Top Photo: wild plums along the River Trail at the Deer Fields, just west of the soccer fields
Bottom Photo: Mulberries on a tree just across from the Dog Park parking lot
The River Trail offers more than just an opportunity to ride, run, skate and stroll. Though it is in a more or less urban environment, the Trail passes through a variety of terrain as it follows the Arkansas River along bottom land and rocky slopes. The result is that we have a unique opportunity to observe a wide range of wildlife from deer to groundhogs, from eagles to hummingbirds and cottontails to cottonmouths. In addition to the animal life along the River, there is a rich system of plant life which offers up, free for the taking, some very tasty varieties of fruits and berries.
Diane and I stopped near the Burns Park Dog Park last week to sample mulberries from a large tree that occupies the river bank directly across the River Trail from parking lot there. The location is easily identified at this time by the purple stains of crushed berries clearly visible on the Trail. Neither of us had ever eaten mulberries before and we were surprised by the really great taste and remarkably sweetness. The berries, which are not technically berries but a "collective fruit", are coming off in great abundance right now, so make it a point to stop and sample a few. The ripe ones are near black in color and you will be delighted by the flavor.
A little further upstream, along the area know as the Deer Fields, the riverside is covered with a thicket of wild plums, which are now becoming ripe. The trees are heavy with fruit and, though the plums are small, they are nonetheless quite tasty.
In addition to the mulberries and plums, blackberries are commonplace and I'm still looking for a motherload of muscadines, which I'm sure exist somewhere along the trail. I haven't found any yet, but when I do, you can be assured that I'll be there in late summer picking berries for my annual batch of muscadine jelly.
Many of us hesitate to pick things out of the wild and eat them, as we have become far too accustomed to the packaging and homogenization of our food, but I delight in picking off a stalk of asparagus along a fence row or popping a few fat,ripe blackberries in my mouth as I walk around my pond. Of course, you want to be sure of what you're eating, but give it a try. Nature is even better than Nature Valley!