JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
A horse whinnies in the distance while a small rabbit darts from the road. Sounds of life emanate from tall grass on the shore as the wings of a hungry egret eclipse the sun, sending fiddler crabs rushing from their silt-laden hovels to the safety of the grass.
The flourishing life soon scatters when an Airman approaches to sit down, taking a well-deserved lunch break. At Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., two nature trails serve as getaways for those wishing to escape from the daily grind, and each trail hosts unique ecosystems and accommodations for walkers.
"The nature trail is a great escape," said Michael Mallozzi, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron pollution prevention specialist. "It is usually impossible to walk over wetlands, but at Langley you can."
The Langley Air Force Base Nature trail is a short, quarter-mile boardwalk across marshy wetlands. In addition to protected walkways, the trail features an elevated, covered viewing pavilion and placards along the walkway depicting and describing the flora and fauna around the trail.
While many trails boast similar accommodations, Mallozzi explained what makes Langley different.
"You have the ability to walk out over the wetlands to get up close and personal with many different species and see their natural habitat," said Mallozzi. "There are a wide range of fish, bird and other species unique to this area."
This unique area in particular holds a special purpose to Langley as a protector of life, said Harry Jeavons, former 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron natural resources manager.
"This trail supports a natural estuary," said Jeavons. "Estuaries create more organic matter each year than similarly-sized forests and agricultural areas. They do this by supporting many different environments to include shallow waters, open waters, marshes, wetlands, sandy beaches, mud flats and oyster reefs."
Estuaries also protect the inland by buffering against erosion and preventing pollution from reaching the ocean, said Jeavons.
Fort Eustis' nature trail also sits along the estuary, but it provides different scenery from Langley's trail.
The Fort Eustis trail spans a 1.2-mile loop near Fort Eustis Lake. Constructed in 1995 as a conservation effort, the trail is home to species similar to those at Langley, however more reptilian and amphibious life can be found near Fort Eustis Lake. Unlike Langley, fishers are welcome on the trail since it crosses Fort Eustis Lake, which is a license-free, catch-and-release lake.
Susan Miller, 733rd Civil Engineer Division Asset Management flight chief, explained why she enjoys the nature trail at Fort Eustis.
"It allows the Fort Eustis community somewhere natural to go for a run, or take a lunch," said Miller. "I personally enjoy the little bridges along the way; you can see a lot more critters around them, I think."
Fortunately, finding these secluded trails doesn't require a map, as both trails start from main thoroughfares at JBLE. The Langley trail has two points of entry, both across the street from the stables before crossing the bridge into ammo country. Eustis' nature trail is similarly easy to access. Beginning on the right side of Jacob's Theater, the trail ends just short of the obstacle course on the other side of the theater.
When the hustle and bustle of everyday work becomes almost overwhelming, remember it is possible to whisk away the daily grind and replace it with the subtle sound of stirring from JBLE's nature trails.