Sunday, June 28, 2015

Turkeyfoot Preserve (Blog Hike #522)

Trail: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Turkeyfoot Preserve
Geographic Location: southwest of Greenville, OH
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A lollipop loop through restored prairie and wetland habitat.

Directions to the trailhead: From Greenville, take SR 121 south 2.2 miles to Bishop Road.  Turn right on Bishop Road.  The signed and paved preserve parking area is 0.2 miles ahead on the right.

The hike: Established only in 2005, Darke County Parks’ Turkeyfoot Preserve protects 60 acres of wetlands and restored prairie southwest of Greenville.  The park is named for the big bluestem plant, a prairie grass that produces a flower head shaped like a turkey’s foot.  The good sightlines of the open prairie make Turkeyfoot Preserve a good bird watching destination during spring and fall bird migrations.
Information kiosk and vehicle gate at trailhead
The preserve is accessed by a single hiking trail that starts at the rear of the parking lot.  An information kiosk and a vehicle gate mark the trailhead.  The gravel entrance trail follows an abandoned railroad bed with the preserve on your left and active farm fields on your right.  Some large basswood trees live to the right of the trail and separate you from the field.
At 0.3 miles, the trail curves sharply left to cross a man-made ditch that flows through a pipe under the trail.  The ditch contained plenty of water on my visit.  Just after crossing the ditch, you enter the restored prairie and reach the trail fork that forms the loop.  For no particular reason, I continued straight and used the trail going right as my return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.
The trail curves left, climbs slightly, and reaches a wooden prairie observation deck at 0.4 miles.  The observation deck sits at a high point of land and therefore gives a great view of the surrounding prairie.  An interpretive sign tells you that this prairie has been named the Tawaskote Menitsa Prairie for an American Indian who was one of the Darke County Park District’s first commissioners.  Also known by the English name Susan F. Gray, Menitsa served as commissioner for 35 years and worked hard to preserve prairies such as this one.  On the hot summer morning I came here, I saw several red-winged blackbirds while standing on this observation deck.
View from observation deck
Past the observation deck, the trail curves right as it passes through the southern end of the prairie.  0.7 miles into the hike, you reach a spur trail that exits left to cross Mud Creek on a wooden bridge.  Notice the concrete supports under this bridge, an indication that a bridge was here long before the preserve was established.  The short spur trail gives a nice view of Mud Creek’s restored wetlands.  During pioneer times Mud Creek created a large wetland area southwest of Greenville, but drainage for the purpose of farming ensures that it flows in a well-defined channel today.
Bridge over Mud Creek

Mud Creek
Back on the main loop, you head into the northern section of the prairie as active farm fields appear directly ahead.  A large number of toads hopped across the recently-mowed grass trail in front of me.  Some seasonal ponds lie to your right, but they never come into view.  After curving right, you close the loop at 1.4 miles.  Turn left and retrace your steps another 0.3 miles to the trailhead to complete the hike.

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