Black Farm Trail

Submitted by Bill Pritchett

Along with my number one hiking companion (an English Shepherd named Cody), I regularly walk every trail in the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge from early fall through late spring with occasional visits during the warmer months when weather and insects permit.

Determining my favorite trail is no easy feat when all of the trails in the Refuge are, in my view, truly spectacular. I think to myself: what do I most frequently recommend to first time folks stopping by the Visitor’s Center seeking guidance as to which trail(s) to hike? That usually begins with my asking the visitor: What is your purpose? What do you hope to see? Are you a photographer? Is trail length a concern? I also caution with the caveat that many indigenous mammals are primarily nocturnal. With these thoughts in mind, and if I could only walk one trail, I would opt for the Black Farm Trail. The length, at 1.6 miles for the main loop, provides one with a good physical workout. Parts of the trail are beautifully sheltered by trees that, in places, seem to create a tunnel-like effect. Other parts of the trail are more open which increases the potential for viewing wildlife, and there are tidal ponds and a freshwater pond that always seem to host a multitude of waterfowl and turtles.

Black Farm is especially beautiful in the fall with the myriad colors in the leaves. Take note of wild shrubs such as Viburnum, Chokecherry, Multiflora Rose, and Pokeweed (caution: her berries are poisonous). Also, some weeds/wildflowers are blooming including Blue Mist, Queen Anne’s Lace, Goldenrod, and Thistle. In the spring, early wildflowers and yellow and white daffodils, along with blue flowering periwinkle (probably planted by old inhabitants in years gone by), provide beautiful color along the trail. One will encounter conifer and broadleaf (deciduous) trees of varying species and maturities. Expect to see trees common to the mid-Atlantic such as Oaks, Maples, Sassafras, Hickories, Walnuts, Dogwoods, Sweetgum, American Hollies, Wild Cherry, and, even, Persimmon with stunning colors in the fall. Of the conifers, immature Loblolly Pine predominates.

A traveler should begin the Black Farm trail at the information kiosk next to the gate by the parking area. Please note the trail map which includes considerable useful information about what wildlife one might spot along the way. As one proceeds down the first long, straight leg of the trail, he/she may notice a few castings laying on the ground that show typical footprints of indigenous mammals, including Beaver, Fox, Mink, Muskrat, and Otter. Keep an eye on the small drainage ditches on either side of the trail for smaller aquatic animals such as frogs, turtles, or snakes.

Moving in a clockwise direction around the trail, one begins to bear to the right. There will be a short branch trail almost immediately to the left taking the hiker to the edge of the wetlands (tidal ponds). Notice the Wood Duck house on a pole a few feet out into the marsh. On occasion, one may see one of our resident Screech Owls peeking out of the house opening. A short distance back on the main trail, one comes to a clearing which reveals a fresh water pond to the right with tidal wetlands to the left which may be overgrown with invasive Phragmites at times. The fresh water pond to the right frequently hosts numerous duck species and other waterfowl. Also, note Eastern Mud Turtles and Painted Turtles basking on partly submerged logs and fallen limbs.

Proceeding, a hiker soon enters a long-wooded area of mostly deciduous trees that actually meet overhead. Occasionally, whispers of wind and rays of sunlight sneak through the leaves creating an ethereal effect. This is a place of absolute peace and tranquility. As one emerges at the other end of the “tree tunnel”, the trail begins to open up again. On the left, there are numerous wild shrubs which, in season, reveal Honeysuckle, Multi-flora Rose, and fall Red Sumac leaves. To the right, fields abound with wild grasses such as Blue Stem and deer trails.

Continuing clockwise around Black Farm Trail, the hiker will notice numerous stands of earlier growth conifer trees to the left and a field of immature deciduous trees to the right. This is definitely deer country and one often sees does, yearlings, and fawns traveling across the trail ahead. Also, look for the occasional Groundhog waddling across the trail. Reportedly, they are pretty near sighted, so sometimes one can approach fairly closely (but not too close!).

Ultimately, the hiker has closed the loop and returned to the parking area, having partaken of the many gifts Mother Nature has to share of Her Flora and Fauna. As with all Prime Hook’s beautiful hiking trails, the wildlife and flora along the Black Farm Trail change with the seasons and, even, moment to moment.

Just a reminder that all Trails on the refuge are limited to foot traffic only. Bicycles are limited to using the roads on the Refuge. excellent shelter on cold, windy days. It is truly one of the many jewels of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.