Monday, July 20, 2015

Lake Norman State Park: Alder Trail (Blog Hike #530)

Trail: Alder Trail
Hike Location: Lake Norman State Park
Geographic Location: southwest of Troutman, NC
Length: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2015
Overview: A fairly flat hike out a peninsula in Lake Norman.

Directions to the trailhead: Roughly 30 miles north of Charlotte, take I-77 to US 21 (exit 42).  Exit and head north on US 21.  Drive US 21 north 2.9 miles to the town of Troutman and turn sharply left onto Wagner Street.  Wagner Street becomes Perth Rd. after you leave Troutman.  Drive Perth Rd. 1.6 miles to State Park Rd. and turn right on State Park Rd.  Brown state park signs mark all of these turns.  State Park Rd. leads into the park.  Park in the large blacktop parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.

The hike: For my general comments on Lake Norman State Park, see my hike on the park’s Lake Shore Trail.  If you want some nice lake views but the park’s other trails seem too long and difficult, the Alder Trail may be for you.  At only 0.9 miles, the Alder Trail offers a fairly flat and easy hike out a narrow peninsula in Lake Norman.  The secluded peninsula offers nice views over an undeveloped portion of the lake.
Gateway east of Visitor Center
            Two trails start at the wooden gateway just east of the Visitor Center.  The asphalt trail that goes through the gateway is the handicapped-accessible Dragonfly Trail; it is the park’s newest trail.  The Alder Trail is the gravel trail that starts to the right of the gateway.  The Dragonfly and Alder Trails come back together in 0.1 miles, so you could choose either route here.
            The Dragonfly and Alder Trails descend slightly to reach a major intersection.  The gravel trail descending to the right past some picnic tables will be our return route.  The paved trail going straight leads to an overlook but does not form a loop.  Our outbound route uses the dirt trail that goes left.  The Alder Trail is marked with plastic white diamonds, and they come in handy at intersections such as this one.
Alder Trail leaves the pavement
            The trail continues a gradual descent to arrive at the first Lake Norman overlook.  This newly constructed viewpoint overlooks a shallow inlet of Lake Norman.  On the warm afternoon I hiked this trail I saw very little activity here other than fish, which were literally jumping out of the water.
View from first lake overlook
            Continuing south, you pass some exposed rock outcrops as the lake stays in view through the trees to the left.  Some alder trees that give this trail its name appear in the forest here.  At 0.3 miles, the other arm of the loop enters from the right.  We will eventually use the trail going right as our return route, but first continue straight to reach the tip of the peninsula at 0.4 miles.  This area is rockier than you might expect.  A bench at the peninsula’s tip offers the trail’s best lake views.
Tip of peninsula
            Retrace your steps to the last trail intersection and turn left to begin the return route, which continues the lakeside character of the outbound route.  At 0.7 miles, a secondary concrete dam appears in the lake to your left.  At 0.8 miles, you reach a second gateway, where you need to turn right to climb slightly and close the loop.  A left turn and 0.1 miles of retracing your steps returns you to the Visitor Center to complete the hike.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden: Persimmon/Carolina Thread/Worrell Walk Loop (Blog Hike #529)

Trails: Persimmon, Carolina Thread, and Worrell Walk Trails
Hike Location: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
Geographic Location: southeast of Gastonia, NC
Length: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2015
Overview: A loop around a botanical garden along the shore of Lake Wylie.
Garden Information: http://www.dsbg.org/

Directions to the trailhead: South of Charlotte, take I-85 to SR 279 (exit 20).  Exit and go south on SR 279.  Drive SR 279 south 10 miles to the signed garden entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the garden, then follow signs for “Visitors” to the Visitor Pavilion parking area, passing several large ponds along the way.

The hike: For my general comments on Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, see my hike on the garden’s short Persimmon Trail.  This hike features a more substantial route that encircles the developed garden area.  You cannot access the garden from this trail, but you will get some nice Lake Wylie views that cannot be obtained elsewhere on garden property.
Persimmon Trail trailhead
            Like my previous shorter garden hike, this hike begins on the Persimmon Trail, which departs from the parking lot’s northeast corner.  A large and colorful sign marks this trailhead.  The single track dirt Persimmon Trail heads into the woods and descends slightly.  In less than 500 feet, the Persimmon Trail forks to form its loop.  Either option can be used to reach the Carolina Thread Trail, so the choice is yours.  The shortest route turns right, but this trail description turns left to take a slightly longer but more scenic route.
            Just shy of 0.2 miles, you reach a pond located beside the garden entrance road.  When I hiked here on a warm July afternoon, a heron standing beside the pond did not seem to mind my presence.  Some cattails grow in the pond’s shallow waters.
Heron beside pond
            The trail curves right at the pond’s edge to head back into the woods.  After descending slightly, a trail called The Boulevard exits left at another large sign.  The Boulevard is our route to the Carolina Thread Trail, so you need to turn left at this intersection.  Note that turning right would continue the Persimmon Trail to close its 0.5 mile loop.
            The Boulevard heads gradually downhill through a shallow ravine.  Several nice wooden bridges carry you over the creek in this ravine.  At 0.5 miles, you reach the Boulevard’s end at its intersection with the Carolina Thread Trail, which goes left and right.  Turn right to continue our loop as the trail heads through a small sunny meadow.  Turning left at this intersection would lead 1.1 miles to a parking lot that is located on SR 279 0.9 miles south of the garden entrance.
Hiking the Carolina Thread Trail
            The Carolina Thread Trail is actually a trail system.  The system is composed of a large network of non-motorized routes that weave through 15 counties in the Charlotte Metropolitan Area.  The network encompasses counties in both North and South Carolina.  Much of the trail system consists of paved bike paths, but this section is single track dirt trail that is open to hikers and mountain bikes.  The Carolina Thread Trail is still under construction, so check their website http://www.carolinathreadtrail.org/ for updates.
            What first appears as a wetland area downhill to the left turns into an inlet of Lake Wylie as you get closer to the lake.  A few nice lake views eventually open up to the left, but a housing development on the far shore somewhat mars the view.  The developed garden sits out of sight uphill to the right.  A large number of sweet gum trees live down here, as does some poison ivy.  Some benches built as Eagle Scout projects by Gastonia Boy Scout Troop 6 provide places to rest and enjoy the surroundings.
Lake Wylie
            2 miles into the hike, Worrells Walk exits right at another signed trail intersection.  The hiker-only Worrells Walk is our route back to the garden parking lot, so you need to turn right to begin the final leg of the loop.  Honestly, Worrells Walk is not the most scenic trail: it consists of a 0.5 mile almost imperceptible climb through young pine forest.  Pine needles cover the wide single track trail surface.
            At 2.4 miles, Worrells Walk ends at the paved road to the garden’s growing area.  As directed by another sign, turn left to head for the main garden parking lot.  A brief hot sunny road walk brings you back to the parking lot, thus completing the hike.


