So Much More Than A “Bike Trail”

To many, the phrase ‘bike trail’ conjures up a vision of muscle-thighed men in brightly colored spandex, scattering  women, children, and small animals as they whoosh by in packs of twenty.  I am frequently referred to as the ‘bike trail guy’ when I’m out stumping for money or looking for land for a new trail.  Actually, what we are building is so much more than  bike trails.
My favorite trail memory does not involve a bike at all. It is of a very special nature hike with my grandson Conner when he was three years old.

It was one of those mid-week birthdays for me. When I looked at the calendar and realized my birthday was going to fall on a Wednesday, I decided I would take the day off and spend it doing something fun and different.  All my friends were working (a different economy for sure), and I took advantage of having a preschool-aged grandson that would enjoy a little ‘Gopa’ time.  (He named me when he was sixteen months old so that’s who I am now.)

After hearing his mother warn him a few days earlier about picking up an earthworm because it was dirty, I decided it was time to acquaint Conner with the bug world. Obviously Bug 101 wasn’t a course he was going to experience at home.

I decided Conner and I would spend my birthday at Arabia Mountain, walking the trail and climbing on the rocks in search of bugs.  We arrived mid-morning after a night of rain. It was made-to-order conditions since all the creepy-crawlers would be out searching for loved-ones that had been washed away and restoring their homes from the hood.

The sky was crystal clear as we began our walk along the trail. Our first stop was a rotting pine stump a few feet from the trail. I took a chance at amazing my boy by ripping the bark off the side of the stump to expose the decaying wood below.  Sure enough, bugs went in everywhere:  Shiny brown beetles, little gray rolly-pollys, ants, and termites rushed to find cover as Conner stared in amazement. I reached out to the least modest beetle and offered it a finger. It declined my invitation and quickly joined the crowd headed for the exits.

Conner followed my lead by poking at several beetles and other bugs with his tiny index finger.  Mama would surely have screamed and snatched him from the jaws of death. I on the other hand encouraged him as one of the beetles crawled onto his finger, up his shirt sleeve and rested on his shoulder.  There was no fear expressed by Conner or the beetle. Bug 101 was in full session!
We moved on to the rock where we encountered a small pool of water surrounded by brilliantly colored moss and lichen. In the water, we discovered tadpoles at various stages of development, water skippers skipping about and a couple of very large dragon flies perched on a long strand of exotic grass. It was a critter-lovers utopia.  We chose to observe rather than engage; another lesson for my buddy, since many bugs are either rare and delicate or prepared to make you pay if disturbed. It was almost as much fun to be a quiet observer. The critters seemed to be more active and perform more ‘tricks’ without our interference.

We finished our day at the pond behind the Arabia Nature Center where critters are ‘cultivated’ by the tenders of the Center. There we saw frogs, salamanders, butterflies and a quarter-size June bug. Soon we were back on the trail headed to the car.

I realized on the way home, the trail at Arabia Mountain is more about city folks experiencing nature than anything to do with cycling. Thousands of people use the trail to access the extraordinary environment within the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area, not because they need a place to bike, but because they need a dose of nature. More than a bike trail indeed!

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  1. Joanne Massey
    Posted December 24, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Ed, Great article and that is so true. We love getting a dose of Nature on the Medlock to Mason Mill Board Walk Trail. We are ever so grateful that you built it. Conner is so blessed to have you as his Gopa! I am so glad you acquainted him with the amazing natural world. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  2. Annie
    Posted January 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Ed, I would like to continue the journey you took on the Arabia Mountain path. My 2 daugthers and I begin using the trails when they were about 11 and 13. Whenver we get a break (Sunny day) we either try to bike the trails or walk the trails. We stop along the paths to either watch the bugs , observe the rocks, explore the plants and sometimes an occassional animal (dear or even a wild turkey would wonder by). After several stops we journey across the bridges, up the hills, down the hills, around the winding road (who can get to the marker first), ‘Hi’ to my passing walker or biker, have you ever notice how quiet nature is and how loud the mini waterfalls are. Sometimes we stop and have a picknick and haven’t notice how far we have travel. Because Arabia mountian have different trails connecting with each other, and so many things to explore, we never get to finish them. We find ourselve either getting distracted and not having enough time before night falls or the next time we venture onto another path.

    We also have enjoyed exploring the trail over to South River and is looking forward to the Rockdale trail expanion.

    What a wonderful thing we have and how it has enriched our lives. We don’t normally take the trails to bike but instead walk so we can ‘stop’, ‘look’ and ‘listen’ to our little piece of nature.

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