Friday, October 23, 2015

Campbell County Environmental Education Center at A.J. Jolly Park (Blog Hike #550)

Trails: Interpretive and Homestead Trails
Hike Location: Campbell County Environmental Education Center at A.J. Jolly Park
Geographic Location: south of Alexandria, KY (38.89283, -84.37482)
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: October 2015
Overview: A short loop around the backwaters of A.J. Jolly Lake featuring an historic homestead site.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 10 and US 27 in Alexandria, drive US 27 south 5 miles to SR 824.  Turn left on SR 824.  Drive SR 824 east 0.8 miles to the signed Campbell County Environmental Education Center on the right.  Turn right to enter the center and park in the first gravel lot on the right.

The hike: Located on the south side of greater Cincinnati, the Campbell County Environmental Education Center at A.J. Jolly Park consists of 50 acres within the county’s largest park.  Dating to 1998, the Center is a cooperative effort between Campbell County and the University of Kentucky.  The Center’s lone interpretive building contains some aquariums, a bird blind, an observation beehive, and a solar energy system among other items of interest.
            The adjacent areas of A.J. Jolly Park feature many amenities including a scenic lakeside golf course, a 75-site campground, athletic fields of many types, and a disc golf course.  This impressive list of amenities makes A.J. Jolly Park more resemble a large state park than a small county park.  The park proper offers 20 miles of trails, but the park’s trails are also open to equestrian use.  Therefore, the park’s best hike can be found on the short hiker-only Interpretive and Homestead Trails offered by the Education Center.  These are the trails used to form this hike.
Beginning of Interpretive Trail
            Two trails leave from the south side of the gravel road connecting the gravel parking lot and the Center’s interpretive building.  The two trails come together in only a few hundred feet to form the Interpretive Trail, so the choice is yours.  The trail closer to the creek is more scenic because it crosses a short boardwalk over a wetland, the backwaters of A.J. Jolly Lake.  True to the Center’s educational directive, numerous interpretive signs describe the flora and fauna seen on this trail.
            After the two initial trail options come together, the wide grassy Interpretive Trail heads southeast with an inlet of A.J. Jolly Lake visible on the right.  When I hiked this trail on a warm sunny mid-October afternoon, a large group of mallard ducks was plying the shallow grass-filled lake waters.  At 0.2 miles, the trail passes through a sunny grassy area marked as a wildlife opening.  I saw no wildlife here on my visit, but deer would frequent areas such as this one on early mornings and late afternoons.
Ducks in A.J. Jolly Lake
            Just shy of 0.3 miles, the trail seems to end at an intersection with a faint gravel road.  To continue the loop, you need to turn right and cross A.J. Jolly Lake on a secondary dam.  An unusual metal-grate walkway provides passage over the dam’s concrete spillway.  At the north end of the dam, turn right to continue the loop.  The park’s famous golf course can be seen to the left here, but a sign warns that trespassing on the golf course is strictly prohibited.
Looking across A.J. Jolly Lake
            You now enter an area of dense honeysuckle as the trail climbs slightly to assume an elevation some 20 feet above the lake.  Just past 0.4 miles, explore an area to the left marked as a “succession area.”  This area features many red cedar trees, which are some of the first tree inhabitants of former farm fields as they revert to forest.  The process of reverting to forest is known as forest succession, hence this area’s name.
Entering the Succession Area
            At the front of the succession area, the Interpretive Trail continues north around the lake.  For a little extra adventure, take the narrow dirt Homestead Trail, which departs from the rear of the succession area.  The Homestead Trail heads further uphill to pass an old well and homesite before curving right to head back downhill to the wider Interpretive Trail.  Turn left to continue the Interpretive Trail.
            The balance of the Interpretive Trail descends slightly as it heads up the south side of a narrowing A.J. Jolly Lake.  Several side trails exit left to head out of the park.  After passing an exhibit on tree growth, the trail curves right to cross the lake’s feeder stream on a wide wooden bridge.  Very soon thereafter you exit the woods at a cluster of picnic tables located beside the parking lot, thus completing the hike.