Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shawnee Prairie Preserve (Blog Hike #523)

Trails: (numerous)
Hike Location: Shawnee Prairie Preserve
Geographic Location: west of Greenville, OH
Length: 1.8 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A figure-eight hike through many different habitats.

Directions to the trailhead: From Greenville, take SR 502 west 0.9 miles to the signed preserve entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the preserve, and park in the blacktop lot in front of the Nature Center.

The hike: Located just west of Greenville, 118 acre Shawnee Prairie Preserve is the crown jewel of the Darke County Park District.  The preserve’s name comes from the fact that the Shawnee village known as Prophetstown was at least partly located within the preserve’s current boundaries.  The village was founded by Shawnee leader Tecumseh’s brother, a man known as the Prophet, and in the early 1800’s it became a meeting place for native peoples attempting to defend their lands.  The preserve has few amenities, but it features a small Nature Center that contains some interesting exhibits about the prairie and the Darke County Park District’s relatively short history.
            On a personal note, I lived in southwestern Ohio until 2005, and I viewed Darke County as a rural farmland county with no parks or hiking destinations.  When I realized I would be in the Greenville area and started researching hikes for my trip, I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and quality of hiking options in the Darke County Park District.  The park district has come a long way in a short time, and for that it is to be commended.
            Shawnee Prairie Preserve offers 8 trails that total just over 2 miles in length, so numerous hiking routes are possible.  The figure-eight route described here takes you roughly around the perimeter of the preserve.  In so doing, this hike features a mix of forest, wetland, and prairie habitat while visiting every major point of interest in the preserve.
Information kiosk at trailhead
After picking up a trail map at the Nature Center, start the hike at the information kiosk located to the right and in front of the Nature Center as you walk out the front door.  Cross the blacktop path and pick up the Ancient Oaks Trail, a plastic-type boardwalk that heads into the woods.  Trails at Shawnee Prairie Preserve are marked with blue carsonite posts bearing a symbol related to the trail name (an oak leaf, in this case).
            The Ancient Oaks Trail heads east into the lush forest, which does contain some large oak trees.  In less than 200 feet, the Deer Run Trail exits left and leaves the boardwalk.  This intersection forms the northern lobe of this figure-eight-shaped hike.  For no particular reason, this description will turn left here and use the remainder of the boardwalk that heads straight as its return route, thus hiking our northern loop clockwise.
            The Deer Run Trail continues your eastward course through dense wet forest.  I got attacked by a thick swarm of mosquitoes here, but the mosquito threat lessened as I proceeded down the trail.  At 0.2 miles, you reach a wooden observation tower that gives a nice northward view across some newly acquired park prairie land.  SR 502 lies at the other side of this prairie.
Observation tower view, looking north
            Past the tower, the trail curves right to head south toward Mud Creek, which it reaches just before 0.4 miles.  The Deer Run Trail ends here, and two other options present themselves.  The Woodcock Prairie Trail angles left to cross Mud Creek on a wooden bridge while the Farmer’s Lane Trail goes right.  The Farmer’s Lane Trail will be our eventual route back to the Nature Center, but to see the southern section of the preserve, angle left to cross Mud Creek.  The trail forks again just after crossing the bridge to form the second loop of this hike, this one through the area south of Mud Creek.  I chose to stay left and hike the southern loop clockwise.
Bridge over Mud Creek
            The Woodcock Prairie Trail heads south with the tallgrass prairie on your right and man-made Appenzeller Ditch on your left.  The ditch reminds you that most of this area was a wetland before it was drained to provide more acreage for farming.  An active railroad line and a gravel access road appear just beyond the southern preserve boundary as you pass the preserve’s walk-in gate.  The walk-in gate provides pedestrian access to the preserve when the Nature Center parking lot is closed.  A model airfield also lies just south of the preserve, and occasionally a model airplane may wander from the airfield and zoom over your head.
Hiking the Woodcock Prairie Trail
            1 mile into the hike, the Woodcock Prairie Trail curves sharply right at a trail intersection, but this description continues straight to hike the Beaver Path.  Very quickly you cross a nice wooden bridge over a wetland that feeds Mud Creek, which lies just to your left.  At 1.2 miles, you close the southern loop.  Angle left to cross the bridge back over Mud Creek, then turn left again to continue the northern loop on the trail called Farmer’s Lane.
View south from observation deck
            Farmer’s Lane quickly enters another prairie, where you need to angle right to stay on the official trail.  Lowland forest lies to the right while the prairie opens up to the left.  At 1.5 miles, you intersect the southern end of the boardwalk on which you started the hike.  Before turning right to head back to the Nature Center, turn left to hike to the boardwalk’s southern terminus, which is a wooden observation deck that gives a nice view of the surrounding prairie.  After viewing the prairie, walk the entire length of the boardwalk from south to north to return to the Nature Center and complete the hike.

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