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Nature Trails (GMHDRNC)
|Topic||Laboratory and Hands-on Activities - Food Chain / Web of Life|
The Arkansas Delta and its wetlands teem with many plants and animals. Explore the trails with a guide that can explain the dynamic environment of the Arkansas River bottom area and learn first hand about the plants and animals found there.
|Grade Level||K - adult |
|Recommended Setting||Delta Rivers Nature Center (DRNC) nature trail|
|Location||Governor Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center, Pine Bluff|
Education Program Coordinator, 870-534-0011
|Duration||45 minutes - 1 hour|
|Suggested Number of Participants||Up to 75|
- Be familiar with the dynamic ecosystem of the bayou and river bottomland.
- Learn about the variety of animals and flora along the trail.
The discovery loop is about half a mile long, and participants will stop several times to discuss features. An important rule is that participants stay behind the leader and on the pavement. Remind them that the quieter they are, the more likely they will see wildlife.
- As you follow the trail, stop to discuss the following features.
- Wildflower meadow and native grasses area – On the right is the native grasses area with five species of grass that would have grown here more than 150 years ago before major farming began. These grasses grow up to six feet tall and are mixed with the wildflowers naturally. They are important to the local ecosystem because they provide food and shelter to the animals. The wildflower meadow to the left is covered in native wildflowers in the spring and summer. Native flowers and grasses require less water, fertilizer and pesticides because they are adapted to live in Arkansas soil and its climate. It also means they are the best for attracting Arkansas wildlife.
- First boardwalk – Wetlands are fascinating ecosystems. This is Black Dog Bayou. It flows south and empties into the Arkansas River about 200 yards through the trees from here. Wetlands are dynamic, meaning constantly changing. Wetlands are not always wet, and sometimes there is so much water that the trail is flooded. In the spring when the water is high, fish will swim under the bridge, and as the water levels drop, they get caught in puddles or even on land.
- Bois d’arc tree – Commonly pronounced “bow dark,” bois d’arc is actually a French name that means “wood of bows.” Native Americans used the wood for their bows and arrows because it is straight-grained and resilient so it would retain its original shape after much use. Its resistance to decay made it good for fence posts. Today, the beautiful yellow color of the wood makes the tree popular for duck calls and wooden bowls. The large, grapefruit-sized fruit is called an osage orange, hedge apple or horse apple. While the fruit’s sticky sap gives it a bitter flavor, squirrels and other animals will eat them.
- Boardwalk 2 – If the water is at the right level, look for tracks in the mud. In the fall, there may be persimmon seeds on the bridge. See any signs of coyotes? Coyotes seem to use the bridge while most other animals walk under it. Look around for large aquatic birds such as the great blue heron or great egrets. Red-winged blackbirds are common in the wetland marshes in the spring, as are the large white blooms of spider lilies. This is a good time to differentiate between poison ivy and Virginia creeper.
- For younger groups, stop at the two large oak trees, the “magic trees.” Explain that oak trees take much longer than most trees to grow, so these have probably been there since the 1930s. Their acorns and bark are food for animals such as squirrel and deer. With younger audiences, explain the same information and tell them to make a wish under the “ancient” trees as they pass.
- Continue along the trail, discussing features and plants.
- Peace pole – The trail will pass one of the primitive trails, or unpaved paths. At the entrance, point out the peace pole. This Girl Scout project features the word “peace” in many different languages.
- Vines – Vines are plants that can’t hold themselves up and must use other plants to reach sunlight. They can potentially hurt the trees they use for support if they block their sunlight or cause them to lose leaves, reducing the tree’s ability to breathe. There are three types of vines on one tree here. The rough-looking ones are several different kinds of wild grape vines. The smooth ones that are green or rust colored are rattan. Finally, the hairy-looking one is poison ivy. Notice the roots grasping to the tree and the “branches” hanging above.
- Observation tower – The observation tower was donated by Three Rivers Audubon Society. The water here is a lake, unlike the bayou seen earlier, and is not connected to the river. Point out the kinds of turtles; red-eared sliders or painted turtles are common. Most of the fish are bream, but sometimes a gar or bass will surface. Waterfowl such as mallards and wood ducks are here. The black barrel across the water is a corn feeder for deer.
- Sugarbery and toothaches – The large, bumpy-looking tree at the intersection of the main boardwalk and the path from the observation tower is a sugarberry tree. It is a member of the hackberry family and has reddish-orange to deep red berries that are eaten by waterfowl, quail, woodpeckers, cedar waxwings and many other birds. A similar “bumpy” tree that you will see on the trail is the toothache tree. The leaves and shoots release a numbing chemical when chewed, so Native Americans and early settlers used them to relieve toothaches.
- Cottonwood – The cottonwood tree is unique because it needs so much sunlight that it cannot grow under the canopy of other trees. Cottonwoods like sandy soil and often grow when floods or rivers wipe out other trees and leave their sandy silt behind. Since this one is surrounded by other trees, it is probably the oldest tree in this area and may have sprouted after one of the floods in the early 20th century, possibly in 1927. The name “cottonwood” comes from the fluffy, white seeds they put out in early spring. Next to the large cottonwood tree is a smaller sugarberry tree. See if participants recognize it.
- If time allows, stop at the eagle pens and/or alligator swamp on the way back into the building to discuss the animals there.
- Eagles – Bald eagles are kept here because they have been injured and cannot survive in the wild. There is a male and a female; the female is the larger one and is missing a wing. Females are larger than males generally, and it has nothing to do with age. This male is almost 15 years older than the female. Bald eagles are great fishermen, but they will also eat small mammals and even carrion. Are bald eagles really bald? No, but hundreds of years ago, balde meant “white headed,” and while our language has changed, the eagles’ name remained.
- Alligator swamp – In the swamp (from March to November), there is one American alligator and one alligator snapping turtle. This alligator came from Stuttgart where human contact through feeding led to a dangerous situation. We feed the alligator (and the turtle) chicken from the grocery store, but it has to be 80 degrees outside for the alligator to be able to digest its food. Alligators are opportunistic carnivores, eating any meat they can find. They spend most of their time basking in the sun or swimming just at the surface of the water and can live more than 40 years. The alligator snapping turtle stays underwater mostly and doesn’t bask like other turtles. To catch prey, these turtles lay motionless underwater, wiggling their long, pink tongues. Fish approach thinking it’s a worm, and the turtle chomps down. Both the turtle and the alligator have extremely strong bites, up to 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.
- How did Native Americans and early settlers use the toothache tree?
- From what tree can you pick an osage orange?
- Why are wetlands referred to as dynamic?
Bottomland – low-lying alluvial land adjacent to a river
Dynamic – characterized by continuous change, activity or progress
Native – living or growing naturally in a region and not introduced from elsewhere
Resilient – returning to the original form or position after being bent, compressed or stretched
Wetland – lowland area, such as a marsh or swamp, that is saturated with moisture, especially when regarded as a wildlife natural habitat