Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (Blog Hike #345)

Trails: Black Farm, Blue Goose, and Boardwalk Trails
Hike Location: Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: southeast of Milford, DE (38.83033, -75.24834)
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: May 2011
Overview: A flat hike on somewhat primitive trail with good wildlife viewing opportunities.
Refuge Information: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/prime_hook/
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=101025
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 1 and US 113 in Milford, take SR 1 south 12 miles to SR 16 (Broadkill Road).  Turn left on Broadkill Rd.  Take Broadkill Rd. about 2 miles to Turkle Pond Rd. and the signed refuge entrance on the left.  Turn left on Turkle Pond Road, and in 0.2 miles enter the refuge.  Follow the main refuge road 2 miles to the Visitor Center on the right.  Park in any of the lots around the Visitor Center, from whence the hike starts.

The hike: Located along the Atlantic coast in east-central Delaware, Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 to protect coastal wetlands for migratory waterfowl.  The name Prime Hook comes from the Dutch phrase priume hoek, meaning Plum Point.  When Dutch settlers arrived in Delaware in the 1600’s, they gave this area that name due to the large colonies of purple beach plums they found here.
            Most of the refuge’s 10,000 acres consist of open wetlands, which in turn give great wildlife viewing opportunities.  With over 5 miles of trails, many routes through the refuge are possible.  The hike described here forms a loop that leads you around the best of the wetlands. 
In addition to this hike, two other items at the refuge deserve note.  The 0.8 mile Pine Grove Trail was closed on my visit, but it provides an interesting short hike through pine flats past a wildlife observation platform overlooking Turkle Pond.  Also, if you prefer water transportation to foot transportation, a 7-mile canoe trail leads along Prime Hook Creek and through the heart of the refuge.
Boardwalk at trailhead
            Start at the southeast side of the Visitor Center where a gravel trail leads to a boardwalk over a small marshy area.  A wooden post bearing colored stickers tells you that the combined Black Farm and Photography Blind Trails heads across the boardwalk through mature wetland forest.  At 0.2 miles, the two trails part ways.  We will eventually turn right and head down the Black Farm Trail, but for now turn left and walk the short 0.1 mile trail to the photography blind.
A short boardwalk leads to the door for the blind, which you must open to enter.  Take care when you enter structures such as this one: wasps and hornets like to call these blinds home.  I did not encounter anything harmful on my visit, but I did find a bird’s nest with 3 small white eggs in it.  Several view ports allow you to see the shallow pond from many angles.  The pond was rather quiet on the Sunday afternoon I stood in this blind except for a black-necked stilt poking through the mud for lunch.
Bird's Nest in blind
Looking out on the marsh
            When you are finished at the photography blind, retrace your steps to the Black Farm Trail.  Angle left to continue on the Black Farm Trail.  The trail stays near the field-woods boundary as it passes behind the refuge maintenance building.  At 0.4 miles, the Black Farm Trail splits to form a loop.  This hike does not use the entire loop and turns right here.  The option heading left goes to the refuge’s southern boundary and could be used to lengthen the hike.
Plate with a mink track
              The wide grassy trail heads straight west through a narrow strip of mature forest with old fields in the early stages of forest succession on either side.  Cement plaques help you identify various animal tracks in the soft soil, and tree stumps looking like the pointy end of pencils provide evidence of beaver activity.  At 0.7 miles, the south arm of the Black Farm Trail enters from the left.  Continue straight to soon intersect the refuge entrance road.  A small parking area here could provide an alternate starting point for this hike.
Cross the road and head down a wide, grassy connector trail that goes straight through an old field now populated by shrubs and young pines.  The grass under this trail was rather high on my visit, so I had to check myself for ticks when I finished the hike.  Also, the large amount of standing water near these trails ensures a large number of mosquitoes in season, so be sure to wear a liberal layer of insect repellent during the warmer months.
Intersecting the Blue Goose Trail
            At 0.8 miles, you intersect the Blue Goose Trail, which goes left and straight.  To continue this loop, go straight.  I suspect the Blue Goose Trail is named for the blue goose drawing that has become the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System, but I could not confirm that hunch.  The trail curves right as it traces a boundary line between the old field to your right and mature forest to your left.
Turkle Pond
              1 mile into the hike, a short side trail leads left to Turkle Pond.  The trail offers opportunities to view the pond both from an elevated overlook and at pond-level.  Past the Turkle Pond spur, the Blue Goose Trail angles gradually right as it weaves its way into and out of the mature forest and old field.  Ignore a pair of side trails that exit right and lead to the refuge road.
At 2 miles, the Blue Goose Trail ends at an intersection with the Boardwalk Trail.  Turn left to begin the boardwalk.  The boardwalk leads over a large freshwater marsh, which can be seen extending for miles to the north.  A blue heron glided over the marsh as I walked along the boardwalk.
End of boardwalk
The boardwalk curves right and heads back into the mature broadleaf forest, at which point it becomes a gravel path.  Continuing along the gravel path will lead you at 2.3 miles to the Dike Trail, which is used by canoeists to access the canoe trail.  A right turn will return you to the Visitor Center in quick order. 
Before you leave the refuge there is one more place you should visit.  If you turn right up the west arm of the Boardwalk Trail (marked by a brown sign that says “Boardwalk Trail: ½ mile loop”), in less than 0.1 miles you will come to the Morris family cemetery.  An interpretive sign gives you information about the pioneer cemetery, which contains headstones dating to the 1800’s.  This piece of human history makes a somber and interesting end to a nature-filled hike.

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