WHAT ILLUSTRATIVE MATERIALS SHOULD BE USED IN ESTABLISHING A NATURE TRAIL?
By Frank T. Been
In a nature trail it would seem upon first thot that there is enough material along a trail to make it very interesting and enlightening to anyone going along the trail. Some consideration, however, reveals that nearly everything that can be labeled on a trail is of a stationary nature and therefore almost entirely plant life. By introducing material that does not naturally occur along the trail, it is possible to make it much more interesting and at the same time show the relationship of animals and insects to the plant life. Several methods have been used to supplement the nature trail, and actual maintenance of these trails will stimulate the formation of worth while original ideas.
Perhaps the simplest means of introducing illustrative material is with pictures of animals, birds, or insects. Pictures in color that are not very large can be placed inside a celluloid frame so that it is protected from dirt and moisture and from soiled hands.
Along the trail there may be a place where a certain kind of bird is quite common or perhaps it is frequently seen all along the trail. A picture of the bird with a brief description of habits or an outstanding point of interest concerning its characteristics is very effective. The same method can be used with animals and insects. Pictures can also be used near a nest to show the builder of it.
Perhaps better than pictures, insects can be shown in boxes or containers of a type especially prepared for various kinds of insects. With these containers of live insects should be labels explaining anything of outstanding interest. One container that has been used is cylinder of celluloid with cloth at the ends so that the entire contrivance can be slipped over a branch bearing insects at work at a nest of them. By tying the cloth down around the branch at each end of cylinder it can be arranged so that the insects cannot escape, but may be watched through the celluloid. Another method is enclosing the insects in a box or bottle near a sample of their work.
Feeding tables and bird baths may attract birds in numbers sufficient to add much interest to the trail. Near these places a few benches may be constructed so that people may sit and watch the birds. Near these benches it may be possible to arrange bird pictures in book form so that a person wishing to identify a certain bird, can look through this rack of pictures for the bird in question.
It may be possible to arrange abandoned bird nests in trees and bushes along the trail with labels telling of the builder and method of construction. If a nest has been placed naturally near the trail, it may be possible to construct a ladder high enough so that a person may see into the next by climbing the ladder. This stunt, however, may be dangerous to the bird as there are always thoughtless people to ruin a display of that kind. In Yellowstone National Park a rather unique method to expose an abandoned woodpecker's nest in a snag was to cut a section from the tree, thus exposing the nest, and then replacing the section on hinges so that when the section was closed the entrance hole showed and when the section was opened the nest was revealed in the hollow tree.
Boxes containing toads, turtles, frogs, snakes and lizards are often used to advantage. It may be that these animals can be so enclosed that they can be handled. If a person can pick a thing up, a great deal more interest is taken in the exhibit.
Tubs or glass bowls containing water plants, fish, water insects, or small interesting water plants may be advantageously used on a nature trail.
It may be possible that animals frequent a certain part of trail quite regularly at certain times of day. If these animals leave tracks, it may be worth while to smooth down a dusty part of the trail frequently so that the animal stepping on the unmarked soil leaves a distinct track. This method can also be used with birds. It may be possible to make the footprints with mounted specimens, also.
Another contrivance that has been used is pivoted arrow mounted on a horizontal dial upon which are marked different species of trees that are some distance away with a description of the main tree characteristics. By placing the arrow over these marks, the observer can study the trees from a distance.
There are other means of adding to nature trails, but the above have already been successfully tried.