A Winter’s Rest in the Michaux

The South Mountain Partnership is proud to feature a communications partnership with the Michaux State Forest, the core of our region and heart of the South Mountain, by bringing you a new perspective straight from the forest in this column written in conjunction with the Bureau of Forestry staff and the Friends of Michaux.

Of the four distinctly unique season we experience in Pennsylvania, winter is a season often associated with rest. Many insects spend the winter as nymphs or pupae waiting for the warm weather to emerge as adults. Perennial plants draw sugars and nutrients underground to form of roots, bulbs, and corms where these resources are stored until spring. This feeling of rest is most notable when snow covers the ground and even dampens sound. I always want that moment of quiet and stillness to last as long as possible. Living in a town, it’s an ephemeral feeling. No sooner does snow fall than scraping snow shovels can be heard down the street.

Snowfall always reminds me how much of the forest is still active even in the winter. Out in the forest, the tracks of rabbits, coyotes, deer, and other wildlife are imprinted in the snow. Beneath the snow some insects and rodents remain active throughout the winter, creating a maze of tunnels that last just as long as the snow. Out in Michaux State Forest, the tracks of wildlife are quickly followed by the alternating prints of boots, the parallel lines of skis, the thin treaded line of a bike, or the tracks of snowmobiles.

Heavy snow might be the only time of year that Michaux State Forest gets a brief moment of rest. Even then it doesn’t take long before those with four-wheel drive vehicles test the unplowed forest roads. With winters becoming milder, the forest remains active throughout most of the year even while a number of the forest’s flora and fauna are dormant.

How do we find the balance of being active in the forest, while also honoring this period of rest? In modern society, we tend to circumvent the seasons.  What would it look like for us and the forest to lean into this season of rest?

For Michaux State Forest District, November marks the end of the season for the seasonal staff who won’t return until March. November was a big month for Michaux State Forest. We conducted a 160-acre prescribed burn in the area of Big Pine Flats and started building the new Hearth Tender trail near Pole Steeple. After a flurry of activity, I hope the next few months will be a time to clean a cluttered desk and a cluttered mind to plan for a new year. Like a perennial plant, a time to draw into oneself to build a deeper root system.

The district’s infrastructure is also in need of rest during the winter. Our primitive campsites close for the winter and benefit by not having constant use. Over 130 miles of gravel forest roads remain without winter maintenance throughout the winter months. The freeze and thaw cycle of winter is hard on them and they can benefit from less traffic during these months. Rest for the roads could look like accessing the forest from Piney Mountain, Big Flat, Teaberry, Peggy Hill, or Mount Hope parking areas which are accessible from winter-maintained township roads.

What does rest look like for recreation? That is up to you. We hope you can find time to rest during this season and are mindful of forest’s resting state if you do decide to recreate in Michaux State Forest during the winter season.