There’s a new fence along the Western Ridge Trail in Rock Creek Park, and it has nothing to do with keeping the wildlife penned in.
Recently, during one of my usual morning walks of the horse trail running alongside the Western Ridge Trail, I ran into Ken Ferebee, a National Park Service ranger. He was out putting the finishing touches on the fence, which had been built by student volunteers.
I had been walking this trail for years with no fence, so I asked him, “Why?” He told me that NPS wants to keep people on the trails and prevent them from cutting up the forest with social trails. This particular fence now blocks a popular shortcut to Ridge Road.
I had to confess to Ranger Ferebee that I am part of the problem. I regularly use a social trail on the north side of Grant Road. This unofficial trail has kept me off the roadway. He knew of this trail, which used to an official Park Service trail. He explained that NPS is considering the expansion of the trail system, and this may be one of the trails that reopens as a nature trail. I was relieved to hear this.
Then I broached a subject that I have been meaning to talk to a ranger about – bunnies. A few years back I’d often see one or two rabbits on my walks west of Connecticut Avenue, usually between Chesapeake and Davenport Streets. Gradually I began seeing more and more. Earlier this summer I stopped on Oliver Street in Chevy Chase to take photo of one, and a resident approached me. He wanted to know who this strange woman was taking a photo. He told me they were inundated by bunnies.
A few weeks ago I took a photo of this rabbit, one of two at the top of Linnean Stream near Fessenden Street. I had not seen bunnies there before.
Ferebee told me that he had seen two rabbits all of last year. This year he had seen about 40, mostly around the maintenance yard near the Rock Creek Park Nature Center. He explained that rabbits breed in long cycles over years, and we may seeing an upswing in their reproduction cycle. It’s also possible, he said, that rabbits encounter fewer predators – an impact of coyotes killing off a significant portion of the fox population.
Of course I had to research the breeding cycles of rabbits, what they eat and which animals are their natural predators. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources refers to a 10-year cycle of population highs and lows, with peaks followed by “disease, strife, and poor reproduction.” Their most common predators are domesticated cats and dogs, along with foxes, coyotes and mountain lions (not many of those in our neck of the woods).
And they eat pretty much everything that we like to grow in our gardens and years, even tree bark. How to keep them from doing a lot of damage? The best way – is to fence them out. Same as us.