A Convenient Gem
In 1856, the railroad had reached Iowa. Crossing the Mississippi at Davenport, it took a mere 11years for tracks to stretch across the entire state. Before the motorized vehicle, the railroad was the best method for overland travel and shipping. Now more than ever, a community need not have a river port for serious growth. The inland of the United States opened wide for settlement and a town’s survival now depended upon being on the railroad route.
The construction of the tracks, the needs of the construction workers, and the towns that built up beside them all took resources. Barely a timber in Iowa exists that was not harvested at one time or the other for the railroad. “Old growth” here means barely 150 years, not much in the lives of some trees and forests found elsewhere and a “pristine” timber is practically nonexistent.
However, these timber harvests may have created a boon for Iowa wildlife. Oak-hickory woodlands sprung up across the state wherever the timber was disturbed. This tree association is known for its mast (or nut) production and attracts more diversity of wildlife than other Iowa timbers. Deer, turkey, and squirrel are just a few of the animals that depend upon the nuts in the fall to store up fat reserves to last the winter.
Iowa conservationists are now concerned that these timbers are dying off and we will lose some of the associated wildlife. Red oaks – a main species of these timbers – live roughly 150 years and their mast production drops during the last years of their lives. The more shade-tolerant trees replacing these timbers are, unfortunately, not so widely appreciated by wildlife.
One can see the changeover (or succession) from the types of woodlands at Hayes Timber. Conveniently located within the city limits of Washington, Hayes offers a relaxing hike filled with large standing and fallen oaks interspersed with newer, younger trees just waiting for the chance to take over.
Way back in 1925, Carolyn Hayes had the foresight to include in her will the donation of Hayes Timber for future generations. Giving land was not new to her. Both the County Home property and Elm Grove Cemetery were originally owned by her father Michael. Accepted interpretation of her will means no management beyond basic trail care will take place here. The timber will be allowed to succeed to shade-tolerant species. (Maintaining an oak-hickory timber requires active management).
For all its small size (33 acres), Hayes Timber is a gem and an excellent woodland to visit. First, it’s nearby and fairly easy to find (there is now a huge parking lot on W. Fifth St.). Second, the fairly level ground make hiking there fairly easy for those that have problems with hills. Third, and more importantly, it is a beautiful timber with tons of spring wildflowers and people-tolerant wildlife. I’ve seen larger timbers with fewer flowers and critters hopping among its bushes.
For some odd reason, the squirrels at Marr Park are rather skittish. The deer are, for the most part, visitors and the birds sporadic on being viewed. I can never make any guarantee of seeing wildlife with a class of students (never the most quiet of groups). However, I would say I usually see more at Hayes, with even a rambunctious group of third graders. Squirrels are typical and half the time we spot deer in the distance. The birds sing longer and we can approach closer. On one occasion, we even spotted a fox!
The Kewash Trail – an old rail bed – forms the northern border of the property. One can almost hear the whistle of the train heading to Keota. Oh wait, that’s an actual freight train from the existing tracks just south of the property. History still lives out at Hayes.