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The Stabler Fitness Trail offers scenic views of the Yellow Breeches Creek, a waterway often enjoyed by canoers and kayakers.The Stabler Fitness Trail offers scenic views of the Yellow Breeches Creek, a waterway often enjoyed by canoers and kayakers.
Navigate the “natural” Messiah College with this helpful guide

It is becoming increasingly rare to find a moment or a place to escape from the numerous demands of daily life. Amidst all life’s hustle and bustle, it remains important to occasionally take some time to retreat and regroup.

Fortunately, refreshment is near. With its picturesque setting, mulched pathways, and fascinating wildlife, the Stabler Fitness Trail at Messiah College truly lends itself to outdoor rambles, as David Foster, associate professor of biology and environmental science, well knows. Though he has gone on expeditions in exotic locations such as Chile, Brazil, New Mexico, Guatemala, and New Zealand, Foster maintains that the College’s 400-acre site has much to offer in the way of natural wonders. In his past ten years on Messiah’s campus, he has counted 65 different species of birds which breed here, identified numerous types of flora, and spotted everything from snapping turtles to mink roaming the grounds.

Beginning to the west of the covered bridge along Creekside Drive and ending in the parking lot behind Naugle Residence Hall, Messiah’s Stabler Fitness Trail winds along the Yellow Breeches and lends itself to both solitary and group outdoor activities. For those interested in getting a serious work-out, the undulating trail, or sections of it, can be run or briskly hiked. For others looking for a less strenuous outing, the frequent bends and lovely scenery along the footpath make for a pleasant walk. Whichever your preference, Foster encourages nature enthusiasts and neophytes alike to keep an eye out for the following flora and fauna while on excursions along the fitness trail:

BIRD-WATCHING AREA: Though one can certainly sight birds all along the path, Foster suggests the area surrounding Trail Station 1 as an ideal place for people to sit quietly, watch, and listen for birds.

SPICEBUSH SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY: Fluttering all along the trail from the end of March until early September, the adults of this species appear almost completely black.

BASSWOOD: With its broad green leaves hovering over the trail, this tree almost beckons for passers-by to enjoy its shade. In the early spring, its inner bark can be used to make duck decoys or stripped and coiled together to craft a surprisingly sturdy rope. Another distinguishing feature of this tree are the rows of horizontal holes along the bark made by Yellowbellied Sapsuckers as they seek insects for food.

CATALPA: Towering alongside the swinging bridge, this member of the tropical tree family attracts hummingbirds and bees in the early spring with its long, cigar-shaped white flowers, which are yellow on the inside with black lines to guide insects inside and facilitate the pollination process.

CEDAR: It is impossible to miss this bushy pair of trees found on either side of the trail-side entrance to the swinging bridge. In the past, Native Americans used the inner bark of this tree to fashion food storage baskets and harvest canoe wood. They also made a tea from its leaves and twigs which prevented the spread of scurvy among French explorers, resulting in its being nicknamed “the tree of life.”

SYCAMORE: In an ingenious conspiracy against poison ivy, this tree’s gray-brown bark peels in order to shed any vines trying to creep their way up its trunk. The Sycamore proves much more accommodating of other creatures, however, with wood ducks and mallards making their homes in its lower boughs.

HACKBERRY: With its smooth bark broken up by ridges or “warts,” and its reddishpurple flowers, this tree gets its name from a funny prank its fruit, the Sugarberry, plays on those who eat it: the seeds of the fruit, when ingested, make predators spit.

HEMLOCK: Pennsylvania’s state tree, the Hemlock is a large evergreen with miniature pine cones which stands next to the Upper Allen Township Waste Water Treatment Plant, across from Trail Station 8. Its green needles are distinct in that they have two white lines running along the bottom of them with every fourth needle turned upside-down to collect the moisture in fog as it rises.

BLACK LOCUST: Found behind the water treatment plant, across from the Hemlock, each leaf of the Black Locust has many leaflets, each of which is found in a pair except for the one at the end. This tree also has paired, rather gruesome-looking thorns down its boughs. Its durable bark makes it useful for making fence posts, one of which can be seen along the trail near the White Oak across from Trail Station 20.

SWAMP AREA: Take a slight detour off the trail near Trail Station 8 to follow the small path that goes around the water treatment plant, and discover even more captivating spots! If you keep your eyes peeled, you may just catch a glimpse of one of the many animals who call this swamp their home, including mink, mice, raccoons, deer, and snapping turtles. Buckets attached to trees in this area serve as places for wood ducks to nest.

YELLOW IRIS: This tall, stately flower with its thick, tapered leaves adds a vivid splash of color and beauty to the swamp area along the far side of the water treatment plant.

SKUNK CABBAGE: True to its name, this knee-high plant, which thickly covers the swamp’s floor, smells uncannily like the creature after which it is named.

EASTERN BOX TURTLE: Found in the swamp or along the path, these creatures are the main distributors of the Mayapple plant and can live to be 130 years old!

BLACK RAT SNAKE: Occasionally discovered under trash receptacles along the trail, these docile snakes are almost all black and can grow eight to nine feet long.

SASSAFRAS: A common plant along the path, Sassafras can be identified easily because its green leaves have three different shapes: one is mitten-shaped, another has three lobes, and the last is whole. A fun experiment is to tear or crush a leaf to try to identify the beverage it smells like. (Root Beer!) Sassafras leaves are used to thicken classic southern gumbo dishes, and its roots make tea which acts as a blood-thinner.

CAROLINA WREN: This bird is small with a long, thin, under-curved bill. It has brown/rusty-colored feathers with a conspicuous white eyebrow and buff-colored underparts.

Truly, Messiah College’s campus offers a wide variety of wildlife to be enjoyed, with these suggestions giving only a taste of what the campus has to offer. With each season, new sights, sounds, and smells emerge, and Messiah eagerly welcomes community members to come with their families to relax and enjoy its grounds, whether by jogging along the Stabler Fitness Trail, wading in the Yellow Breeches, traversing the swinging bridge, meandering down the sidewalks of the campus’ academic center, or picnicking along the creek.

Important guidelines to note:

While visiting Messiah College, please don’t . . .
• Smoke anywhere on campus
• Feed, provoke, or hurt animals
• Pick flowers or carve on tree bark
• Use the trail before or after daylight hours
• Ingest any plants or animals
• Camp-out overnight or start camp fires on the trail
• Operate any type of motorized vehicles, such as dirt bikes or four-wheelers, on the trail

Please do . . .
• Avoid contact with poison ivy
• Feel free to ride bicycles on the path
• Wear shoes while enjoying the grounds or creek
• Clean up thoroughly after your pets and keep them on a leash at all times
• Use the trail’s trash receptacles to dispose of any rubbish
• Treat the campus with respect, as it is “home” for students
• Use the call boxes or contact the department of safety at 691-6005 if you need emergency assistance while on campus
 

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