A Woodstock ramble through Eschua Bog

A showy lady's slipper wild orchid.

A showy lady’s slipper wild orchid.

This gorgeous May (June) afternoon here at the October Country Inn found temperatures climbing into the low 70s.  The sun was bright, the sky was blue, and the Maples are about half leafed out.  One must take advantage of days like today, get out of the house and take a walk, go for a bike ride, or both.  We decided to take a walk.  Wild orchids start to appear about mid-May in this corner of Vermont.  So, off in search of wild orchids we went.  We don’t have to go far, Eschua Bog is known for its wild orchids and, is just a short drive from Woodstock Village.

trailEschua Bog is a 40 acre sanctuary jointly owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy and the New England Wildflower Society.  Technically a “fen”, this type of post-glacial wetland is fed by ground water rich in nutrients creating an especially unique habitat for many wetland plant species.  Carnivorous pitcher plants, sundews, and bladderworts share the bog with various varieties of wild orchids including the white bog orchid, green bog orchid, and the yellow and showy lady’s slipper

eb trailThe easily followed, family friendly loop trail is marked by trail signs, with little plaques placed alongside the trail to aid in identifying the many species of plants in the bog.  The trail circles eight acres of the wetlands.  It can be easily walked in 20 minutes.  A boardwalk passes through the heart of the bog, and is the ideal place to get a closer look at the bog inhabitants.  This area is very fragile and visitors are asked to only walk on the trails and boardwalk, leave all plants, flowers, and seeds undisturbed, and to please leave pets at home.  Dogs can easily damage this sensitive area, and bring invasive plant seeds in on their fur and paws.

To get to Eschua Bog from the October Country Inn, proceed east on Route 4.  After passing through the heart of Woodstock eb mapVillage, Route 4 takes a hard turn to the left at the Maplefields convenience store.  Go straight ahead at this point on to Hartland Hill road.  Follow Hartland Hill road for about 1.5 miles.  Turn right onto Garvin Hill road and follow this dirt road for about a mile.  You will come to another road that forks off to the right.  Just past this fork you will see a small turnoff parking area on the right.  Eschua Bog signs will let you know you’re in the right place.  The trail is obvious.  A small kiosk houses an interpretive brochure to guide you, and asks you to leave the brochure in the kiosk when you leave.

Wild mushroom hunting season now begins.

The glorious morel.

The glorious morel.

It looks like winter is behind us here at the October Country Inn.  Onward.  Days are longer.  Temperatures stay above freezing, and sometimes reach into the 70 degree range.  Spring rains are marching across the Woodstock, Killington area.  The forest will soon explode in a thousand shades of green.  Now is the time to hunt for wild mushrooms, especially the morel.

Morels are illusive enough to make their discovery a moment of great joy.  You might spend a lifetime wandering the woods without ever finding one.  Here are a few tips: Morels are known for their relationships with trees, particularly ash, elm, and old apple trees.   Another good place to look is in areas of disturbed ground. Mycelia produce mushrooms in response to environmental stress, so morels are often found around: Areas disturbed now or in the past by water–old flood plains, near rivers, and near washes.  Old logging areas or places with lots of downed trees.

Learn to identify morels.

Learn to identify morels.

Burn sites.  Morels thrive on the nutrients that burned trees release back into the soil.  Soil composition is another thing to consider.  Morels are often found in soil that is a mixture of sand, clay, and decaying organic matter.  However, above all remember that even if you don’t find any morels, time spend walking in Vermont’s woods is never wasted.

For the inexperienced mushroom hunter, a few pointers to keep in mind:  Learn how to properly identify morels. There are poisonous false morel look-alikes that can make you sick or even kill you.  A good rule of thumb is when in doubt, throw it out.  Carry your finds in a mesh bag. Wild mushrooms spread through the dispersal of spores, and the more spores you allow them to drop the better the chances of more mushrooms in the future! Baskets or paper bags don’t allow spores to spread, so find something with large holes in it.  Don’t pick every last mushroom you see. It’s tempting. But leave a few so they can continue to drop spores and you and others can enjoy them for years to come.  Don’t directly ask someone where to find morels. Any mushroom hunter worth his/her salt won’t tell you anyway.  It’s easy to get lost in the woods, especially if you’re looking at the ground for mushrooms. And finally, bring a friend. Don’t wander the woods alone.