Hiking the Woodlands at the Jennings Environmental Education Center

This day’s hiking adventure consisted of more than trails, which rank as some of the best forest, wetland, and eastern prairie day hikes near Pittsburgh. Who would’ve expected sugaring? Or passive wetland treatment of mining-polluted water? Or the interactive educational displays? Or the variety of birds at the feeders outside the center’s window (complete with microphone to listen)? I didn’t expect any of this. I’d stumbled into some kind of happy magical realm it seemed. Beyond the first trail sign, I felt as if I had stepped into Narnia, the fictional world gripped by the Hundred-Year Winter. This land too had its “Hundred-Year Winter”, except it had it three times as three different continental glaciers reached their extent in Pennsylvania. Learn more about the glacial history: Pennsylvania and the Ice Age

Downy Woodpecker
White-Breasted Nuthatch

Snow, not a glacier, covered the ground today. 🙂 I’ve become a fan of hiking in the snow. Easy trails, such as the Old Elm, Old Mill, Woodwhisper, Ridge, and Black Cherry I hiked, sport a bit of challenge at times. At times, just keeping your foot and balance on the trail. 😉 Signs and blazes guide you on your way. You could wander all day, to and fro, circling round the interconnecting loops. During my visit, I hiked about 2 miles.

I ❤ the snow-enchantments.

Though some parts of the trail were more marshy marching than tundra trailblazing. 🙂

And then I thought the trail had been closed. Colored tubes cut off the trail and crisscrossed through the forest. But, the sign informed me hikers could continue on the trail as long as you didn’t disturb the pipeline. Pipeline? For…

Sugaring. I’d learned a new term and technique to extract maple syrup from the trees. I couldn’t help but recall a scene from a horror movie, where these tendrils grew from the bushes and attached themselves to human sleepers to feed. The neon pipeline sparked my imagination, and I envisioned scenes for my third novel. I had some interesting things planned for my Winter Faerie Queen’s realm. It may involve sugaring and bloodletting, or maybe both. 😉

I had a rare treat to see the sugaring (to be punny). This activity only takes place from February to March, and I came upon it after they set it up. I’ll have to return in a few weeks to observe the amber flowing through neon veins. 🙂

My next pleasant surprise came in the form of a gazebo and the wetland it overlooked, all snowy and dormant at this time. Bird houses and bat houses sat amongst the cattail reeds and marsh grasses. However, the most interesting thing about this wetland was its structure: steppe-like. The structure whispers of its function as a natural, passive treatment system for mine drainage and improving water quality. Read more about it:
Case Study of the Jennings System

The Jennings Environmental Education Center and Reserve was created to protect the rare prairie ecosystem, a glacial refugia and home to the endangered blazing star and massasauga rattlesnake, and to provide environmental and interpretation education to the community. Opportunities to conduct citizen science or formal class studies exist as well. Even before you set foot in the center, you’re enlightened. I knew about sugaring and the passive wetland treatment system merely by hiking, reading the signs, observing designs.

During my visit inside the center, two environmental educators took the time to explain their educational programs, their scope and mission, and even informed me, after five years of planning, the interactive displays were installed in October 2018. I ❤ the displays. My favorite is the wonderful video illustrating the link between the glaciations and the geology. Shame I can’t upload it. Guess you’ll have to visit the Jennings Environmental Education Center

However, I truly appreciated their conservation messaging.

Pollinator gardens attract butterflies and bees!
Trees, shrubs, and grasses provide for bird nesting, foraging, and hiding. Your state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will list the native species and warn you about invasive species.
I’m going to add in the other three rules of sustainability that reduce waste as well: REFUSE (ex: refuse to buy plastic water bottles and use a reusable water bottle), REPURPOSE, and REPAIR.
“Only rain in the drain.” 🙂 If you drop an ice cube, put it in your pet’s water bowl or in a potted plant, or even at the base of a tree in your yard instead of putting it down the drain. Pick up litter! Litter ends up in our streams and harms water quality and wildlife.
Unplug your unused electronics, such as your TV, gaming console, phone/tablet charger, etc. It still draws a charge even if not in use.
Turn your thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer to save electricity.
Put up feeders and water sources.
Build a bat house–the bats will eat the insects you don’t want! 🙂
Skip fertilizing your lawn. If you must, opt for organic, non-toxic fertilizer.
Learn how to landscape to attract wildlife.
If you don’t have land, consider volunteering for a nature reserve to improve their habitat! 🙂

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