As stewards of more than three miles of hiking trails in Piscataway Park, the Accokeek Foundation had much to celebrate on National Trails Day. But as plein air painters captured on canvas the sweeping fields and shaded forests of the site, as writers found inspiration in the plants and insects on the Pumpkin Ash Trail, I wondered: isn’t it time we pay some attention to the ground itself?
So often overlooked—and overstepped—soil is a complex ecosystem filled with countless creatures: worms and insects, bacteria and protozoans, microscopic fungi whose thread-like mycorrhizae form underground networks sometimes miles long. An integral part of our landscape, soil is so much more than mere dirt. Soil regulates water flow through the environment, filters toxins out of the environment, and sustains plant and animal life, feeding the plants that will in turn feed us.
The secret life of soil is evident on the Pawpaw Trail in slowly rotting logs and soft leaf litter and tan, translucent mushrooms. It is evident, too, elsewhere in the park, from the Museum Garden to the Robert Ware Straus Ecosystem Farm. Here, soil is known to be the foundation for a range of agricultural crops. It is heralded as an integral ingredient in life and in growth. And it is accepted as a permanent presence on clothes and underneath fingernails. In Piscataway Park, it seems, the land inspires those who walk on it and work on it to protect the world that is located beneath their feet.
Trail Treks is a monthly column that explores the walking trails in Piscataway Park. This year, we will highlight the Pawpaw Trail, which is located at the western end of our grounds and leads through a mature forest. Look for more reflections from the Pawpaw Trail as 2012 progresses.