Sunday, February 27, 2011

Snowy Run at Wallace State Park

We have a couple of healthy trail-running groups in the Kansas City area, but both conduct the bulk of their group runs on the Kansas side of the state line or south of the river, on the east side of Kansas City. That puts any of the group runs a minimum round trip of 1 hour and 20 minutes from my front door, and that distance usually keeps me from participating. I have to say that sometimes that bums me out.

There are advantages to being a trail runner in the northland, however. Most of the time, for example, I get the trails all to myself.

This morning I was due for a long run, but couldn't bring myself to plod 10 miles on pavement in the drizzle and fog. The trails at Smithville Lake, maintained by the Earth Riders Trails Association, would likely be closed due to mud. That left one little gem of trail running goodness: Wallace State Park.

Rocky Ford trailhead
Located right off I-35 near Cameron, Missouri, about 25 minutes from my house, Wallace State Park has enough single track trail to accomplish a 6-mile loop without any repetition. The trails hug creek beds and trace ridge lines, meandering through mature oak forest, passing by a few stands of tall pine, cedar outcroppings, and transitional habitat. The trails drain fast, so mud is rarely a problem, and they are so lightly traveled that most runs are conducted in complete seclusion.

The rocky ford
For the bulk of today's four-mile run, I created the first set of human tracks through three-day-old snow. As I went along, I tried to identify animal tracks in the snow. These included deer, opossum, turkey, squirrel, mink (see below), and a number of other fuzzies that I probably overlooked or failed to identify.

Crime Scene in the Woods

This was a fun little scene that distracted me from my run. I am given to occasional bouts of intent nature study:

Small-animal tracks in every direction, blood spattered and pooled in a swath of about 40 feet. Someone had a wild party here.
More tracks and blood, running from the trail to the creek. You can see that the predator was a low-slung mammal prone to sliding over the snow. This made me think river otter, but then I figured it was too narrow and the feet too small for that critter.
More blood. I never saw any fur or feathers, which makes me think the kill came from the creek (fish or frog, maybe). I also didn't see any different kinds of tracks that would have been caused by struggling mammalian prey.
Close-up of the predator's tracks. About 1.5 inch wide.
Another close-up of the tracks. I am going to guess that the perpetrator was a mink.
Human "sign" in the woods (made by me).


laurie said...

Very interesting! I'm impressed with and jealous of your track-identifying talent. Can't wait to run in your neck of the woods.

Jesse - Run To The Border said...

I'm in the Northland also, but didn't realize that I had any options for trails here! I always make the drive to WyCo (~30 minutes each way for me) to get my trails in. I'll have to think about heading to Wallace & Smithville sometime in the near future.

(BTW - found your blog linked off of the Free State Ultra page).