Bug Safe Summer Hiking

by Jim Rapp

One of Delmarva's great short hikes can be found in historic Centreville, Maryland, about 18 miles northeast of the Bay Bridge in Queen Anne's County.

There are many physical and psychological benefits that come from a good hike in the forest. You don't need to be an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker to reap the rewards from a short walk in the woods.

For the body, short walks are medically proven to increase the fitness of your heart, lungs and muscles, lower the risks of disease, such as type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer, and burn more than 350 calories per hour.

For the mind, hiking provides calming relief from the day-to-day stress of work, school and home. A walk in the cool summer woods, even a short one, will help put your mind at peace as you begin to focus on the sounds of nature or your own footsteps.

A recent report from Mother Earth News states that "studies have confirmed that spending time within a forest setting can reduce psychological stress, depressive symptoms, and hostility, while at the same time improving sleep and increasing both vigor and a feeling of liveliness."

Even breathing the air around trees has health benefits. Trees secrete chemicals, known as phytoncides, that have been linked with reducing anxiety and improving immune defense.

Simply put, walking in the woods makes us healthy and happy. Those of us who live and vacation here are fortunate to have miles and miles of forest hiking trails on the Delmarva Peninsula.

One of Delmarva's great short hikes can be found in historic Centreville, Maryland, about 18 miles northeast of the Bay Bridge in Queen Anne's County. The one-mile Millstream Trail runs through woods and wetlands along the Corsica River from Millstream Park at the south end of Liberty Street to Doc's Riverside Grille off Chesterfield Avenue.

Millstream Park was once the local spur of the Queen Anne's Railroad Company, which transported goods and passengers between Denton and Queenstown. The park features restrooms, a playground and pavilion, and access to the Millstream Trail. The paved pathways and bridges are safe for hikers and trail runners and accessible for wheelchairs. The trail is teeming with wildlife, and you may encounter Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Great Blue Herons, Beavers and River Otters on your hike.

The trail also connects you to the history of Centreville and the Chesapeake. The town has served as the center of commerce and government for Queen Anne's County for more than 220 years. Incorporated in 1794, Centreville was founded at the headwaters of the Corsica River, which provides easy access to the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay.

During the 18th century, tobacco was shipped from Centreville's wharf to merchants in England. In the Revolutionary War, wheat and cattle were shipped through Centreville to supply the American rebel army. During the steamboat era, agricultural supplies, Chesapeake Bay tourists, and even circus elephants passed through Centreville's wharf.

The town boasts several historic structures near the wharf, including four identical boat captain's houses and Maryland's oldest continually occupied county courthouse. The wharf provides a scenic stop along your trail hike before you walk back through the forest to Millstream Park.

While the benefits of short hikes through Delmarva's forests are many, there are a few risks that you may encounter during a summer hike. If you're not prepared, you may leave the forest with hitchhiking pests that can make you seriously uncomfortable or seriously sick. But don't let that stop you from a healthy hike -- let's learn a little about these annoying invertebrates, and a few tips for what we can do to keep them in the forest and off of us.

Ticks are tiny, flat, bloodsucking parasites that are more closely related to spiders than to insects. They cling to low forest plants, waiting to hitch a ride on animals -- including humans -- that brush against them. Ticks begin their lives in a tiny egg, and pass through a larva and nymph phase before becoming a breeding adult. During both pre-adult phases, ticks are smaller than a pinhead. The adult deer tick, also known as the blacklegged tick, is smaller than the dog tick. The deer tick is the common carrier of Lyme disease on Delmarva. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick.

The deer tick takes two years to become an adult. In the spring, females lay thousands of eggs, and the tiny larvae hatch in late summer. The larvae live on the forest floor, waiting to feed on their first host, which is usually a mouse or another small mammal. If the host is infected with Lyme disease, tick larvae become infected during feeding.

Ticks only feed once during each stage of life, and they usually require several days of blood sucking before they swell up, detach from their host, and fall to the ground to molt to the next stage. After the transition from the ground-dwelling larval stage, the tick nymph will climb higher in the forest vegetation to search for larger hosts such as squirrels, raccoons, deer and, unfortunately for us forest hikers, humans.

Tick nymphs are active during spring and summer, which is the time when most of us are enjoying our walks in the woods. Most human Lyme disease cases are probably the result of bites from deer tick nymphs. After the nymph has fed on the blood of its host and drops to the ground, it will molt into the adult breeding stage.

Adults are active during the cooler months when temperatures are 50°F or higher. Like the nymph, adults also climb higher on plants to attach to larger hosts. After feeding for several days, adult deer ticks fall from their hosts, find each other, and mate. The females lay their eggs in the spring and then die.

Personal precautions against tick bites remain the best means of reducing the risk of contracting Lyme disease. When hiking in the woods, wear light- colored clothes so that ticks are easier to see and remove. To prevent ticks from getting on your skin, wear long pants tucked into your socks or sealed to boot tops with tape, and wear a long-sleeved shirt tucked in to your pants.

There are two types of tick repellant to keep you safe. Repellent containing permethrin can be applied to clothing. Repellent containing DEET can be applied to skin. Always follow label directions.

During and after your hike, conduct frequent tick checks, and remove them immediately. Research indicates that a tick must be attached and feeding for 36 hours before disease transmission occurs. If a tick bite occurs, remove it with sharply pointed tweezers by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull steadily until the tick is removed. If part of the tick is left in the skin, remove it and treat the bite with antiseptic.

If you are bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease, the most common sign is an expanding rash at the site of the tick bite. The rash generally has a reddish edge with more normal-colored skin in the center. Other early symptoms feel like the flu, such as headache, mild fever and body aches, and fatigue. The rash and symptoms usually develop within one month of the tick bite.

Don't let ticks deter you from enjoying the many benefits that come from hiking on forest trails such as the Millstream Trail in Centreville. Until next time, I hope this story inspires you to explore and learn more about Delmarva's many natural wonders.