Friday, September 15, 2017

Secor Metropark: Upland Woods, Wetwoods, and Wildflower Trails (Blog Hike #661)

Trails: Upland Woods, Wetwoods, and Wildflower Trails
Hike Location: Secor Metropark
Geographic Location: west of Toledo, OH
Length: 3.1 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A flat semi-loop through a wide variety of woods.

Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Toledo, take I-475 to US 20 (exit 13).  Exit and go west on US 20.  Drive US 20 west 4.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and follow signs for the National Center for Nature Photography.  Park in the large paved parking lot behind the Center.

The hike: Cutting a narrow 1300 square mile north-south swath through northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan, the Oak Openings form one of the Great Lakes region’s most interesting ecosystems.  The area’s biodiversity was highlighted in Edwin L. Moseley’s book Flora of the Oak Openings published in 1928, and the area is sometimes still called the Moseley region today.  The Oak Openings lie on a series of low sand hills left behind by glaciers, and the glacier deposits make the openings slightly higher in elevation than the surrounding Great Black Swamp.  Thus, while the Great Black Swamp is very wet and heavily forested, the Oak Openings harbor seasonally wet prairies, oak woodland, and oak savannas, hence the name “openings.”  In fact, early settlers said that the trees in the Oak Openings were so sparse that a wagon could be driven in any direction without the need to build a path.
            Only a portion of the Oak Openings remains intact today, but several of the 14 parks that comprise Metroparks Toledo lie in that remnant.  One such park is Secor Metropark.  Established in 1949, Secor was the first Toledo Metropark established after the original six from the 1930’s.  The park is named for Arthur J. Secor, who bequeathed a parking lot that provided the money needed to purchase the land.  Before it became a park, the land belonged to the Jacob Wolfinger Farm, and a Wolfinger family cemetery is still maintained on site; it is located just south of the trailhead parking area.
            Secor Metropark is also regionally famous for its National Center for Nature Photography, which is located adjacent to the trailhead parking area.  The Center features some nice photography exhibits and a wildlife viewing window, but it is only open Friday through Sunday.  Hence, I did not get to tour the Center on my Monday visit.  The park also offers several picnic shelters, 3.5 miles of multi-use trails, and nearly 6 miles of hiking trails.  The hike described here explores the western portion of the park, which contains the transition zone between an oak opening to the east and a swamp to the west.
Kiosk at trailhead
            From the parking area, walk west past the south entrance for the National Center for Nature Photography to reach the information kiosk that serves as the trailhead.  The hike/bike path also starts here and forms its loop by going left and right.  This hike continues straight to head for the dirt Upland Woods Trail, which soon curves left to head into its namesake woods.
            Ignore some side trails that exit right to the Woodland Pond Trail and stay with the wide dirt trail as it heads south through dense woods dominated by large oak trees.  A few good-sized beech and poplar trees also grow here.  Trails at Secor Metropark are identified by name and color with numbered markers posted at one-tenth mile intervals.  The Upland Woods Trail is marked with grey markers that you will pass in increasing order.
Hiking the Upland Woods Trail
            After crossing a dirt road, at 0.4 miles you reach a signed trail intersection.  We will eventually turn right here to reach the Wildflower Trail, but first turn left to hike the Upland Woods Trail’s short loop.  At the next intersection, a right turn will take you counterclockwise around the loop, which takes you through more mature oak forest.  Ignore side trails that exit right to the park road and the bike path and stay left to complete the loop at 0.8 miles.  Continue straight to begin the yellow-marked Wildflower Trail.
            After crossing the main park road, a narrow unmarked spur trail exits left.  We will eventually continue straight to finish the Wildflower Trail.  To get a taste of Ohio’s Great Black Swamp, turn left to head for the Meadowview Picnic Area, then angle right to begin the red-marked Wetwoods Trail.  As its name implies, the Wetwoods Trail spends most of its distance in seasonally inundated swamp forest.  Part of this swamp forest has been drained by creeks that have been deepened and straightened to form ditches.  Bugs are very bad in this part of the park, so wear good bug spray if you choose to hike the Wetwoods Trail in the summer.
The Wetwoods Trail starts in a meadow area but soon descends imperceptibly to reach the gravel bike path and Wiregrass Creek, one of the ditches mentioned above.  The trail crosses Wiregrass Creek on the bike path’s bridge before splitting to form its loop.  Turn right to begin paralleling Wiregrass Creek and hike the loop counterclockwise.  A nice bench sits at this intersection if the bugs are not too bad.
Cardinal flower
The trail heads northwest with the creek/ditch on the right.  Some bright red cardinal flower was blooming beside the trail on my visit.  Soon you curve left to begin following Prairie Creek, another creek that has been transformed into a ditch.  Near the park’s western boundary, as the trail moves away from Prairie Creek you begin a long and fairly new wooden boardwalk that takes you over the wettest area.
Boardwalk on Wetwoods Trail
At 1.9 miles, you reach the end of the boardwalk where the Wetwoods Trail ends at the gravel bike path.  Turn left to return first to the start of the Wetwoods Trail, then to the Meadowview Picnic Area, and eventually to the Wildflower Trail.  Turn left to continue the Wildflower Trail.
The Wildflower Trail heads northwest to cross a paved road and pass near the Lone Oak Picnic Area.  I did not notice many wildflowers along the Wildflower Trail, but August is not the best time of year for woodland wildflowers.  Just past 2.5 miles, the trail splits only to come back together in another 0.2 miles.  The left option takes you through a seasonally wet area along Prairie Creek/ditch, while the right option stays on higher and drier ground.  Choose whichever option seems best based on the trail conditions you encounter.
Entering an oak opening
The trail surface turns grassy as you enter sunny open forest.  Just before you reach the gravel bike path for the last time, you leave the forest and enter one of the sunny oak savannahs that make the Oak Openings famous.  When you intersect the gravel bike path, turn right to cross the main park road and return to the National Center on Nature Photography.  If you want a little more time in the prairie, consider tacking on the sunny orange-marked Prairie Trail, a short 0.3 mile loop located just north of the photography center.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Maumee Bay State Park: Boardwalk Trail (Blog Hike #660)

