Mountain Laurel, Mud, and Me

Mountain Laurel, Mud, and Me

In my last post, I mentioned that the main project I am completing is a depth (bathymetric) survey for Prince William Forest Park’s Lake 2/Lake 5 to prevent fill-in. Two of my biggest foes while mapping the lakes have been mountain laurel and mud.

In order to take depth measurements in a straight line, I secure a line of rope that goes from one (or near one) bank to the other. On the east bank is mountain laurel and on the west bank is mud. To successfully secure rope on or directly in front of each bank, I must overcome these challenges. Mountain laurel, while currently blooming and very pretty, impedes my access to the bank due to its many branches.

As a result, I secure the rope clip to thick mountain laurel branches that have other small branches branching off of them so the clip stays in place.

Clip (with transect line going through it) attached to a mountain laurel branch

Accessing these branches sometimes means I literally have to bend over backwards in a boat to secure a clip to them. Other times, I gently insert myself into a mountain laurel bush to secure the clip.

Contending with mountain laurel while attempting to secure the clip

When I am on land though, the plant that is the biggest pain to me is greenbrier thorn, mostly because I do not enjoy being poked and my clothes get snagged on it. However, it is a native annoying weed so it can stay.

Nevertheless, the park’s most important plant is the small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides) as it is the park’s one federally-listed “threatened” species. I wish I took a picture of it when I was shown it in-person, but if you search it, you can see some pictures of it.

Greenbrier thorn (in the middle)

Either way, I regularly get up close and personal with mountain laurel. The mountain laurel has even almost taken my hat a few times!

Meanwhile, on the other bank, I contend with mud. One area (more northward) was muddy with thick vegetation.

Thick vegetation and mud impedes canoe access

To map this area, I had to get out of the boat in waders to drive an anchor into the muddy lake bank. I tried to parallel the boat to the bank a few times, but it kept getting stuck and it was hard to maneuver because in some areas the water was not actually that deep. However, I could not easily tell that because it was so muddy and because of the thick vegetation. In addition, since it was so muddy, I could only feel with my boot how deep the water was before I took a step and one time I miscalculated (especially given that I sank into the mud an inch or two every step I took), which led to the top of my waders dipping beneath the water line and filling with water. Don’t worry, my phone and keys were successfully rescued from my pockets before they got too wet.

My very muddy wader boot

The other area was quicksand muddy. This area was by a little island in the lake, which I have unofficially named Frog Island as every time I took a step on the island (I was mapping out its boundaries) little and big frogs alike would start jumping into the water. I also found lots of frog eggs off the coast of the island.

An unbothered frog by “Frog Island” and the canoe

I originally thought I could treat this area’s mud the same way I did the other area; however, I quickly learned that I could not as I kept sinking into the mud to the point where it was only a couple inches from the top of my waders; the water, on the other hand was less than 5 inches deep. Luckily, the boat was right there and I could yank myself out, though it was a struggle as the mud did not want to let go. It was impossible to even take a step as my legs were so stuck in the mud. At one point, I left my wader in the mud to get back in the boat and then pulled it out from there. I survived being eaten by mud and I will not be getting out of the boat to walk around water-covered muddy areas anymore.

Attempting to pull my wader boot out of the mud

The muddy area
Mud that came up as my partner and I paddled out
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