Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Killens Pond State Park: Pondside Nature Trail (Blog Hike #344)

Trail: Pondside Nature Trail
Hike Location: Killens Pond State Park
Geographic Location: north of Harrington, DE (38.98433, -75.53275)
Length: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: May 2011
Overview: A peaceful circumnavigation of Killens Pond.

Directions to the trailhead: From Dover, take US 13 south 14.3 miles to Killens Pond Rd.  Turn left on Killens Pond Rd.  Take Killens Pond Rd. 1.3 miles to the state park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park.  Pay the park entrance fee and drive past the main parking lot to the Nature Center parking lot at the very end of the park road.  The hike starts in front of the Nature Center.

The hike: Built in the late 1700’s, the tranquil Killens Pond we see today has industrial roots: it was built as a millpond on the Murderkill River.  Local legend traces the river's name to a local American Indian tribe's massacre of a Dutch trading party at the mouth of the river in 1648.  Now located less than 20 miles from downtown Dover, Killens Pond State Park, established only in 1965, protects an area of mature broadleaf forest around its namesake 66-acre pond. 
            The park is a favorite among anglers, as I found out when I hiked this trail on a warm sunny Sunday morning.  The park also contains a developed campground, a primitive campground, a water park, and a sports complex with volleyball courts and baseball fields.  For hikers, there are several hiking trails in the park, but the best trail is the 2.8 mile Pondside Nature Trail described here.  Not only does the Pondside Nature Trail give you the best pond views, but it stays in the mature forest around the pond for most of its distance.
A selfie at Killens Pond
            There are several places to pick up the Pondside Nature Trail, but I chose to start at the brown unusually-shaped Nature Center.  The Nature Center contains some interesting interactive exhibits and has a patio overlooking the pond.  The Pondside Nature Trail passes in front of the Nature Center.  To get to the mature forest first, I chose to hike the trail counterclockwise, which is accomplished by turning right on the trail if you are walking from the parking lot or left if you are coming out of the Nature Center.
            In only 0.1 miles the trail forks.  Yellow plastic stickers on a wooden post tell you that the Pondside Nature Trail heads left down a wide, sandy-soil track while a side trail to the water park exits right.  At 0.2 miles, you reach the first of several side trails that exit left down to the pond.  I recommend you explore each of these short side trails, as each one leads to a slightly different pond view.  This trail leads to a point that juts out into the pond, giving views down the pond’s entire length.
View of Killens Pond
            At 0.3 miles, another spur trail exits right to head for the park’s main parking area.  The official pondside trailhead is located at that parking area, and it could be used as an alternate starting point for this hike.  The pond remains out of sight through the trees to your left.  Some large tulip poplars dominate the forest, while the lower wetter areas feature a dense understory of maidenhair ferns and skunk cabbage.  At 0.7 miles, another side trail leads left to the pond.  This trail leads to a nice view of the pond’s lotus colony, which blooms in late July to early August.
            Just after crossing a wooden bridge over a wet area, the trail reaches a T-intersection with the gravel two-track Cross-Country Trail.  Turning right here would lead you to the Sports Complex, but the Pondside Nature Trail turns left and crosses Murderkill River on a wide wooden bridge with steel supports.  The bridge gives a good opportunity to view wildlife around the dark pond waters.  On my visit, several geese were making their way downstream.
Crossing the headwaters of Killens Pond
            Now on the south side of the pond, another short spur trail leads left to a pond overlook.  Very soon the Pondside Nature and Cross Country Trails part ways.  Turn left to stay on the Pondside Nature Trail.  A cluster of pinxter azalea brightens the forest here in early May.  At 1.7 miles, the trail passes through the fringe of the park’s cabin area, which you can see through the trees to your right.  The trail is a little hard to follow here, but some carsonite posts bearing orange blazes reassure you that you are on the right track.
            Where some wooden steps lead left and downhill to a pier, continue straight on the main trail.  The trail next traces the fringes of the park’s main campground before reaching the next side trail to the pond.  This side trail leads out a narrow finger ridge surrounded on 3 sides by water.  The Nature Center can be seen across the pond from this point.
Trail heading down steps
            After passing through a deep ravine, the trail comes out at the boat launch area on Killens Pond Road.  This would be another potential starting point for this hike, but I do not recommend it because the small parking area is usually crammed with trucks hauling boats.  To continue the hike, turn left and walk along the shoulder of Killens Pond Road as it crosses the dam that forms its namesake pond.
            On the opposite side of the dam, leave the road by turning left on a wide grassy trail that heads through a gap in the fence.  Pass the boat rental area and climb a small hill to return to the front door of the Nature Center and complete the hike.

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