Celebrate Spring with a Walk in the Great Outdoors

To experience the wild side of the Pocono Mountains, go for a spring walk through the lush woods and meadows anywhere in the region. A diverse range of wildlife abounds in the Poconos’ largely untouched tracts of pristine acreage, giving people the opportunity to enjoy natural surroundings that they otherwise would not have access to. A leisurely stroll through the woodlands will reward hikers with scenes of natural beauty that are as they have been for thousands of years.

Delicate wildflowers and other flora flourish in the sun for hikers and walkers to enjoy. Among the plant life of the region is included a very rare species called rhodora that, within the United States, is found only here in the Pocono Mountains and in the wilds of New Hampshire. This smallest member of the wild azalea family grows locally in damp areas such as along ponds, in wetlands, and in pine barrens. The plants grow to a height of about three feet and can be distinguished by their pale green leaves. People come from hundreds of miles to search for these rare shrubs, which bloom a beautiful purplish-pink flower in mid-May. This plant is restricted to glaciated areas such as the top of the Pocono Plateau, and if you keep your eyes open you might sight a patch during your nature walk.

Another interesting resident of the Poconos is the pitcher plant. This carnivorous foliage can be found in wet areas including bogs and the sluggish edges around ponds. Identify these plants by the large tubular pitcher and its sizable flower about two feet off the ground. This plant attracts the insects which are its prey by secreting an odor that bugs find irresistible. The unlucky insect moves in closer to investigate and slips down the tube into the plant’s digestive tract. Patches of this sly predator can be seen in Tobyhanna State Park, in Long Pond, in Tannersville and many other wet areas throughout the mountains.

Numerous animals are active this time of the year and just like people they are out enjoying the sunshine in the Pocono Mountains! It’s lots of fun to find and identify animal tracks, and if you have the time, to follow them and see the tale of a day in the life of a deer or rabbit. Although it’s easier to follow animal tracks in the snow, it is possible to find animal sign in the warmer months. Look in the soft mud around the many streams and lakes in the area for the tracks of an otter or raccoon. In stands of hardwood, spot patches of tussled leaves where a grouse may have scratched while foraging for berries or a fox had disturbed while in pursuit of a wily cottontail. Deer paths and other animal trails are prime areas to investigate when in search of animal prints. Those who take the time to slow down and look can piece together many little woodland dramas by reading the abundant sign anywhere in this mountain land.

Bring a pair of binoculars on your walk to get a closer look at the many birds singing their songs and fluttering about. A great variety of bird species may be observed, from noisy downy woodpeckers to brilliant red cardinals to the shy and elusive grebe. These wonderful creatures are a joy to behold and, as any bird watcher will testify, it is great fun to encounter and identify as many species as you can.

Babbling brooks and pure, fresh streams flow nearly everywhere in the Poconos. They criss-cross our landscape, connecting various lakes, ponds and wetlands. A walk along a stream or lake will reveal many creatures and their homes. Crayfish, frogs, minnows, turtles, even sport fish such as native brook trout can be observed in and around the ample water supply of the area. These sources of fresh, clear water are what the whole ecosystem relies on to live, and thankfully the Pocono Mountains have lots of them!

Whether you choose to explore one of the many local State Parks and State Gamelands or you begin your hike right in your own backyard, vibrant Pocono wildlife can be seen and heard everywhere around you. Spend a quiet afternoon enjoying the unspoiled natural environment within the Pocono Mountains. Turn to the map page in the center of this magazine to find the locations of area State Parks; for State Park information, call 1-888-PA-PARKS or log on to www.visitpaparks.com.

As you stand watching the deer serenely browsing in a secluded meadow, feel a sense of joy and be glad for the time you’re able to spend in this mountain playground!