I was up on the hill in a back field looking for golf balls when something dark down along the creek caught my eye.
At first, I thought it was a small bear, maybe a cub, but this is too early for cubs that size to be out and about.
My curiosity aroused, I put down my basket of golf balls and walked down the hill. When I was 50 yards or so away, I could see the animal munching on the few springs of green grass was a beaver.
This was one of the biggest beavers I have ever seen and having trapped some blanket-size animals years ago, I know a big beaver when I see one. This beaver had to weigh 50 or 60 pounds.
And it was not brown, but jet black, its coat shining in the afternoon sun like that of a black bear.
The beaver allowed me to approach to within about 20 feet before slipping down his slide and into the small creek that I quickly discovered had been dammed maybe 50 yards downstream.
I pulled out my cellphone and stood quietly for a few minutes, hoping to get a photo. It was not long before I saw ripples in the quiet water and then the beaver started swimming my way. Then a second beaver approached.
A quick inspection of the stream bank indicated that this pair had been hard at work during the three weeks since I had been down at the creek, the smaller of two streams on my property. A number of small trees had been gnawed down and, as I said, the smaller creek had been dammed just above is confluence with the larger one.
Beavers have been an on-and-off problem since I bought this property more than 40 years ago. When I first purchased the land, these animals had dammed the larger creek (about 12 feet wide) and flooded about three acres of bottom land.
It was a real mess, and it took me two or three years to get rid of the beavers and restore the land.
Then, about 12 years ago, another pair of beavers appeared and began a dam that I fought with for weeks. I’d rip a corner of it open one day and, by the next morning, the beavers had the dam repaired. It was a hard fight.
Finally, I just decided to shoot these pests, but unlike the beavers that have now taken up residence, those old animals were man shy and would not show themselves during daylight hours. So I had to take a flashlight and a shotgun and go gunning for them in the dead of night.
I remember those excursions well because one evening I went down to the creek about 11 p.m. and forgot that I had locked the door for the night. It took me, a good neighbor and a ladder to find an open second-story window before midnight.
I finally tore a good part of that dam out 12 years ago and my efforts were followed by a flooding rain that finished the job. Those beavers just gave up and left and none had returned until now.
It is uncertain when the last beavers left this area, but according to all the old people that I knew growing up—and some were born right after the Civil War—they were pretty much extinct until about 1958. Then they returned.
Warren Utz, an old trapper friend, caught one on Muddy Run back about 1960 and that was the first in-the-flesh beaver anyone in these parts had ever seen.
It was about that time that muskrats, which vanished about 1940, returned, and for about a decade, they coexisted with the beaver on a number of local streams. That was unusual because these two aquatic animals seldom get along.
Both the beavers and the muskrats disappeared about 1970 and the latter still haven’t returned. But beavers seem to move in about every 10 years before moving out again.
In this area, they don’t build huts like they do in more marshy areas but rather dig burrows below the water level in stream banks. This can cause the ground to give way when heavy equipment like tractors drive over the holes.
And their dams back water up into fields and flood large areas. I remember back around 1980, a friend had rented his land to a man who planted about 20 acres of corn down along a bottom. The beavers (who love corn) dammed up the creek and by midsummer, the water was almost up to the ears. The man lost his whole crop.
About the same time, beavers dammed up Muddy Run over on the John M. Lewis farm. John M., a tough old bird, tried his best to get rid of those animals with no success. Finally, he resorted to dynamite to take out the dam.
Those who know explosives recommended a quarter of a stick of dynamite but John M. wanted to make sure the dam would go, so he decided to use a whole stick.
“When that charge went off, it was raining sticks and water for 50 yards,” John M. joked. “I got soaked to the bone, but those beavers were gone for good.”
Now, I’ve got to get rid of my new crop of beavers or have my whole bottom flooded before summer ends. And I’m not the only person with this problem. After more than a decade, beavers have returned to the creeks on the golf course where I play. Left unchecked, they can flood two or three fairways and greens.
Beavers come and beavers go and no one knows why. What we do know is that while they are in the area they can do great damage to lowlands and even flood rural roads that are not elevated.
They can be a real problem.