Monday, April 30, 2012

Spring Flowers at Thompson Wildlife Management Area

G. R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is known for its spring flowers, so much so that some of the better spots are actually marked on the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club's map of the area.  A friend and I went out on yesterday for a moderate hike to see what was in bloom.  We started at the Ted Lake trailhead yesterday morning.  After several days of cool weather, the warm sun felt good as we started up the hill. 

The Ted Lake Trail crosses a creek before beginning a steep ascent up to the Appalachian Trail.  The trail follows an old road, so there are no switchbacks.  While Thompson WMA is known for its native wildflowers, those areas are all up on the ridge.  The lower elevations are full of exotic, if pretty wildflowers, including Silene vulgaris (Bladder Campion) and one of the worst invasives, Alliaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard).  We saw both of those and many others as we crossed and then climbed out of the valley.  The payoff for the climb, though is Thompson WMA's famous dense colonies of Trillium grandiflorum (Giant Trillium). By the time we made it to the Appalachian Trail, there were thousands of pink and white trilliums scattered throughout the woods.  We took a somewhat unintentional side trip on the Ted Lake Trail above the Appalachian Trail, where we saw the nicest Galearis spectabilis (Showy Orchis) of the entire hike. 

Back on the Appalachian Trail, we headed north, towards a spot with Cypripedium parviflorum (Yellow Lady Slippers).  This is the other main draw of Thompson WMA this time of year.  There aren't many places to see these lovely flowers and, at Thompson, they are right on the trail.  After spending a few minutes taking pictures, we continued on to an old road leading off the ridge, down to Lake Thompson.  We took a break there and enjoyed the view.  Several people fished from the banks.  As we were sitting there, a snake swam by in the lake.  I couldn't tell what kind it was, but it was probably 3-4 feet long. 

We hiked around the lake and returned to the car via a 2.5 mile road walk, which brought the total distance for the day close to 12 miles. If you want to see spectacular wildflowers, this is a great hike. 

Pictures (click to enlarge):
 Trillium grandiflorum (Giant Trillium) along the Ted Lake Trail.
 Thalictrum thalictroides (Rue Anemone)
 Conopholis americana (Squawroot)
 Galaeris spectabilis (Showy Orchis)
 Cypripedium parviflorum (Yellow Lady Slipper)
 Another view of C. parviflorum.
 An example of the dense colonies of Trillium grandiflorum.
 Lake Thompson in the afternoon sun.
 This guy was crawling on the trail near the lake.
A field full of buttercups from the road.  This was one of the few views of the trip.

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