Sunday, January 22, 2017

Hard Labor Creek State Park

Every year I try to visit more Georgia State Parks. I even bought an annual pass in 2016 to make it more economical, but I’m afraid that I let other things get in the way. During December I usually have extra vacation and try to convince others to go. This year I talked my daughter and husband into going to Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge, GA, not far from I-20.

This is a large state park (5804 acres) and it contains walking trails, bike trails, and equestrian trails. You are allowed to walk on the equestrian trails so we planned to walk at least part of the Lake Rutledge trail (we did about 5 miles of the total 16). The park contains two lakes and Hard Labor Creek flows between them.

Before we had a chance to even find the trailhead, a flash of movement caught my eye in the parking lot. Rustling in the fallen hardwood leaves was an armadillo, searching for insects in the rich soil. I had always wanted to see one, so we took a few minutes to take his picture.

Our first creek crossing was a little tricky
Who you looking at?

The park is a beautiful deciduous forest in the Piedmont ecoregion, much like my own place. A study of the different fallen leaves during the hike found at least 6 oak species (white, red, southern red, post oak and likely both scarlet and black), several hickories, sourwood, several maples, musclewood, American beech, sweetgum, and American holly as well as numerous pines.

American beech (light tan) and chalk maple (dark tan)
This trail was a good place to see several good examples of marcescence, the characteristic of dead leaves remaining on the tree. The trees we saw with this characteristic were American beech (Fagus grandifolia), chalk maple (Acer leucoderme), and musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) as well as several young oaks. In some places, there were large sweeps of each kind of tree adjoining each other, and each species had a slightly different shade of tan.

Christmas ferns sloping down to mountain laurel

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
In the area where the trail was beside Hard Labor Creek, steep slopes were populated with Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) and thick stands of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). I wanted to get to the creek but there was no way down. The trail flattened out where it reached the shore of Lake Rutledge and there we saw our second armadillo, diligently rooting through the leaves again. The shore area was populated with tag alder (Alnus serrulata) and Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica).

Onward we went, following horse poop and hoof prints through the forest. I was happy to see lots of sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) and the plants were still showing some great color. In some areas, the trees around were thick and overgrown.  We did pass one open area that was full of Indian woodoats (Chasmanthium latifolium), and I remembered that it can be aggressive but the seed heads were very attractive in such a group. Some of the evergreen plants we saw besides Christmas fern included ginger (Hexastylis arifolia), resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) yuccas (Yucca filamentosa) were noticeable in the woods too.

Mistle (Phoradendron leucarpum) with fruit

After we finished our hike, we went into Rutledge for some ice cream at The Caboose. On our way back to I-20, we passed a parking lot full of old Bradford pears that were almost green with mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum). I swung the car into the lot and took some pictures since the plants were full of beautiful berries.


  1. There are some great birds to observe there also! The Caboose has some great sandwiches too, you must go back and try the BOXCAR, it's my Dad's favorite!
    My Dad lives in Rutledge so I love to spend time there.
    There is also a blueberry farm near the park, you should go back and pick blueberries when they open!

  2. Oh my god! We don't have armadillos in PA--I didn't even realize you had them in Georgia. I guess I pictured Texas. :)

    Great shot of him (or her). Very cute. :)