TOWNSEND -- It's not every day that grown-ups get to go outside and play in the mud. From that first feeling of "yuck" to the glee exploring a new environment brings, the visit to a quaking bog was a success.
The walk to visit two bogs drew people from as far away as Cambridge. Volunteers Tom and Joellyn Nevins guided the visitors through the sandpits and wooded trails to visit the unusual wetlands.
The walkers came well-equipped with a wealth of knowledge to share with others on Aug. 19 at the Friends of Willard Brook event.
Wondering about edible mushrooms? Marita Wimmer from Somerville enthusiastically identified which were safe and even which ones would taste best.
Need some general information about the different habitats? Anne Gagnon from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife came along to see some new land the agency purchased in the area.
Want to identify unfamiliar plants? Joanie MacPhee from Townsend had a book to help pin down elusive names.
There were plenty of questions and most were answered.
The most relevant query of the day was answered by the experience itself.
What is a quaking bog?
"Look at it all around. It's quaking," Barbara Strell of Somerville said.
The group stood on the bog looking at a small patch of open water. A step in any direction made the surface move. The pond rippled in response to movement from the "ground."
The first step off terra firma into the bog
There was no smell, Tom Nevins said, because the sphagnum moss creates an anaerobic environment. The plant is so clean, it can be used for dressing wounds.
The absorbent moss was host to other plants not usually seen in the drier woods.
One of the most unusual was a carnivorous pitcher plant. Their low-lying goblet-shaped leaves trap insects and dissolve them for nutrients.
Walkers also identified leatherleaf and different sedges in the bog.
While returning to the cars, the Nevins brought other, man-made features to the group's attention.
The path crossed through two sides of an old, oval racetrack used for harness racing. The track remains as a dirt path and huge pines have filled in the center of the course.
A particularly scenic bend of the Squannacook River was the site of the former Fessendon cooperage. A large, hive shaped structure remains. Max and Scott MacPhee said it was probably used to make charcoal.
The home stretch revealed a group of sand mounds with entryways the size of a quarter. Even with all the well-informed hikers, no one knew immediately what they housed until a nearly 2-inch long wasp emerged.
Tom Nevins later identified them as cicada killer sand wasps.
For photos of the walk and more information on the Friends of Willard Brook, visit www.willardbrook.org.