A fruitful search for viewing fungi on Champlain Area Trails in Essex
By Tim Rowland
Skilled climatologist that I am, I understand that 2.5 inches of rain followed by days of oppressive heat and humidity can only mean one thing: Mushroom hunt!
My go-to venue for such a pursuit are the Beaver Flow and Black Kettle trails in the town of Essex. Maintained by Champlain Area Trails, there are multiple trailheads and multiple named trails between Cook and Walker roads that can make the outing as long or as short as you want. There are also opportunities to take two cars and hike trailhead to trailhead. To see how it all works, the best bet is to get a downloadable CATS map and use Cook Road just west of its intersection with Leaning Road as the starting point.
The general forest is moist, a mix of hardwoods and evergreens and crisscrossed by streams — picturesque in its own right, but also excellent shroom habitat.
Mushroom hunting and speed are not necessarily compatible, so the easy, mile-and-a-quarter Black Kettle Trail loop is just about right. Plus, it has some other attractive and interesting features to keep you interested at any time of year.
After leaving the trailhead, you will quickly come to a trail register at a junction, with Black Kettle trail to the left and Beaver Flow trails to the right. Turning left, the trail meanders through softwoods down toward Lakeside School at Black Kettle farm — a place where youngsters get a well-rounded farm- and forest-based education. You will see evidence of lessons like fire-making and shelter-building along the trail, which sort of take me back to my own young fort-building days in the ADK. Theirs looked more substantial than mine, seeing as how I was never able to develop a load-bearing fern.
Mushrooms of all sorts began to appear here and there — mushroom hunting is kind of weird in that you can look and look and see nothing, but once you’ve fingered the first one, then they seemingly pop up like, well, mushrooms. It’s almost like you have to train your brain to enter the mushroom dimension, and once you do you’ll be treated to a great variety of shapes and colors.
The trail dips down to the fringes of the farmland, with picturesque views across old farm fields that are being reclaimed by colorful wildflowers and shrubs. After skirting the bottom of some cliffs on one side and a pretty brook on the other, it climbs (mildly) back up out of the valley and loops around to the top of the cliffs you were once below.
There are two nice overlooks here, with views to the east of the Champlain Valley and the Green Mountains beyond. The forest is attractive all along the way, and the elevation gain from the route’s low-point is a modest 250 feet along the well-graded trail.
Back at the trail register with time to spare, we took the fork that leads to the Beaver Flow trails, and this is where the mushroom show really got interesting.
The trail descends to a point where you have a choice between the Upper and Lower Beaver Flow trails, and on the theory that lower meant wetter and more mushroomy, that’s where we went. The Lower Beaver Flow trail was indeed wet, although not distressingly so, which of course was a positive development if you’re a fungus.
Clockwise from top left: Amanita jacksonii (one of the American caesar’s mushroom complex); Amanita flavoconia (yellow with white patches on cap); Russula species (there are many red Russulas); Turbinellus floccosus (used to be Gomphus floccosus). Photos by Tim Rowland, indentifcations courtesy of Susan Hopkins
Would also suggest when taking pictures for identification to take a view of the side to see stem or not and the underside to see spore bearing surface. Great pictures otherwise, makes me want to go over to the Black Kettle trail
Even if you don’t know your Russula emeticas from your Amanita jacksoniis (my own mushroom knowledge is very basic, which it to say dangerous; therefore I am less a mushroom forager than a “catch and release” type) you can enjoy the quantity and variety on Beaver Flow, including shallow ravines filled with ghost pipes and some that may not be so common in higher elevations.
We turned back after about a mile and retraced our steps, but for a loop it would be possible to continue to the Homestead Trail, and follow it out to its trailhead and walk back to your car along Cook Road.
It probably goes without mentioning that with the conditions we’ve had this summer most any trail will be a viable mushroom trail, including the path through your laundry room. But if you want a can’t-miss, Black Kettle and Beaver Flow will not disappoint.
Editor’s note: Due to a copy and pasting error, a previous version of this story had mislabeled two of the four mushrooms in the photos above. It’s since been updated.