Herkimer Nature Center
The HCCC Nature Center is a wonderful resource. Not only is it used as an outdoor laboratory for many of our science classes, but also for the personal enjoyment of individuals as well as community groups. The many features of the Nature Center provide a wide diversity of outdoor activities including hiking on the Interpretive Trail, snowshoeing and skiing, photography, birdwatching, wildlife observations, and stargazing. Facilities include a farm pond with a picnic area under majestic pines, several black walnut plantations, bluebird trail, deer exclosures, and miles of clearly marked trails. Along the way are several benches and shelters for quiet contemplation. Come and explore the many habitats and community types in all seasons of the year.
Introduction to Interpretive Trail
A forest is many things to many people. To the plants and animals living here, it is a home and a community – "nature's city." A forest is also a type of ecosystem, represented by interaction between its abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) components.
An ecosystem's biotic components can be divided into three basic parts: the producers (green plants), the consumers (animals) and the decomposers (bacteria and fungi). The producers transform the sun's energy by photosynthesis into a form that can be used by themselves and the consumers; thus green plants are the first members of the food chain. The consumers eat both green plants and each other, and the decay organisms transform dead plants and animals into nutrients that can be used by plants – it is in this way that nature recycles materials. Nature wastes nothing!
The dominant organisms that you will see in the forest are, of course, the trees. The majority of the trees in the Nature Center are deciduous; that is they have broad flat leaves that drop off in the autumn. A few trees here are coniferous, or "cone bearing" with needles for leaves that don't drop off annually. Many deciduous trees grow where the temperatures are moderate and rainfall is between 26-60 inches annually. In North America these conditions exist from central Florida into southern Canada and from the Mississippi River to the East Coast. This area is known as the deciduous forest biome, a large region with characteristic climatic conditions resulting in a similar vegetative pattern.
You are about to walk through several community types representative of the deciduous forest biome; communities which occur because of slight variations in the abiotic factors which are required by the resident plant species. Take note of the trees that occur in each community and try to determine the subtle differences in the ecosystem which affects their presence … or absence. Also, take note of the less dominant plants and any evidence of animals that are characteristic in each community type.
You will need to spend a little time, looking and listening, to discover for yourself that a forest community is more than an area covered by trees – it is a community populated with an enormous variety of plants and animals, all interacting, interrelated and interdependent. The time of year is important too. A forest in winter is quite different than a forest in spring or during the other seasons. Consequently, you will come to a better appreciation of the ecosystem through many visits over the entire year … or even several years.
To the Trail
The more you explore the Nature Center, the more you will want to know about the organisms you discover. In order to aid you in your quest for knowledge, we offer the following resources.