A friend invited us to see this local (Atlanta) trail and an adjacent park, Mason Mill Park. We were fresh off a trip to see gnome houses at Chattahoochee Nature Center with our grandson, and she promised a nice trail with good native plants and gnomes too.
After the hike, she shared a copy of “Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests: Intown and Out” by Jonah McDonald. This hike is featured on page 39. [We actually entered via Mason Mill Park (good parking) instead of the Scott Circle entry point.] This is a wonderful book, full of trails to hike and the details needed to get there, plus a map of the hike, some of the history of the area/trail, as well as important details like fees, hours, and facilities. While documenting hikes both inside and outside the Perimeter, this book also offers some details about interesting trees (noted as Sentinel Trees) on the trail and birds you might see. Pick up a copy if you’d like ideas for hikes without having to drive to the mountains.
|The arrow shows where we started|
The hike is one of the PATH Foundation’s trails and it has some wide paved areas as well as some dirt footpaths. There were a fair number of walkers on the paved areas with much fewer on the footpaths (which is also where we found the gnomes). From the parking area, we turned right to walk that part of the trail (best viewing for gnome houses), passing over a railroad track and Burnt Fork Creek.
|Our favorite gnome house|
Invasive plant removal continues to be a task for the folks maintaining the area. We immediately saw blooming bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) in addition to the usual privet (Ligustrum sinense). As we crossed over the creek on a stone bridge (turn left after the bridge to see a few gnome homes), two different non-native ferns were colonizing the high streambank: autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Mariana maiden fern (Macrothelypteris torresiana). Local parks are a good place to volunteer to help manage invasive plants as a community project.
|Autumn fern and Mariana maiden fern|
Natural stands of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) were just starting to bloom along the trail near our first gnome house. We also passed sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), see photo on left, on the climb back to the paved trail.
We transitioned again to a dirt path to find more gnome houses and saw some great native perennials such as heartleaf ginger (Hexastylis arifolia), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), and Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum). During a break on a large rock next to Burnt Fork Creek, we explored the sandy edges where the creek occasionally jumps the bank (kids love sand, you know). Here we found more infestations of autumn fern, undoubtedly being spread by the water; one clump was partially uprooted, ready to be washed downstream in the next big rain event (increasing the spread even further).
|Autumn fern washed into this beech's root zone|
From here, we walked back towards the paved path, passing a nice stand of Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) along the way. Our friend then took us to an area where a group of volunteers have been working to eradicate English ivy and other invasive plants (and doing a fantastic job). A blooming native azalea, apparently naturally occurring, was a bright orange-red; I believe it is Oconee azalea (Rhododendron flammeum). If you get a chance, explore this trail for yourself and, if you have some time, volunteer to help remove some of the invasive plants. You’ll learn a lot in the process and help nature grow just a little bit more.