Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bigelow Cemetery State Nature Preserve (Blog Hike #154)

Trail: (unnamed)
Location: Bigelow Cemetery State Nature Preserve
Nearest City: Plain CityOH
Length: short, but variable
Difficulty: 0/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2004
Overview:  A unique walk through a cemetery obscured by tallgrass prairie.

Directions to the trailhead:  From Plain City, go west on SR 161 8.2 miles to Rosedale Rd. and turn left on Rosedale Rd.  Take Rosedale Rd. south 0.3 miles to the preserve on the right, which is marked by a large state nature preserve sign.  There is no parking area, but you can pull off the road in a grassy spot beside the preserve entrance.

The hike:  As I drove up to the preserve on a warm July evening, I was really not sure if I would enjoy the experience that awaited me.  Even though I was headed for a state nature preserve, would I enjoy walking through an old cemetery?  Is it possible to get a decent hike out of a preserve that is smaller than my front yard?
            As it turns out, the experience I had at Bigelow Cemetery State Nature Preserve ranks as one of the most unusual hiking experiences I have ever had, and one that I would like to repeat again.  At only 0.5 acre, this preserve is the smallest nature preserve in the Ohio nature preserve system.  Still, its content is a treasure for everyone who loves the natural world. 
            What you will find at this preserve is a rare piece of prairie land that has never been farmed or grazed.   Of course, the reason it remains “untouched” is because, at the times of earliest settlement, this land was set aside as a cemetery.  The earliest known burial occurred in December of 1814, and the cemetery remained active until 1892, the date of the most recent burial.  From this point, the cemetery remained inactive, and often in a state of disrepair, until 1978 when the land was dedicated as a state nature preserve.
            Pick up a preserve brochure at the information board just inside the wooden fence.  This brochure will tell you about the prairie plants that grow in the preserve.  A trip to the preserve in late July to early August will give you the best display of color since this is when the prairie wildflowers bloom.  At this time of year, the prairie plants grow up to 10 feet high, so the prairie is quite impressive.  Unfortunately, the tall prairie plants also obscure some of the headstones, so you will want to come back in early spring to read some of the witty inscriptions on the tombstones.
            The preserve is accessed by an extensive network of mown-grass trails that run along the rows of headstones.  Rather than suggest a route through the preserve, I suggest you just pick a trail to start and then, at the numerous intersections, just follow whichever trail suits your fancy.  This is what I did, and I really enjoyed it.  The preserve is so small you can hardly get lost, and if you should become disoriented, remember that the power lines are located east of the preserve, toward the road.  Be sure to notice that the preserve appears to be several inches above the surrounding farmland, a testimony to the amount of topsoil these farms have lost in the past 200 years.  When you feel like it, make your way back to the road to complete the hike.

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