Lots of people have a favorite animal, one that they admire for its sleek coat or big eyes or fleet feet. This series isn't about those animals; it is about the animals that in some way or another are plaguing my friends, family, and neighbors.
You will begin your search at the Washington County Vocational School on Rt 676 (Lancaster Rd). As you enter the complex, there is a parking lot on the left with the signs, "WCC Trail," "Nature Trails," and "Trail for All." Park near the signs and head west around the building to the faculty parking lot where you will see the trail head and map.
The first box is the Turkey Vulture box, in honor of my friend Scott. A large group of them (a flock, a covey, I don't know) roosts in the tree outside his house. He complains that they smell bad, are noisy, and -worst of all- create a dangerously slippery sidewalk with their guano. Personally, I think they're pretty neat looking, with their red heads, dark brown feathers, and yellowish legs.
To find the turkey vulture, head down the trail into the ravine and across a small creek. To your right is a sign for WCC, to your left a trail to the rock quarry (well worth the hike). Continue straight across a second creek and take the trail to the left (downstream). There may be a sign with a little green man marking this trail (sometimes he gets knocked down if the creek runs high). When the trail splits, head uphill. You'll notice rocks on the left of the trail, and if you're lucky like me, you may even see a turkey (but not a turkey vulture). When you see three metal fence posts on the right, head towards the rock on the left immediately before those posts. On the downhill side of the rock, under a pile of smaller rocks you will find the turkey vulture. Note: please replace the box *under* the rocks and not under leaves or sticks; the rocks keep it from being washed down hill when it rains. Thank you!
The second box is the Chipmunk box, in honor of my mother. Not a gardener by nature, she has only recently started to be interested in having things other than grass in the yard. There is an ongoing war between her and the chipmunks, who eat her flowers and, even worse, dare to invade her strawberry patch and eat that precious fruit. She's tried several different things over the past few years but without much luck. This box is in honor of her pests.
To find the chipmunk box, head down the trail into the ravine and cross a small creek (it may be dry, depending on the season), just like for the turkey vulture box, but this time, once you cross the first creek, turn left and head uphill towards the rock quarry. The trail flattens out after that first steep (and muddy) hill. Two fallen trees span the trail (eventually these will probably be cut so you will pass between the cut sections). On the left, at the base of the left tree, you will find the chipmunk hiding. If you continue along this trail, you'll notice a collection of cylindrical stones on the left of the trail. Claire and Yuki had a blast playing mountain goat on these rocks, but the evidence of muggles convinced me that this wasn't a good place to put my box. From the quarry pond, turn around back the way you came or head down the path to follow the creek back to the trail junction.
Shortly after deciding to create this series, I picked up a hitchhiker shaped like a bat - and began to have vermin problems. Actually, I don't really consider bats vermin, but I did not like having them flying around inside my house. The dogs were totally nonchalant about having bats in the house, though Yuki figured out that I wasn't too excited and kindly starting alerting me to their presence. Thankfully, I figured out how the bats were getting in without too much trouble - with only 3 nights of interrupted sleep. My brother, on the other hand, was telling me that he found some odd "slimy" stuff in their sleeping porch when they went to open it up this spring. Upon investigation, he found they had 14 bats in the small space between their roof and ceiling. Did I mention that my sister-in-law is allergic to almost everything? I'm sure bats in the attic weren't helping her symptoms.
Now, I don't know what type of bat my brother had, but I carefully identified the one bat in my house as a little brown bat. To find my carving of this critter, box #3, you'll head down the hill and cross the two creeks, like for the turkey vulture box, but this time head to the right towards "Cave Creek" (note: the sign is currently missing, 7/10/12, but you will cross a third small creek and then head upstream, following the second creek you crossed). You'll follow the creek upstream (when it is flowing), passing by a large rock on the right, between you and the creek. At all trail junctions on this trail, you want to stick with the option closer to the creek. (Originally, I thought you would want the trail to the left at the second junction, but just above those rocks Yuki had the misfortune to step into a wasp nest, so we call those rocks "The rocks of pain." Just when I thought I could stop calling them that, my friend's dog found another wasp nest near those rocks...). So keep following the creek upstream, past the trail leading to the rocks of pain and angry wasps (possibly some of my letterboxing equipment, too, since we ran out in a hurry). After that junction (the one leading to the rocks of pain), you will find a rock ramp into the creek. If you were to follow the trail up the creek you would see a large rock overhang, which might have some good crevices for bats. Standing on the rock ramp, find the tree at 70 degrees and go to the far side of this tree. There you will find the little brown bat letterbox in a very small cave formed by two largish mossy rocks and one smaller suspiciously not-mossy rock.
The second to last box in the series is the White Tail Deer. My poor neighbors have been trying to grow a sassafras tree (from seed, I might add) in their yard, but every time it sprouts leaves, the deer come and eat it. They moved the poor little sapling to the front yard, but even that didn't help. It's now completely caged with chicken wire, effective, but not a practical long term solution. The neighbors claim I will have the same problem with my garden next spring and summer, but fortunately my vermin patrol officers (i.e. Claire and Yuki) keep the deer out (of course, they take payment in the form of strawberries, tomatoes, and squash, so I'm not sure how much ahead I am there).
To find the White Tail Deer box, head along the same trail as for the Turkey Vulture. Pass the rock with the vulture and continue uphill, past the sign for the WCC to the Ridge Trail (there isn't a sign for the ridge trail, but you'll know you're there when you can't go uphill anymore). You'll enter a clearing and come to a gravel road. Head to the right, following the gravel road, and stay right at the next intersection, walking down a gentle hill. Along here we often see deer tracks in the mud. After the pine trees, to the left you will see a pond (lovely place for a swim, in Claire's mind) and then the road climbs again, slightly. To your right are two small fenced enclosures, with a raptor nest (empty) on a tall pole between and beyond. Head towards the pole and the woods. Thirteen steps from that pole is a hiking man sign. From the hiking man, take 42 steps along the trail. To your left is a deer path leading to a jumble of downed tree trunks. The deer is under the junction of several logs, at the end farthest from the trail.
The last box is the Coyote, in honor of my new friend the coyote hunter. He has lost four dozen of his chickens to the coyotes this fall. He has no faith in the traps set by the DNR so he's taken matters into his own hands and is out frequently at night to get his revenge. He claims the coyotes also ganged up on his dog, but Claire and Yuki haven't had any troubles. Perhaps the coyotes recognize their status as vermin patrol officers, or maybe it is just because there are two of them and they know better than to mess with coyotes.
To find the Coyote box, begin at the Little Brown Bat box and follow the creek downstream. Stay away from the rocks of pain (you can take that path and end up near the deer, but I don't advise it during times of the year when wasps are out). At the second fork in the path, stay straight, away from the creek. To your right, 29 steps after the trail junction, you will see a leaning beech tree. Beyond that beech, along the trail, you will see a large holey rock. Between the rock and the tree is an inverted Y. Follow the Y uphill to what look like rock bricks coming loose in the rock formation, right behind/underneath the log. Slide the uppermost of those "bricks" out to find the Coyote behind. Please replace this box exactly as you found it because the rock doesn't slide as fully into place otherwise.
I hope you enjoy the trails!