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Thursday, July 17, 2014

This is the entrance to the nature trail. (PHOTOS BY BOB
A lot of people are familiar with Hartland Town Park. Located on Landers Lane, which is the access road adjacent to the Hartland fire hall on Route 104 in Gasport, it is popular with little leagues and softball leagues. It is one of the nicer parks in Eastern Niagara County, with 4 ball diamonds (one now has lights), a playground, and tennis, volleyball and basketball courts.

With all of that activity at the front of the park, most visitors don’t realize that the town’s 50-acre property also boasts a very fine nature trail.

To access the trailhead, drive to the north end of the vast access road/parking lot and park near the gate. You will see a stone path lined with boulders leading into the woods.

The trail heads through a nice patch of pines and spruces.
The trail in its entirety approaches three-quarters of a mile in length, half of it in the woods, half out in the open. It is as nicely-maintained as the ball diamonds with no blow-downs blocking the trail and no ruts. The makeup of the trail ranges from crushed stone and firm needle-covered dirt in the woods to a gravel path that traverses the eastern side of the park. The trail remains flat throughout; there are no elevation changes or ditches to cross. This all makes for a perfect hike for a family with little ones – you could even push a stroller for the entire length with no problem whatsoever.

For the first third of the hike, the trail meanders through deciduous woods. If you want to catch your breath or admire the scenery, there are 3 benches located in this section, courtesy of Danielle Forrest, whose Girl Scout service project a few years back saw some improvements to the trail.

Look just behind the first bench you encounter. Behind it will be a shagbark hickory. You will see how the tree gets its name.

Benches throughout the park give you a chance to relax and
enjoy the scenery. 
Just after the benches you will soon come upon an intersection.

To the left will be a trail that heads towards private property (which you cannot access).

To the right will be a trail through the heart of the woods -- unless you want to cut your hike short, don’t take it.

For the best hike, keeping heading north.

The trail cuts through a pretty 2-acre patch of Norway and red spruces. They are approximately 50 to 60 years in age and quite tall, affording a nice change in scenery and habitat – this stretch would likely hold a wide variety of warblers when they migrate through the area in late-April, early-May and again in September.

After getting through the spruces, the trail will make a sharp right and it will parallel the intermittent stream (“ditch” to some) that serves are the property boundary. This section has taller grass along it and more wildflowers (as they are getting full sun).

The well-maintained nature trail is 
family friendly.
Because of the grass and the remnant standing water in the stream, mosquitoes are prevalent on this stretch, so, if you are sensitive to them, be sure to spray yourself before hiking. It should be noted that 80% of the hike is free of biting insects. The mosquito section is short, maybe 150 yards in length.

What really impressed me was the total lack of deer flies on our July hike (this is likely an outcome of the ample canopy of the forest inhibiting really thick undergrowth, which deer fly love to hide in). This is extremely unusual for Eastern Niagara County, because many woodlots have overwhelming numbers of these bothersome – and painful insects (the subject of an upcoming column). So, the Hartland Nature Trail provide a nice, stress-free change of pace.

Upon finishing-off that stretch of open woods, the trail will head into open space. There is a gravel service road that leads to the cell tower at the back of town property. You will hike that road back to the parking lot.

At first glance, it may seem to be the least attractive portion of the hike. Not so, just keep your eyes open. The forest edge, nearby fields, and power lines attract wildlife. Later in the day you will see deer. During the daylight hours pay special attention to the bird houses located on the power poles – they are home to tree swallows and one box has a nesting pair of eastern bluebirds – our official state bird.

The sassafrass, an uncommon tree in eastern Niagara
County, can be found at the park.
Those are just a couple of the birds that frequent the park. On this week’s walk with an excited and boisterous 2-year-old I still managed to see or hear 20 species of birds, solid numbers for the non-migratory season. Among them were thrushes, vireos, catbirds, and turkeys.

If you want to experience an interesting bird, visit the park at sunset during April. The folks at Tri-Town Ambulance (right next to the park) routinely hear snipes at the park, with their haunting huhuhuhu breeding sound. One can see why snipes like the park: A good portion of the woods has standing water in the spring (perfect habitat). That water is gone by summer and helps to keep down the mosquito numbers.

Wildflowers, like these blackeyed
Susans, are abundant in the park.
There are so many birds at the park because although the woodlot might be no wider than 200 yards in spots, it is a rich and diverse forest. It is dominated by maples, aspens, ashes, oaks, cherries and, one of my favorites, the tulip tree. I was really surprised to see a young sassafras tree on this week’s hike; it is one of just 2 that I’ve ever seen in Eastern Niagara County.

The Hartland nature trail is an exceptional and family-friendly jaunt, one that looks to get even better. The town applied for and received Niagara Greenway funding, some of which will be used to put interpretive signage on the trail.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the park, do so. It’s one of the neater – and lesser known -- places to explore on the Niagara Frontier.    

Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport, where his 2-year-old is known to enjoy nature hikes of a mile or more in length. She’s likely in training for daddy to chase her during her teen years. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at  

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