Friday, February 5, 2016

Mid-day at Mill Pond Park

On Wednesday (03 FEB) I had several programs scheduled at Ganiard Elementary in Mt. Pleasant.  I had one program in the morning and then two more in the afternoon with an hour-long gap at mid-day.  This gap was too short to come back to the office so I decided to spend the time at nearby Mill Pond Park.

I parked at the Leaton Street parking area.  This parking area is near the site of the former dam that gave the park its name.  Although the Mill Pond has not existed for many years, the old dam was only removed in 2002 and replaced with a series of weirs that step down the river and make it open to both fish and human navigation.

For nearly a decade I was a seasonal maintenance worker for the Mt. Pleasant Parks Department.  My main job for most of that time was to maintain the trail system in Mill Pond Park.  I am very familiar with what can be found throughout this park.

Because I didn't have a lot of time, I just decided to walk down a trail that allows access to the weirs along the west bank of the river.  I was not expecting to find much wildlife.  I really just wanted to get some photos of the river that had swollen from recent rains and snowmelt.

Walking from the parking lot to the river I passed over several well-defined sets of squirrel tracks in the snow.  Mt. Pleasant's parks are home to three species of squirrels: Red, Grey (including black morph), and Fox squirrels.  In the parking lot I watched a Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) digging through the snow, so it's not a stretch to guess that these tracks probably belonged to a Fox Squirrel.

The river itself currently has the color and clarity of chocolate milk due to suspended particles of silt and clay.  The recent rains and melting snow have carried these particles from upland areas into the river.  The Chippewa River generally runs pretty clear unless there has been a recent storm.  Unfortunately clear does not mean clean.  Testing over several years has found unnaturally high levels of E. Coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria due to contamination from both animal waste and human septic systems.  This is especially true during the summer months when the bacteria can easily reproduce in the warm water.

Much of Mill Pond Park lies within the floodplain of the Chippewa River.  A large section of the park is covered by a cattail marsh.  Other areas are covered by a floodplain forest.  This section contains one of my favorite understory trees/shrubs - the American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia).  Right now the Bladdernut can be easily identified by its namesake fruits.

Dangling from the branches of the Bladdernut, I found several faded maple leaves twisting in the breeze.

Another nearby find was the dried stalks of a White Vervain (Verbena urticifolia).  This relative of the common Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) is commonly found in shaded damp areas such as floodplain forests.

Mill Pond Park is home to a small herd of White-tailed Deer.  During the summer it is not unusual to see a doe and pair of fawns somewhere along the trail system.  This time I didn't see any deer but I did find their footprints in the snow.

Walking back to my truck, I decided to take a few more photographs of the river.  This bridge spans the former dam site.  One of the park's five weirs can be seen almost directly below the bridge.  Right now the water levels are so high that the rock used to construct the weirs is completely underwater.  During periods of low water, the rock is exposed and the water flows through a central spillway on each dam.

One final photo.  This shows a dead tree on a sandbar in the middle of the river.  Until the dam was removed from the river this tree stood on the shoreline.  Since the dam has been removed, floods have dug out a new channel between this tree and the now-current shoreline.  Several other trees have already been overtaken by the river.  This one will soon follow.

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