Editor's note: Much of the following information is taken from the Whitetail Ridge Interpretive Trail guide prepared by Iowa Lakes Community College Conservation Club students.
Community members gathered Saturday afternoon for the dedication of the Whitetail Ridge Interpretive Trail on the west side of Fort Defiance State Park.
The trail is the result of a collaborative effort between the Friends of Fort Defiance, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and numerous local organizations and businesses. Design and layout of the trail and preparation of the interpretive guide for the trail were completed by Iowa Lakes Community College Conservation Club students.
Whitetail Ridge3-4 — Friends vice president and Iowa Lakes Community College environmental studies professor Gary Phillips shows one of the points of interest along the trail.
Construction of the trail was accomplished with volunteer labor provided by the Friends of Fort Defiance with support from various local contractors who supplied equipment and materials used on the completion of the trail. Funds for the material used to surface the trail were provided through an Emmet County Community Foundation grant. The trail kiosk was built and supplied by students enrolled in the Iowa Lake Community College Construction Technology Program.
The trail highlights 15 points of interest, all of which are marked along the way. Following are the points as described in the trail brochure.
1) Black walnut. The black walnut (Juglans nigra) is a deciduous tree that reaches heights of 100-130 feet.
2) Black oak. While common in southern and eastern Iowa, the black oak (Quercus velutina) is not native to northwest Iowa. It is likely that this tree was intentionally planted here in the park years ago.
3) Sprawling growth pattern decodes the past. When you see an oak tree that has a straight trunk and few lower branches, these characteristics tell one that it has grown in a heavily timbered area.
4) American hornbeam. The American hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is frequently referred to locally as ironwood. It is a small, deciduous understory tree which grows from 20-30 feet tall with a trunk diameter from six to 12 inches.
5) North-facing slope forest community. The north-facing slope ecosystem which you are looking at is unique in this part of Iowa due to the presence of black maple (Acer nigrum) trees. This species is very similar to the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) which is a common forest tree found in the forests of eastern Iowa.
6) Flood plain terraces. The flood plain terrace is an area of low land that is next to a river or a stream that has been naturally flooded throughout history. The flooding in this area occurs in late winter and early spring and the flood plain acts as a temporary storage area.
7) American linden. American linden (Tilia americana) is a large and rapid-growing tree. The tree frequently has two or more trunks and strongly sprouts from stumps as well as seeds. It is characterized by its more or less heart-shaped leaves which are fine-toothed and have uneven bases.
8) Bitternut hickory. The bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) is the only hickory native to northwest Iowa. While large, mature bitternuts were once common in Fort Defiance State Park, a blight in the 1960's and 1970's devastated this species so that today only young trees can be found.
9) Northern red oak. In Iowa forests, the northern red oak (Quercus rubra borealis) grows straight and tall to heights of 80 feet. Its branches grow at right angles to the trunk, forming a narrow, round-topped crown.
10) Quaking aspen. The tree with the bright white bark that you are looking at is a quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). While extremely common in northern latitudes and the mountainous portions of North America, the trees in Fort Defiance represent the very southern extent of its range in the central portion of the United States.
11) Western snowberry. Western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) or buckbrush as it is commonly called is a native perennial of dry prairies in northwest Iowa.
12) Non-native conifers. Before settlement, the only native conifer to occur in northwest Iowa was the eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Eastern red cedar can be identified by its scale-like, dark green or blue-green leaves and its dark brown to gray-brown bark which is broken into wide, shaggy ridges.
13) Forest succession. Forest succession is a natural process where over time an area is converted from pioneer species (the first woody plants to establish in an area) to a mature or climax forest. In grassland habitats, succession begins with the invasion of small trees and shrubs.
As these plants grow, they eventually shade out the grass and forbs, transforming the area into a woodland habitat. Eventually the area will turn into a mature forest.
14) The American sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis) is native to the eastern and central United States but is not native to northwest Iowa. Despite this fact, the sycamore is commonly planted in Iowa for ornamental purposes.
15) Deer rub. Deer rubs are abrasions made by male deer in the fall of the year. The male deer has sweat glands between the forehead and antlers which leave scent on the tree. The scent left on the tree proposes a challenge to other male deer, while possibly attracting a female mate.