Trail: Boardwalk Trail
Hike Location: Maumee Bay State Park
Geographic Location: east of Oregon, OH
Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A semi-loop on boardwalk through a wide variety of wetlands.

Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Toledo, take I-280 to SR 2 (exit 7).  Exit and go east on SR 2.  Drive SR 2 east 6.3 miles to North Curtice Road and turn left on North Curtice Road; a traffic light and brown road sign for Maumee Bay State Park are located at this intersection.  North Curtice Road dead-ends 3 miles later at the state park entrance.  Follow signs for the Nature Center and park in the parking lot in front of the Nature Center.

The hike: Located on the shore of Lake Erie less than 10 miles east of Toledo, 1436 acre Maumee Bay State Park is the largest and best-amenitied state park in northwestern Ohio.  Before it became a state park, a community of lakefront vacation cottages called Niles Beach occupied this land.  The cottages were destroyed during a major storm in 1972, and in 1974 the State of Ohio purchased the land to establish the park.  The park offers nearly every amenity including a 120 room lodge, a 252-site modern campground, 24 cabins, 32 boat slips and a beach on Lake Erie, 6 picnic shelters, and a Scottish links-style golf course.  Anglers flock here due to its location on Lake Erie, which is known as the walleye capital of the world. 
In terms of trails, the park offers a 3 mile paved biking and jogging trail, 2.5 miles of multi-use trails, and the 2.5 mile hiker-only Mouse Trail.  Yet the park’s best hiking option may be the 2 miles of interpretive boardwalk on the park’s east side, which is the hike described here.  One of the longest boardwalks in the state, the wooden boardwalk takes you through a wide variety of wetland habitats and offers a great way to experience the marshes along Lake Erie.
Start of boardwalk at Nature Center
            From the porch in back of the Nature Center, pick up the boardwalk as it heads east into an area that floods only occasionally.  A sign engraved in the wood tells you that this boardwalk was built in 1992 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Conservation Corps.  A few of the boards creaked on my visit, but overall the boardwalk was well-maintained and in good condition considering its age.
            After curving left to begin heading north, you reach a trail junction where you should angle left.  The boardwalk is constructed as a pair of loops, a shorter western loop you are currently on and a longer eastern loop we will hike later.  Trail intersections are identified by letters and have trail maps posted; this system is native to Minnesota and Michigan but has been adopted by many Ohio state parks within the past 10 years.  This trail junction is point B.
Marsh mallow in bloom
            The boardwalk heads north through a small wet meadow that contained some marsh mallow in full bloom on my visit.  At 0.2 miles, you reach trail intersection D and the northwest corner of the wetland.  The boardwalk exiting left leads only to the lodge, so you want to turn right to continue the short loop.  Views of Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay peak through the silver maple and basswood trees to your left, but a better view will be obtained later.
            At 0.35 miles, the connector to the longer eastern loop exits left at trail intersection E.  If you wanted only a short 0.5 mile boardwalk hike, you could continue straight here and head directly back to the Nature Center, but this hike turns left to hike the full boardwalk.  The boardwalk heads east first through a swamp forest and then through a buttonbush swamp full of phragmites.  Where the boardwalk splits to form the eastern loop, angle left to walk the long loop clockwise.
Boardwalk through buttonbush swamp
            Just shy of 1 mile into the hike, a spur boardwalk exits left at trail intersection G.  This boardwalk leads to a small elevated platform that gives views across Maumee Bay.  The open cattail marsh that surrounds the platform makes for good bird viewing, and a bench here is a good place for a trail snack near the midpoint of this hike.
Platform's view of Maumee Bay

Tree growing beside boardwalk
            Back on the main boardwalk, the spur boardwalk that exits left at trail intersection I leads to an area that offers benches but no lake views.  Another spur boardwalk exits left at trail intersection K, but it leads only to another trailhead and no other points of interest.  The final segment of the eastern loop leads through more swamp forest, and some trees growing into the side of the boardwalk give further indication of this boardwalk’s age.  At 2 miles, you close the eastern loop.  Turning left retraces your steps to the western loop, where another left turn will bring you back to the Nature Center to complete the hike.