This Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy property fills needs for lots of folks. The beginning is flat and interesting for challenged hikers. There is a slightly harder trek to reach a beautiful wood.
The northern sources of Cassadaga Creek are the two Cassadaga Lakes in Pomfret and Stockton. The creek heads south, where it joins Bear Creek in South Stockton. From there, it is known solely as Cassadaga Creek. It heads southeast to Levant. It is there that the Chadakoin River splits off to head into Chautauqua Lake. From Levant, the Cassadaga Creek meanders around in Poland and Carroll. These are my favorite sections of the creek. Finally, it becomes the Conewango Creek in Frewsburg.
The Cassadaga Creek Preserve is off of Route 380, just past the intersection with Bloomer Road. There's a dead end which is the remains of the old road from Red Bird to Sinclairville. Just past a house on the left is the sign labeling the property. Parking is available there.
Beavers have dammed up the creek at several locations in the Cassadaga Creek Preserve.
Photo by Ann Beebe
The preserve is divided into two sections. The first has 25.3 acres south of the dead end. The second larger parcel has 126.1 acres. The walking is pretty easy at first. My only problem was that because I am ''under tall,'' I had to crawl under two metal gates. After that, there are two bridges crossing the creek. Busy beavers were sighted several times.
On the old road, trees include a huge black willow and white ash. These especially prefer wetlands. Others along this path were white pine, white birch, poplar and hemlock. For shrubs, look for speckled alders and winterberry.
The larger property in this preserve includes two fields and extensions of the streams we saw before. The list of trees which like somewhat drier soil include black cherry, elm, several ashes, American hornbeam, gray birch, red maple and poplar. Different shrubs from those seen along the old road include red osier and an alder species.
Even in winter, the plants were enjoyable to find. Bur-reeds are common in swamps. The dried fruit on the wild cucumber vine was an attractive change in winter. Colorful mosses included sphagnum and bracken fern, which keeps its leaves all year.
Let's look at the bracken fern in the big picture of evolution of the plant kingdom. It's really amazing. Somewhere between 3,800 and 4,500 million years ago, from a gaseous state, the earth's crust and oceans formed. There was no life. Then bacteria and blue-green algae cells came along.
About 1,600 to 2,500 million years ago, cells with a nucleus and organelles developed. Cells able to store DNA, grow from being able to assimilate nutrients, burn sugar for energy, and make new proteins. The difference between plants and animals is that plants have more organelles, or chloroplasts, to use the sun's energy and combine it with water and carbon dioxide. Animals can't do that, so they just eat the plants which can.
Herbivores are plant-eating animals. In their selectivity of particular foods, many primitive organisms became extinct. Others survived the onslaught of predators. These were part of evolution.
Where do ferns fit in this picture? First there were the club, spike mosses and quill worts. Next came the horsetails. Finally, grape and water ferns came on the scene.
After those developments, the ferns that we find in the woods today developed. This is a simple explanation of their life cycles. They reproduce with spores, which are found on the under part of the leaves. They are transported by the wind. If they land on moist ground, they develop into teeny, tiny thalluses. No leaves or stems are apparent yet. The thalluses produce the male and female parts. The males swim to the females to fertilize the egg cells. Just one of those cells matures into a fern.
The United States has about 200 species of ferns. These include Pteridium or the bracken fern family, the most common fern in the world. The most common of all the ferns in this Pteridium family is the aquilinum or Northern bracken fern.
Walking in the woods in winter is so wonderful, in part, by the greenery of these ferns. Maybe I'll see you at the Cassadaga Creek Preserve sometime.