Sunday, March 29, 2015

Harvest Square Recreational Preserve: Dry Creek and Senators Trails (Blog Hike #509)

Trails: Dry Creek and Senators Trails
Hike Location: Harvest Square Recreational Preserve
Geographic Location: north of Huntsville, AL
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: March 2015
Overview: A short loop through woods, meadows, and wetlands.

Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Huntsville, take I-565 to SR 53 (exit 17).  Exit and go north on SR 53.  Drive SR 53 north 10.1 miles to Jeff Road and turn right on Jeff Rd.  There is a Publix grocery store at this intersection.  Drive Jeff Rd. 0.1 miles to Allyson Sadie Blvd. and turn right on Allyson Sadie Blvd.  Allyson Sadie Blvd. dead-ends at the gravel preserve parking lot.

The hike: Established in 1987 as Alabama’s first land trust, the Land Trust of North Alabama manages six nature preserves near the city of Huntsville.  By far the trust’s most famous property is its large Monte Sano Nature Preserve, which protects over 1100 acres on the west face of Monte Sano.  Other Land Trust properties with fine trail systems include Wade Mountain Nature Preserve, Blevins Gap Preserve, and Rainbow Mountain.
Added only in 2009, Harvest Square Recreational Preserve is the Land Trust’s newest property.  The preserve protects 69 flat acres of former farmland 10 miles northwest of Huntsville.  This land is managed as a true nature preserve with the only amenities being a small picnic shelter and a parking lot.  A location within sight of a strip mall and a McDonalds may not be the ideal place for a nature hike, but all things considered this tract of land forms a better hiking destination than you might expect.
Two ponds at the center of the preserve act as magnets for wildlife, and several trails allow hikers to see this wildlife up-close.  The Eagle and Beaverdam Trails explore Terry Pond, the western of the two ponds, but they do not form a loop.  The 0.6 mile Dry Creek Trail explores the woodlands beside its namesake creek, while the 1 mile Senators Trail explores Turner Pond, the eastern of the two ponds, and an area that has recently seen the plow.  Combining the Dry Creek and Senators Trails forms the high-variety 1.5 mile loop described here.
View from trailhead
Start at the rear of the parking area, and cross both of the wooden bridges to reach the small picnic shelter.  The second bridge takes you across dirt-bottomed Dry Creek, which might be dry much of the year but contained a low volume of water when I hiked here.  The Senators Trail leaving left from the picnic shelter will be our return route.  For now, pick up the Dry Creek Trail as it leaves the rear of the picnic shelter.  Metal diamonds nailed to wooden posts mark these trailheads and all trails at Harvest Place.
Dry Creek
The Dry Creek Trail heads into the woods and almost immediately forks.  Because the Dry Creek Trail forms a loop, you could go either way here.  This description will turn left to hike the loop clockwise.  About 300 feet later you reach a spur trail that heads left to a view of Turner Pond, but you will get better views of this nice muddy-bottomed pond later in the hike.
The trail curves right before Pete’s Trail exits left and the Short Loop exits right.  Continue straight to stay on the Dry Creek Trail as it heads through young forest featuring a large number of sweet gum trees.  A sunny, grassy field is visible through the trees to your left.
At 0.4 miles, you reach the farthest point of the Dry Creek Trail and an intersection with the Senators Trail.  For a short forest hike, you could continue straight on the Dry Creek Trail, but to add length and variety, this hike will turn left to begin the Senators Trail.  For the next 0.8 mile the trail traces the perimeter of the grassy field you saw through the trees earlier.  Unlike the firmly packed dirt treadway of the Dry Creek Trail, the dirt underfoot here has not sustained the compacting force of heavy foot traffic.  Look for animal tracks in the soft dirt for hints as to what has passed this way before you.
Grassy field along Senators Trail
While tracing the south and east sides of the field, the trail passes a couple of wooden benches built by Eagle Scouts.  At the northeast corner of the field, you reach a potentially confusing point.  A path appears to continue north with woods immediately to the right, but that path leads off of trust property.  Instead of heading that direction, look to your left toward Turner Pond to find another wooden post bearing the next Senators Trail marker.
The next segment of the Senators Trail heads west with Turner Pond to your left and the field now on your right.  While I was walking beside the pond, I saw several turtles, a great blue heron, and four white-tailed deer, among other common mammals and songbirds.  Take your time near the pond and see what you can see.
Turner Pond
Because the balance of the trail stays very close to the pond, some muddy areas will be encountered if you hike during times of high water tables.  The worst of the wetness is bridged by a short wooden boardwalk, but I encountered a couple of other semi-submerged areas that were unbridged.  At 1.4 miles, the Senators Trail comes out at the picnic shelter, leaving only a short walk over the two wooden bridges to return to the gravel parking area and complete the hike.


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