If you’re planning to hike this weekend, try to hit the Laurel Loop on the southside – many of the Mountain Laurels, Holly Trees and Tulip Poplars, are in bloom!
The Laurel Loop is a mixed blessing – the Mountain Laurels, evergreen shrubs that can grow to heights of 15’- 20’ or more in the wild, provide excellent shade. The problem is that the portion of the plant that is in the shade usually doesn’t bloom. So while hiking the loop, you may have to look up to see some of the most spectacular flowers.
Here’s an interesting tidbit about the beautiful flowers of the Mountain Laurel: “The bell-like flowers have a very unusual way of dispensing pollen. Their stamens are arched, with the tips held under the rim of the bell. When a bee or other pollinator lands on the flower, the weight of the insect releases the stamen, which flings up the pollen like a catapult.” – https://www.bbg.org/gardening/article/mountain_laurel
Keep an eye out for flowering Holly trees and Tulip Poplar flowers as well.
The Laurel Loop is 1.07 miles in total length and is moderately challenging, with at least one very steep incline. And of course, what goes up must come down, and the low-lying areas tend to be muddy. For a slightly longer hike, you can take the connection to Karen’s Trail off the Laurel Loop, where you’ll see more Mountain Laurels. This trail is 0.6 miles and named for former Executive Director Karen Edgecombe. At the end of Karen’s Trail, you can back-track to the Laurel Loop or you can cross Scientists Cliffs Road to pick up the East Loop, which includes a “shortcut” back to another entrance to the Laurel Loop. Total distance of the extended hike is 2.15 miles from the parking lot.
Don’t worry if your planned route didn’t include the Laurel Loop – there are Mountain Laurels scattered on several other trails (North-South and Flint are a couple), but the most concentrated growth is definitely the Laurel Loop.
Whenever you visit ACLT’s trails, your outing will be much more pleasant if you are prepared for and aware of these hiking hazards.