The Field Trip that….SUCKED!

Jan and I had just returned from leading an all day Master Naturalist Conference trip to Big Run Bog in Tucker County.  25 intrepid people had accompanied us to explore this botanical treasure trove.  From the front porch of the Graceland Inn on the Davis and Elkins College campus a woman called my name, “BILL, BILL!” she yelled.  “I just wanted to tell you…your field trip sucked!”  Two women standing nearby looked at her in shock.  I think they were even more surprised to hear me laugh and respond with, “It sure did!”

For all but two people in the group this was their first trip to the bog and so most weren’t sure what it would be like.  In the tour description I had mentioned to expect getting their feet wet and to wear “proper footgear”.  That phrase brought a whole variety of “shoes” from sandals to water shoes to hiking boots.  Some people wore calf-high or knee-high rubber “muck” boots that easily slip on and off…a good choice for normal muddy conditions.

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Entering Big Run Bog a.k.a. Olsen Bog (Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

And so it began.  People not used to choosing the bog vegetation best suited to support them often found that they had misjudged the firmness of “terra firma”.  And the longer a person stood in one spot, the more often a foot would end up slipping through the sphagnum moss mat down into the mud.  Many times someone would find their foot stuck in the muck.  Pushing with the above-ground boot for leverage often ended up pushing that foot deep into the muck, too, and then both feet were stuck.  With footgear tightly tied or strapped on, it was easier to get unstuck by working the foot and lifting with the whole leg slowly.  The people wearing slip-on boots had it much harder, however.  Understandably, they did not want to just lift their foot, leaving the boot still firmly trapped in the mud.  But keeping the boot on while doing all the other movements needed to extricate the booted foot was nearly impossible.  After trying numerous ways, sometimes almost to the point of exhaustion, and often with the help of one or two other people, the foot or feet were freed at last.  Finally, we decided the easiest way to free trapped “muck boot” people was simply to have them slide their foot out of the boot and then let someone else pull the boot from the muck.  As the helper pulled firmly on a boot, it slid from the bog with a long slurping, sucking sound.  Hence, “Your field trip SUCKED!”  Yes, it did…..frequently!

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(Photo (c) Jan Runyan)

   Left — Discussing the bog and the strange, unusual plant communities.                               Right — Cinnamon Ferns (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum) (c) Bill Beatty

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Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) (c) Bill Beatty …were everywhere and some of the leaves had many floating insects.

           

Insectivorous Round-leaved Sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) (c) Bill Beatty …numbered in the thousands and were sometimes found dining on trapped insects.

                               

Many of the Beard-flower Orchids (Pogonia ophioglossoides) (c) Bill Beatty …were in full bloom.

      IMG_6049    floating pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus)

At the beaver dam parts of the pond (c) Jan Runyan … were full of flowering Floating Pondweed (Potamogeton epihydrus) (c) Bill Beatty.

After lunch I took our explorers (in smaller groups) into a part of the bog where few people have ever been.  Here is where some of the rarest plants in West Virginia can be seen and photographed.

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I knelt in the bog as a border not to cross because there were so many rare plants (c) Jan Runyan.  Just beyond me were several large patches of Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata).  Then I pointed out several Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum) plants in flower (c) Bill Beatty .

                                                  

Dozens of Grass Pink Orchids (Calopogon pulchellus) (c) Bill Beatty …were mixed in with the Buckbean, Golden Club and Kidneyleaf Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia asarifolia).

                                                  

Along the wooded edges of the bog were Small Green Wood Orchids (Platanthera clavellata) (c) Bill Beatty …and on the trail to the road were small stands of American Yew (Taxus canadensis) (c) Bill Beatty.

All that evening and the next day people came to Jan and me to tell us how much fun they had at the bog and how seeing all the rare plants was such a delight.  The challenges of the stuck feet soon became a fun memory to laugh about…as we did the rest of the weekend.

3 thoughts on “The Field Trip that….SUCKED!

  1. A beautiful place, been there many times. I photograph in mountaintop bogs fairly often, but I am always concerned about the potential damage I might be doing by walking around in it. Can you comment on that?

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    • Hi Mark…we are always considering the damage. Last year we took 20 into the Big Run Bog and went back 2 1/2 weeks later and was amazed at how well our tromping had recovered. We will be going back this year in about 3 1/2 weeks to check on our impact and look for additional rare plants. With groups, skirt the bog along the wooded edges to avoid significant damage. Where some of the rare plants are we set boundaries not to be crossed when we take others. It is always something to weigh…keeping the bogs a secret to avoid impact or showing others with strong conservation ethics some wonderful botanical treasures. The groups I take to these areas are carefully selected…all excited about wildflowers, plant communities and such. I have taken some of my college students to Big Run Bog, but never the entire class, only select students who have a deep appreciation for such places.

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