Falling Creek is unique for having one of the largest collections of endangered species living on grounds in the country. We have the Peregrine Falcon, the fastest known species alive; the timber rattlesnake, a vanishing reptile that has a household name; and the pitcher plant (which you can find near the waterline to the right of Morning Watch).
But none have proved more elusive than the legend of…
The Green Salamander
I say ‘legend,’ because technically we haven’t had an official confirm their existence in our particular area yet; this is not to say we have not had an official come to Falling Creek Camp, though. In the early 2000’s, we had a representative from the U. S. Forest Service, Mae Lee A. Hafer, come to investigate the salamander population on our grounds.
The purported area is Sheep’s Rock, behind the Tuscarora campsite. It is a well-wooded trail, which snakes down a sheer drop-off along the side of a mountain (but well worth the journey). The bald rock faces, once a climbing spot for the adventure staff, now just serves as a great source of natural beauty. Sheep’s Rock doesn’t get its name from the sheep living on its peaks, however. Within the walls and cracks of these stony formations you can find on any given summer day cave crickets and salamanders of all kinds. You need only to shine a flashlight down the deep crags and watch legs scatter and antennas wiggle.
What you will be hard pressed to find is, you guessed it, Green Salamanders. That’s not to say that they don’t live in the area. Cracks in the cave walls like the one in Sheep’s rock are a perfect habitat for them. They enjoy the protection and the cool, moist climate the stone walls provide. They also seal their eggs to the solid rock walls.
But they just may not be there while you are at camp. During the fall and spring, the salamanders gather in pockets and holes in the rock. Those are the seasons when they can hang out on the ledges catching bugs while remaining not too hot and not too cold. These are called cluster times. But during the summer time when most of us are at camp, they are actually spread into the surrounding wild, hunting in the overgrowth and in general being scattered.
It may not seem like a big deal to protect these guys and their habitat if they do actually exist on camp property, but like everything in the food web, they serve a more profound purpose than we would only notice if they went missing.
Believe it or not, salamanders actually cut down on global warming. There’s a pretty complicated explanation laid out for this in a New York Times article, but in laymen’s terms, salamanders eat shredder bugs (insects that eat part of a leaf and leave it to hang on a tree). They can ruin the leaves of an entire tree. The shredder bug contributes to CO2 emissions that are higher than if the leaf fell naturally in autumn, where the emissions can be insulated by everything else on the ground. So, while cow flatulence is ruining our atmosphere, Green Salamanders are saving it. Sadly, they are suffering population drops due to drought, cold, disease, and destruction of habitat.
Though the Forest Service was never able to confirm the population on our camp grounds, they have been spotted by past nature staffers and adventure seekers alike. So, if you find yourself down the trails behind camp at the beginning or end of the summer, you could be one of the elite, who can say, they saw the legend living at Sheep’s Rock.