Bullen Creek : Natchez Trace Parkway MP 18.4

Our next stop on the NTP reminded me of the History Channel series Life After People!

America looked much different before European settlers molded and reshaped the land with their hands, plows, and chainsaws.

Once dense mature forests were turned into flat barren farmland. Loess soil, protected by heavy vegetation quickly eroded when exposed to the elements by human interaction.

But the earth, given the chance, will reclaim her territory and Bullen Creek is one place where this slow process of reclamation can be observed.

This short .2 mile self-guided interpretive trail through a mixed hardwood-pine forest takes only 15 minutes but is both beautiful and informative.

The forest you see as you drive the Natchez Trace Parkway was once a mature hardwood forest. As European settlers claimed the land they clear-cut the trees to make way for farmland.

Stripping the land of its natural vegetation coupled with poor farming practices also caused erosion that formed gullies like the one in the picture above.

In the 1930s the U.S. government began purchasing this land for the parkway. As farmers moved on mother nature began to work her magic. The little trail at Bullen Creek spotlights this process of reclamation, which begins with the growth of Pine trees as the forest slowly reverts to its original hardwood state.

As you walk the trail you can’t help but notice these towering loblolly pines, but what one may not notice is the lack of seedlings or young pines growing on the forest floor. That’s because the forest canopy is slowing filling with oaks, gums, and yellow-poplar, while the understory of magnolias, holly, and red maples squeeze out the next generation of pines.

The larvae of the Southern Pine beetle also helps this process along by destroying the food carrying capacity of the pine trees. Once the pines die oaks replace them in a natural process

Although it would appear that the oaks are also fighting their own battle against nature, these knotty looking growths are called galls and although they can be caused by disease, fire damage, and insects, they are generally harmless unless there are an excessive number of growths on a tree.

The trail is easy and without a lot of trip hazards, but beware the poison ivy and always be cautious of snakes when crossing fallen branches and trees.

Whether you want to learn about the ecology of the forest, or simply want to take a nice leisurely stroll, Bullen Creek is a great little stop for young and old. But, remember to look up and soak in the mix of pines and hardwood. Try to imagine what it must have looked like when the area was empty farmland, then a pine forest, and what it will look like in the future when the last pine dies.

Next week we leave the trace for a side trip to visit some ruins with a pretty interesting story.

Until then…

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