Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Daubenspeck Community Nature Park (Blog Hike #521)

Trails: Main and Woods Loops
Hike Location: Daubenspeck Community Nature Park
Geographic Location: north side of Indianapolis, IN
Length: 0.75 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A nearly flat hike through prairie and creekside habitats.
Park Information:

Directions to the trailhead: Daubenspeck Community Nature Park is located at 8900 Ditch Road on the north side of Indianapolis.  To get there, take I-465 to Meridian Street (exit 31).  Exit and go south on Meridian St.  Drive Meridian St. south 1 block to 96th Street and turn right on 96th St.  Drive 96th St. west 1.4 miles to Ditch Road and take the third exit from the roundabout to go south on Ditch Rd.  The park and its roadside parking area are 0.7 miles ahead on the right.

The hike: Located just inside the I-465 loop, tiny Daubenspeck Community Nature Park provides 20 acres of greenspace in otherwise highly developed northern Indianapolis.  The park owes its existence to Peter Daubenspeck, a farmer who owned many acres of land in this area.  In the 1990’s, Daubenspeck sold most of his land to developers for construction of houses, but he set aside 15 acres on Ditch Road for use by the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township.  The plot was too small for building a school, so the District created a non-profit entity to manage it as a park.  The resulting Daubenspeck Community Nature Park opened to the public in 2006.
            The park has two distinct areas.  The park’s southern three-fourths (the original 15 acres) consists of a restored tallgrass prairie, while the newer northern 5 acres consist of young creekside forest.  A single trailhead provides the only trail access, so it makes sense to tour both park sections on a single short hike such as the one described here.
Trailhead near sundown
            Three trails depart from the trailhead, giving you the options of right, left, and straight.  The trails going right and left form a loop around the prairie section, while the trail going straight leads to a wooden observation deck that gives a great view of the prairie.  You will want to go to the observation deck at some point, but I chose to first hike the loop clockwise by taking the trail to the left.
            The grassy trail heads south with Ditch Road to your left and the prairie to your right.  At 0.1 miles, the trail forks.  Take the left fork to reach a short boardwalk over a small wetland area.  On the other side of the boardwalk, the two trails from the fork come back together.  You next curve right to pass through the southern part of the park and begin heading north near the park’s western boundary.
Boardwalk over wetland
            At 0.25 miles, the trail that goes through the center of the prairie past the observation deck enters from the right, thus giving you another opportunity to visit the prairie observation deck.  For the best prairie wildflower display, plan a late summer visit.  When I came here on a late mid-June evening, only the white beardtongue was blooming.
View from prairie observation deck
            Continuing north on the main loop, ignore a trail that exits left and heads for private property.  A gradual descent brings the trail into the woods and to another trail intersection.  The main loop continues uphill to the right, but to tack on the short Woods Loop, turn left and cross tiny Alverna Creek on a nice wooden footbridge.  Where the trail splits to form the Woods Loop, continue straight to hike the loop counterclockwise.  The narrow dirt trail makes its short loop through young forest, which features a green carpet of grassy plants.
Hiking the Woods Loop
            After closing the Woods Loop, turn right to recross Alverna Creek on the same wooden footbridge, then angle left to continue the main loop. The trail climbs some wooden steps to return to the prairie.  A second short boardwalk takes you over another small wetland area just before you return to the parking area to complete the loop.  Make sure you check out the prairie observation deck before you leave if you have not done so already.

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