Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fort Harrison State Park: Fall Creek and Camp Creek Trails (Blog Hike #528)

Trails: Fall Creek and Camp Creek Trails
Hike Location: Fort Harrison State Park
Geographic Location: east side of Indianapolis, IN
Length: 2.4 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A loop hike beside a creek and two ponds.

Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Indianapolis, take I-465 to 56th Street (exit 40).  Exit and go east on 56th Street.  Drive 56th Street east 2 miles to Post Road and turn left on Post Rd.  Drive Post Rd. 0.5 miles to Shafter Road and turn left on Shafter Rd.  Shafter Rd. dead-ends at the park entrance.  Pay the entrance fee, then drive the main park road 0.5 miles to the signed access road for the Delaware Lake picnic area.  Turn right on the access road, and park in the picnic area parking lot 0.4 miles later.

The hike: Known locally as “Fort Ben,” Fort Harrison State Park occupies 1700 acres on a former U.S. Army installation that dated to 1906.  President Theodore Roosevelt named the army facility Fort Benjamin Harrison in honor of President Benjamin Harrison, an Indianapolis resident who was our nation’s 23rd President.  The fort was closed in 1991 by the congressionally authorized Base Realignment and Closure Commission.  In 1996, part of the closed army base was transferred to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for them to operate as the park we see today.
            Despite its short history as parkland, Fort Harrison State Park offers a nice respite from the fast-paced city life of Indianapolis.  The park’s amenities include a golf course and conference center, several picnic shelters, a dog park, and an asphalt 2.75 mile bike trail called the Harrison Trace.  The park also features a Museum of 20th Century Warfare, a CCC Museum, and some recreation buildings, all of which are housed in former army barracks.
For hikers, the park offers 7 trails totaling 14.5 miles, but most of the trails are also open to mountain bikes.  By most accounts the park’s best hiker-only route is the 2.4 loop formed by combining the 1.1 mile Fall Creek Trail, one half of the Camp Creek Trail’s 2 mile loop, and a short segment on the paved Harrison Trace.  Such is the route described here.
Trailhead: Fall Creek Trail
            Head out on the Fall Creek Trail, which starts as a wide single-track dirt path through a mown grassy area at the parking lot’s northeast corner.  A black wooden sign with yellow letters marks the trailhead.  The trail surface alternates between dirt and finely crushed gravel as it heads northeast.  A few small creeks are crossed on wide wooden footbridges.
Wooden footbridge over Fall Creek tributary
            At only 0.1 miles, you reach the south bank of Fall Creek, where the trail curves right to begin following the creek upstream.  Fall Creek drains a narrow east-west wedge-shaped area northeast of Indianapolis and south of Anderson.  The creek flows west/southwest before emptying its contents into the White River just west of downtown Indianapolis near IUPUI.  The creek was wide and muddy due to recent rains on my visit.
            At 0.25 miles, a side trail exits right to provide access to Harrison Trace, the asphalt bike trail.  Just past this junction, you reach a section of trail that has been rerouted further up the hillside to avoid the wet soil and frequent flooding of Fall Creek’s floodplain.  At many points you can see the old trail downhill to your left.
Fall Creek, as seen from bluff
            0.8 miles into the hike, a short climb brings you to an observation deck and boardwalk from which the creek can be seen downhill to the left.  This viewpoint is located on a bluff that stands some 50 feet above Fall Creek.  The extensive wooden boardwalk on the bluff must have taken a lot of time and money to construct.  After stepping off the boardwalk, you pass a concrete marker that dates to this land’s days as a military fort.  The forest gets much younger as the trail curves right to head south away from Fall Creek.
            At 1.1 miles, the Fall Creek Trail ends at its intersection with the Harrison Trace bike path.  To continue our loop, continue straight across the asphalt bike path to begin the signed Camp Creek Trail, which was somewhat soft and muddy on my hike.  Ignore the north arm of the Camp Creek Trail, which exits right, and in another 0.1 miles reach small and quiet Duck Pond.  This pond did not contain any ducks on my visit, but it did feature a large number of lotus plants (water lilies) that were getting ready to bloom.  Some picnic shelters in pondside mown grassy areas provide scenic places to rest near the midpoint of this hike.
Duck Pond
            The paved trail leading past the picnic shelters gives another access to the Harrison Trace, but this hike turns right to stay with the dirt Camp Creek Trail and reenter the forest.  Going this direction the Camp Creek Trail is a gradual downhill glide into a nice shallow ravine.  The trail crosses several small streams on wooden footbridges.  The ravine is a nice quiet area because most of the surrounding area’s noise gets blocked by the terrain.
            At 2.1 miles, the Camp Creek Trail ends at an intersection with the paved Harrison Trace.  Turn left to begin the final leg back to the trailhead.  If you want to avoid walking on asphalt trails, another dirt trail that continues straight here would take you back to the Fall Creek Trail.
Delaware Lake
            Where the paved trail splits, angle right for the shortest route back to the trailhead.  Just before returning to the parking area, you pass Delaware LakeDelaware Lake is much larger than Duck Pond, and it is very popular among anglers.  The parking lot lies on the right just beyond Delaware Lake.

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