Wetlands never disappoint. Dyke Marsh along the Potomac looks different every day. Sometimes it is a field of tall grass with great blue herons and snowy egrets among the reeds. Red winged blackbirds sing their distinctive song as they cling to the stalks. Other times it is a mud flat with no animals at all to be seen. In winter ice adds to the scene on the coldest days. These changes can happen over the course of a single day.
Huntley Meadows Park is a nature preserve about two or three miles from Dyke Marsh in Hybla Valley. It acts as a massive filter for all the homes and motor vehicles that climb the hills around it. Unlike Dyke Marsh this wetlands changes over longer periods. A few years ago, park managers decided to let the park go, to let nature do its thing unimpeded. Beavers began constructing dams and now the water level which used to come and go with the rain and snow.
After a day of appointments, I was not in the mood for a bike ride so I took a three mile walk in Huntley Meadows. There was no foliage on the trees. The park was all grays and browns amid overcast skies. The path into the park leads to a boardwalk over the swamp. The water level was as high as I have even seen it thanks to the beavers. Canada Geese were holding a get together next to the boardwalk. Dozens of them sticking their beaks in the mud to get the roots of the swamp grass.
As I proceeded along the boardwalk it became clear what “like grass through a goose” means. Footing was rather messy as the geese had gone for a stroll along the boards.
A few mallards and what looked like a pair of hooded mergansers darted away as I walked along. It is too cold to see turtles and amphibians yet. Better that the sights were the sounds. Mostly there were none. The faint rumble of a passenger jet or motorcycle gave way to quiet.
The dams had allowed water to build and build into the woods where the boardwalk gives way to a groomed path. If you want to use the dirt service road you’ll need a pontoon.
After a second loop through the swamp I head back to the car.
I thought about being a kid running through the swampy woods near home. All that remained of our local wetland was Dead Man’s Pond where we made rafts out of felled tree trunks on summer days.
Wetlands never disappoint.