summer green hides from you. In March the trees are so bare you realize there are distinct bands of "stuff" between your location and one further along.
If you usually start walking only when the weather appears firmly committed to temperatures in the 70’s or 80’s, get crazy this year.
Below are some places and events you can use to kick off the spring walking season, perhaps seeing some new territory or visiting spots you haven't been to in awhile.
Daffodils are a good reason to brave the weather to jump start your walking routine. These
cheery little devils can often be seen peeking through a late snow, encouraging us to get through those last days of winter with enthusiasm rather than despair.
My friend Cindy Haines, president of the New Bedford Garden Club, assures me that daffodils usually begin blooming around the end of March and reach their peak towards the middle of April in the South Coast.
Parsons Reserve in South Dartmouth is one of the go-to spots for daffodils on the South Coast from April into early May.
This Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust site is situated on top of a small hill which features several acres of daffodils scattered among a grove of trees off Horseneck Road. It's quite an astonishing sight if you're used to seeing daffodils in small clumps.
The grove is a five-to-ten minute walk on a dirt trail with some mild climbing involved in getting up and down the hill. Boots are recommended. There aren't any bathrooms in the area either, so plan ahead.
Visitors are asked not to pick or step on the daffodils, and to leash and clean up after their dogs.
According to the DNRT, more than 12,000 people visit Parsons during April and early May, making site maintenance and visitor comfort something of a logistical challenge.
There's detailed information about visiting Parsons at dnrt.org/visiting-daffodil-field. The spot has become very popular and heavily-traveled during April, and the information the website provides can help make your visit more pleasant. For example, try to get there before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., and avoid weekends and school vacation week if possible.
To get to Parsons, park at Russell’s Mills Landing at 50 Horseneck Road in Dartmouth (just south of Russell's Mills Village), where there's the boat ramp and playground. There's not much parking available, but don't block the boat ramp.
The website notes there's more parking 500 feet farther south on Horseneck Road. Park on the west side of the road at the metal gate marking the reserve's southern entrance and follow the trail to get to the daffodils.
During the daffodil season a $2 donation is requested from non-DNRT members to help maintain the site.
Daffodils are also a seasonal feature at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum in Bristol. Blithewold's 33-acre grounds overlook Narragansett Bay, with paths crisscrossing the many specialized gardens. The grounds are open year-round (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 to 3 on Sundays), but the daffodils (an estimated 50,000 of them, including dozens of varieties) kick off the growing season in April.
As April shades into May the Blithewold landscape changes rapidly. For sheer range of visual cues in the natural world, Blithewold is hard to beat.
Just giving a taste of the springtime variety, Gail Read, Blithewold's gardens manager, mentions "Colorful spring bulbs bloom[ing] in cheery blues with crocus, glory of the snow, and dwarf iris reticulata, plus creamy white and green hellebores and dwarf yellow daffodils" And that's just the entrance garden.
"Walking further north you’ll see small round flowers of the giant leaf butterbur popping up by pathways in the Enclosed Garden, as the smooth dark green foliage of the mayapple emerge like pointy umbrellas,” Read adds. “My favorite, the cinnamon ferns in the water garden, are just appearing, covered with a fuzzy brown coating so inviting to reach down and touch.”
Read, who led a number of early spring tours on the grounds last year, enthuses about the early growth people can see. "It’s always fascinating to see the progression of spring unfold."
The fee for strolling the grounds in the offseason is $5. Blithewold is located at 101 Ferry Road (Rt. 114) in Bristol. For more information, visit the web site at blithewold.org, call 401-253-2707, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scour the Night
The Lloyd Center has a couple of early springtime walks, an owl prowl, and a woodcock walk that might grab you.
There's one obvious issue here: owl prowls and woodcock walks typically take place at night. But think of traipsing through the woods at night as a variation on our theme, which is to undertake some walks that encourage you to see your surroundings in a new way. Can you
actually see anything of interest when you can't see anything? As a veteran of both owl prowls and woodcock walks, I'll bet you can.
The Early Spring Owl Prowl is exactly that, a quest to hear and see owls tucked away in the trees. You may hear one a quarter mile away – or it may be 20 feet away, placidly watching you squint into the darkness.
Prowl leader Jamie Bogart, Lloyd Center Research Associate, will be using recorded owl calls to encourage the owls to pay a close-up visit. Screech owls, great horned owls, and the resident barred owls are good candidates for making appearances.
The Early Spring Owl Prowl is scheduled for Thursday, March 23 (Rain date: Friday, March 24) from 7 to 9 p.m. The prowl is limited to 20 participants, and children must be 10 or older. Meet at the Lloyd Center Visitors Center. Pre-register by noon on March 23 at lloydcenter.org/form-event-registration.
The fee for the owl prowl is $9 for Lloyd Center members, $12 for non-members, and half-price for children under 12.
For both walks, bring binoculars, a camera, and flashlight if you want, and also wear warm clothes and footwear appropriate for trails and possibly snow. You might also want a chair for the woodcock walk, just in case.
The Lloyd Center's Annual Woodcock Walk is scheduled for Tuesday, March 28 (Rain date: Wednesday, March 29) from 6 to 8 p.m. It's also limited to 20 participants.
This time of year, American Woodcock make courtship flights at dusk, and they can be seen and heard overhead as the last remnants of daylight fade away. With a little luck they'll land closeby and freeze in your flashlight beam so you can get a good look.
After the woodcock settle down, participants will keep an eye and an ear out for owls.
"For woodcock walks, we always catch a least at quick glimpse. In years with especially good weather conditions, we've seen multiple birds at close range on select open fields in Dartmouth that offer optimal habitats," Jamie Bogart says. "Although hearing an owl is all-but guaranteed, seeing one close up requires some luck. Last season a Barred Owl pair was onsite during the spring prowl, and provided a rare, dazzling display at the forest edge."
The woodcock walk will be held at Noquochoke Wildlife Management Area off Hixville Road in Dartmouth, where the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife manages the species.
The fee for the woodcock event is $8 for Lloyd Center members, $10 for non-members. Pre-register online at lloydcenter.org/form-event-registration by noon on March 28.
For more information, contact Jamie Bogart at 508-990-0505 ext. 23, or email email@example.com.