Residents see wildlife of Spencer Woods

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 17, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SPENCER — When you find a fox’s jaw bone, see a raccoon’s tracks, hold a crawdad’s pincher, notice a deer’s teeth marks and look for patterns in a snake’s skin, you feel a bit more connected to the world.
For a couple of hours Saturday morning, young and old visitors took in the rich environment of “Spencer Woods,” the 40-acre urban forest the LandTrust of Central North Carolina is saving.
“This is an awesome place, it really is,” Horizons Unlimited science specialist Lisa Wear said before she and fellow specialist Anne Ellis led land and aquatic forays into the property, located off Rowan Avenue and just beyond the Salisbury city limits.
Jason Walser, executive director of the land trust, explained that Saturday’s biodiversity program served as an introduction of the project to the community.
For participants, it was hard to believe that this urban forest came within a tree frog’s breath in February 2010 of being clear-cut and harvested, graded flat and replanted in loblolly pine trees.
Interested residents and officials intervened, leading to the land trust’s entering into a purchase agreement with the property owner to buy the land by the end of this year.
Walser and Andrew Waters of the trust reported that more than $100,000 still has to be raised to complete the purchase. The land trust has applied for an N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, though it was snubbed in the fund’s first round of awards.
The ultimate goal is to provide a publicly accessible, low-impact, passive park with some trails.
Waters said the land trust hopes to be host for a community input session in November, followed by a planning meeting in January with members of the state society for landscape architects.
“To have something like this in our backyard for all of our kids to enjoy is just wonderful,” said Salisbury’s Eric Hippert, who brought his children to Saturday’s nature walks with his wife, Cari.
Ryan Lawson of Salisbury accompanied his 6-year-old daughter, Abbey, in the forest and along the creek, where children used nets to pull out crawdads (crayfish), mosquito fish and aquatic insects.
Ellis reported finding a box turtle, salamanders and frogs, too.
“It’s great to see that this kind of open area of nature in the middle of town is still available and will be kept up for the next generation,” Lawson said.
Buddy Gettys, a former Spencer mayor, said kids in his day called these woods “Chicken Springs,” because of all the natural springs within the woods. It also was a lovers’ lane of sorts, Gettys said.
Numerous adults on the walk, making their own trails, said they played in these same woods as kids or backyard forests just like them, where they grew up.
They were places to get dirty and wet, and that’s what the kids, parents and grandparents did Saturday morning.
Wear and Ellis divided the large group into halves. Wear led a “land walk,” stopping at various stations she had set up. Ellis took the other group down to the creek for some wet and muddy explorations.
They traded groups halfway through the morning.
Biodiversity surveys in areas such as Spencer Woods are useful for finding what lives in a given area. They can help monitor endangered wildlife populations and provide conservation priorities.
On her walk, Wear offered interesting tidbits at each stop, showing how diverse the Spencer Woods ecosystem is.
She had set up a sand tracks station, that was “baited” with scents and food to attract wildlife overnight. The tracks left behind revealed that raccoons and birds were among the visitors.
“You guys would just be amazed at how the animals (raccoons especially) messed with my things last night,” Wear complained during the walk.
Snake coverboards set out earlier in the week had not yet attracted any snakes or moles.
Give them time, and they will, Wear promised.
She passed around a friendly salamander caught on an earlier day. In turn, one child presented Wear with a fox’s jawbone he found on the ground near one of the stations.
Wear pointed to a large white oak, whose trunk was 39 inches in diameter. That means the tree is 298 years old, she marveled.
Some other tidbits from the trail:
• Bears like beech nuts.
• Chew on green pine needles. They have five times the vitamin C of a lemon.
• Spencer Woods has a good population of deer, judging from all the chewed, knee-high plants known as “deer ice cream.” Rabbits like those plants, too.
• Deer have no top front teeth.
• You can tell the age of a fish by closely examining its scales.
• By looking at the tail portion of a snakeskin, one can tell from the patterns and lines whether the snake was venomous or non-venomous.
• The hickory shagbark trees produce, of course, hickory nuts. Farmers used to turn their hogs loose in wooded areas so they could fatten up on the hickory nuts.
• One acre of urban forest produces enough oxygen for 14 people.
For now, breathe in deep. Spencer Woods appears to be saved.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.