Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grand Bay NWR: Oak Grove Trail (Blog Hike #335)

Trail: Oak Grove Nature Trail
Hike Location: Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: east of PascagoulaMS (30.41586, -88.41946)
Length: 0.5 mile
Difficulty: 0/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2011
Overview: A short, flat hike on Mississippi’s Coastal Birding Trail.
Refuge Information: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/grand_bay/
Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=723457
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: In extreme southeast Mississippi, take I-10 to Franklin Creek Road (exit 75).  Exit and go south on Franklin Creek Rd.  Where Franklin Creek Rd. ends at US 90, turn right on US 90.  Take US 90 about 0.5 miles to Pecan Road; a large Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge sign marks this intersection.  Turn left on Pecan Rd.  Take Pecan Rd. 0.8 miles to Missala Rd. and turn right on Missala Rd.  Immediately after crossing the railroad tracks, turn right on Bayou Heron Rd.  The signed parking for the Oak Grove Nature Trail is 2.2 miles ahead (or 1.2 miles past the refuge’s shiny new Visitor Center) on the left.

The hike: Straddling the Alabama-Mississippi border, Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge protects nearly 18,000 acres of land on and near the Gulf of Mexico.  The refuge was established in 1992 to protect many types of habitat including maritime forest, tidal and nontidal wetlands, salt marshes, salt pannes, bays, and bayous.  Today the refuge represents one of the largest undeveloped wet pine savanna habitats on the Gulf coast.
            Since this is a wildlife refuge and not a park, the area’s main purpose is to provide land for bird and other wildlife to live and thrive.  Thus, trails and other recreational opportunities are limited.  In lieu of recreation opportunities, this refuge offers excellent bird and wildlife viewing opportunities, and for that reason it is one of the stops on the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail.  In particular, the dense shrubbery and isolated location of this short trail provide excellent habitats for birds.  Thus, most of the few people who go out of their way to hike this trail do so for the good bird viewing opportunities.
            At only 0.5 flat and easy miles, most people can hike this trail in 10-15 minutes.  However, if you hike this trail quickly you are almost guaranteed to see nothing of interest.  Good bird viewing requires time and patience, so take your time on this trail to ensure you see all there is to see.
            The gravel trail starts at the back right corner of the parking area and heads into the young shrubby forest.  The parking area and most of the trail are underlain by some black plastic rings held together by a polyester mesh.  This material is designed to improve trail drainage and prevent trail erosion.
            Very quickly the trail crosses a wet area on a short boardwalk.  True to its Birding Trail designation, interpretive signs describe some of the birds more commonly spotted along this trail.  I hiked this trail in the middle of the afternoon, which is the worst time of day for bird viewing.  Thus, the most exotic bird I saw was a swamp sparrow.
            At only 0.15 miles, you reach the beginning of the loop portion of this hike.  The rough gravel trail going left will be our return route, but for now continue straight to remain on the more improved trail with the black plastic rings underfoot.  Most of the trees along this trail are brushy hardwoods, but some young pines are starting to repopulate the understory.
Trail forks to form its loop
            At the rear of the loop, you reach what appears to be a trail intersection.  The plastic rings turn right, but they soon dead-end at a wall of greenery.  Thus, you will need to continue the loop by taking the rougher gravel trail, which heads into some taller pines.  All too soon, you arrive back at the more developed trail to close the loop.  A right turn and 0.15 miles of retracing your steps is all that remains to complete the hike.

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