The Lower Susquehanna River is graced with magnificent bluffs, reminiscent to me of the majestic bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in Illinois and Iowa. I draw the comparison between the two, not as a contrast, but as an epiphany highlighting the nature and geology of North America’s grand rivers. The Susquehanna and the Mississippi share this grandeur on different geologic terrain, rivers that have never or will ever meet, yet share so many of the great river qualities.
Ferncliff Wildflower Preserve, sadly, never reaches the shores of the Susquehanna, which defines the creation story of the land the preserve is on. However, when we reach the top of the recently designated white blazed trail, the whole picture falls into place, and it all makes sense. The view is magnificent and it tells the story of millions of years of development of the Susquehanna River and its bluffs.
The Bluebells, Paw Paw trees, Trilliums and the many other species continue the narrative of the biological evolution.
Ferncliff Wildflower Preserve is very remote and has limited parking (first come first serve) with a very narrow trail leading up to the top of the bluff. Along the top there are rocks to sit on. This place has a contemplative quality about it.
Active railroad tracks along the river
White bluebells! Interestingly alongside a red Trillium erectum, which in this general area are mostly white and even named Susquehanna Trillium because of their regional difference.
The only specimen of red Trillium erectum we saw in the whole preserve!
The white Mertensia, another genetic anomaly found here!
Due to the logistical complications SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic, our yearly visit in 2020 was canceled and 2021 was much later than usual. Adjusting my photographic aspirations accordingly, I sought to portray a Trillium that visually summed up our altered reality. Many great changes have occurred in our absence! The Lancaster Conservancy has done some amazing work bringing the wildflower preserve into the future.
The road leading to the preserve has been improved greatly and a fine parking area has been added in a location that was used for parking but was somewhat chaotic. Now it is lined with neat fencing and there is a signage kiosk explaining the preserve and providing a map. I photographed the map on my phone to be used to navigate the preserve. The road that used to lead along the railroad tracks to the trail head has been turned into a trail itself which is an amazing transformation because it is now pleasant to walk along the hillside without worrying about cars driving by.
The old parking area in front of the old trail head was a chaotic mess for years. It was very awkward to park there and it was visually problematic. The new trail adds a whole new dimension to enjoying the preserve. Walking along the railroad tracks to the left is the hillside covered with Mertensia and there is a wonderful display of Columbine on a rocky outcrop just before the original trail head. No more crazy piling of automobiles at the bottom of the original trail head! We look forward to seeing what the Conservancy does with that area there is so much potential!
The original trail is pretty much as it was minus the Porta potty which has been located next to the parking lot. (improvement) I did notice that there was a lot of garlic mustard removal that had taken place over the years because there was very little noticeable on the trail itself. It didnâ€™t seem as if there was less stomping on the plants than in years past although there was some spots where over eager photographers would stomp on the flowers in order to get a photograph of a flower further up the hill side. It would be nice to figure out a way to discourage this behavior. A maidenhair fern that had been stomped on many years ago and was not to be found in the years past after the initial stomping was found albeit in a diminutive state. Hopefully it will come back fully! Every year we have looked for this fern without any luck until now. Isabelle made photos using a Lumix LX 7 and I used a Lumix DMZ-FZ200 and an IPhone XR.
The Lancaster Conservancy is doing a great job in the preservation of Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve!
We arrived on Saturday, April 21 around 3:00 PM. We hiked about 2 1/2 miles and spent about 2 1/2 hours at the preserve. The blooming cycles were much later than they were in years past. We were at the point where the Dutchman’s breeches were in full bloom and the freshest. Many of the bluebells and trilliums were still in the earlier stages of blooming and some have not even opened yet. Only a few of the phlox were blooming. We got to see some of the white Trout Lily. The weather was perfect ! We met some folks from the Lancaster Conservancy, the new owner, who were there picking up trash. There was also some new signage and the trails were maintained very well. We also noticed that there was much less garlic mustard than in years past.