A short hike along The Black Gum Trail within J. Maynard Miller Municipal Forest, an approximate 1.35 mi loop, will take you back in time or transport you hundreds of miles south of the Vermont border based on the rare habitat there.
You see, this area is a unique forest that contains at least seven swamps supporting black gum trees (Nyssa sylvatica). This tree species is relatively common 400 miles to the south, but in Vermont it is rare, a remnant from the past when the climate was warmer, approximately 3,000-5,000 years ago. In fact, some of the trees within this forest are purported to be over 400 years old! This tree species is the longest living non-clonal flowering plant in Eastern North America, capable of reaching ages of over 650 years (Sperduto et al., 2000).
The forest feels prehistoric when standing in the presence of black gum trees which started growing back in the 1500-1600’s with bark described as alligator skin, surrounded by swamp waters covered with a blanket of bright green moss, nestled between hummocks and tussocks. Ferns also dominate, either as bright green leafy foliage reminiscent of the world of dinosaurs or as skeletal brown stalks, giving the ground a disheveled look and an almost neglected feel to the area, where you could imagine you were the only living thing in the swamp at that moment. Reach out and touch a black gum tree and let your imagination take you to another world far beyond Vermont borders. The genus name of Nyssa is taken from a water nymph in Greek mythology, so this is an appropriate hike you can do in the rain, as the rain provides an almost mystical or medieval feel to the environment.
This forest floor is alive with unique plants, including other uncommon, rare, threatened or endangered species of Vermont, a fantastic array of mosses, and other plant species that are typically found further south too.
A hike in the swamp during the spring might not only be beautiful with new ferns unfurling, trillium blooming and special because of the trees, but also musical! The Vernon Black Gum swamp provides habitat for at least 54 species of birds, identified in the Vermont Breeding Bird Atlas 2003-2007. Frogs also breed here, adding their voice to the chorus.
Of course, the intense scarlet red color of the black gum tree during autumn is truly a sight to behold. The fall display can include foliage in shades of orange, red, purple and yellow. A picture worth taking.
Rain or shine, Spring or Fall. Be a time traveler, an explorer. A visit to the Vernon Black Gum Swamp is a truly unique experience. You don’t have to travel far away to enjoy a fascinating feature of our landscape. Take a day, stay in Vermont. Find an ancient tree and breathe deeply.
Time almost stops when you are here.
To experience the swamps, travel south on Rt. 142 from Brattleboro, going through Vernon Village. After going a bit over a mile from the Village, make a RIGHT turn onto Pond Road (under the train overpass). Travel down Pond Road to Huckle Hill Road (town swimming pool is on your left) and make a RIGHT onto Huckle Hill Rd. Go out Huckle Hill Road and when you come to a “Y” fork, go RIGHT onto Basin Road and go to its terminus at the paved parking lot where you’ll find the sign for the Miller Forest. While the trail is a fairly easy walk, participants should wear sturdy walking shoes or boots.