I've got good news and bad news about the trails at the Chautauqua Bottoms Nature Preserve. The bad news is that if you haven't walked them yet this spring, then you've missed a magnificent wildflower show. The show peaks in early to mid-April, and it's well worth putting on your calendar for next year.
The good news is that May and June are the best months to see and hear birds as you walk the trails. In just a few minutes you can hear red-bellied woodpeckers, northern cardinals, Carolina wrens and many species that are present year-round. But in May and June the forest and fields along the trails are also stocked with migrant bird species that are just arriving to either stay and breed or refuel and continue their migrations. For example, on May 1, I spent the morning "birding" the trails and recorded over 50 species!
The Chautauqua Bottoms Nature Preserve is owned, managed and maintained by Green Earth Inc., a local, not-for profit land trust established in 1974. Green Earth also owns five other nature preserves, totaling 220 acres, in and around Carbondale. The group handles trail repair/improvements, habitat management, and provides educational materials and programs directed toward local school children. (greenearthinc.org).
The trail system associated with the Chautauqua Bottoms Nature Preserve underwent a major renovation in the last few years, including an upgrade of the Dave Kenney Trail to ADA-friendly standards and the installation of a pedestrian bridge over Little Crab Orchard Creek. Additionally, considerable effort has gone into invasive species removal to improve the woodlands and the tallgrass prairie has recently received some TLC.
For those unfamiliar with the Chautauqua Bottoms trail system, there are three access points. The main access point is off Chautauqua Road, just west of Emerald Lane. The parking area can accommodate half a dozen cars comfortably. You can also access the Dave Kenney Trail from a trailhead off Parrish Road, and there is a trailhead at the west terminus of Freeman Street.
There are three trails that make up the trail system. The Dave Kenney Trail is approximately 1 mile long and threads along the west bank of Little Crab Orchard Creek. The Maurice Webb Trail is a 1.3 mile loop that meanders through a prairie, a riparian woodland and a reforestation area. Finally, the Woodland Spur, most easily accessed from the Freeman Street Trailhead, is a 0.75-mile trail that is the quickest path to the wildflower glade. It's worth noting that all the trails are flat and offer easy walking (albeit a little squishy in places after some rain), and it's impossible to get lost!
We are lucky in Carbondale to have trails, like those at Chautauqua Bottoms, right in the city limits. I highly encourage you to "take a hike" on these trails. They can provide a surprisingly wild experience. They are fun for all ages. And they offer a great way to get some fresh air during this interesting time of sheltering at home and physical distancing.
• Mike Baltz has a PhD in biology from the University of Missouri and writes about changing the world from his home in Carbondale.