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.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

McCormick's Creek State Park: Trail #9 (Blog Hike #527)

Trail: Trail #9
Hike Location: McCormick’s Creek State Park
Geographic Location: east of Spencer, IN
Length: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A loop hike to the Historic Peden Farm Site.

Directions to the trailhead: In western Indiana, take I-70 to US 231 (exit 41).  Exit and go south on US 231.  Drive US 231 south 18.6 miles to its intersection with SR 46 in the town of Spencer.  Turn left on SR 46.  Drive SR 46 east 1.7 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and pay the small entrance fee.  Drive the main park road 1.1 miles to the signed turn-off for the Deer Run Picnic Shelter.  Turn right on the shelter access road, which ends in 0.4 miles at a cul de sac.  Park in the picnic shelter parking lot located just before you reach the cul de sac.

The hike: For my general comments on McCormick’s Creek State Park, see the previous hike.  Whereas the previous hike explored the park’s geological points of interest, this hike visits the Historic Peden Farm Site.  The site preserves what remains of a farm that was built here in the 1800’s before the park was established.  Trail #9 also provides a quiet walk through some nice forest to boot.
Trailhead: Trail #9
            The trail forms a loop with our outward portion beginning directly in front of your car (if you park with the usual hood-first orientation) and the return portion arriving at the cul de sac at the park road’s end to your left.  The wide single-track dirt trail heads east through mature forest that contains some nice maple and beech trees.  The trail climbs very gradually, but the grade is so slight you may not notice it.
            Several sinkholes appear beside the trail.  The depressions remind you of this area’s karst topography, which forms abundant caves and sinks such as those seen on Trail #5 from the previous hike.  At 0.3 miles, you cross the park’s bridle trail for the first of two times.  Continue straight to remain on Trail #9, which is hiker-only.
Sinkhole beside trail
            Now east of the bridle trail, the trail curves left as it reaches the highest elevation on this hike.  The park’s eastern boundary lies only a few hundred feet to the right, and a few benches offer an opportunity to rest if desired.  When I hiked this trail in mid-June, the mosquitoes outnumbered the birds here, so I did not wish to linger for long.
            At 0.8 miles, you cross the bridle trail for the second and final time.  An unusually large sinkhole appears on the right just after this intersection.  Just past 0.9 miles, the signed spur trail to the Historic Peden Farm Site exits right.  Turn right to begin the narrow winding spur trail.
            Another 0.1 miles of downhill walking brings you to the farm site.  First you pass the Peden’s home site, of which only the stone foundation survives.  Next you come to the spring house, which remains intact.  You can feel the cool damp rocks that comprise the spring house’s foundation.  Just when you think you might have seen all there is to see, you reach the stone pillars that are the ruins of the Peden’s barn.  An interpretive sign tells of Nancy Peden (McCormick), the daughter of John McCormick and the first person to live on this portion of McCormick’s land.  Take a few minutes to imagine what life was like here in the mid 1800’s.
Peden Home Site foundation

Peden Farm's spring house

Peden Farm's barn remnants
            The Peden Farm Site tour ends at the barn, so now you have to get back to Trail #9.  You could retrace your steps along the spur trail, but a shorter option is to take a gravel service road slightly uphill to its signed crossing of Trail #9.  Turn right to continue the Trail #9 loop.  You come out at the park road’s cul de sac less than 0.2 miles later, meaning that your car sits less than 200 feet to your left.


Friday, July 10, 2015

McCormick's Creek State Park: Trails #5 and #7 (Blog Hike #526)

Trails: Trails #5 and #7
Hike Location: McCormick’s Creek State Park
Geographic Location: east of Spencer, IN
Length: 3.9 miles
Difficulty: 6/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A double loop featuring Wolf Cave, Twin Bridges, McCormick’s Creek, and the White River.

Directions to the trailhead: In western Indiana, take I-70 to US 231 (exit 41).  Exit and go south on US 231.  Drive US 231 south 18.6 miles to its intersection with SR 46 in the town of Spencer.  Turn left on SR 46.  Drive SR 46 east 1.7 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and pay the small entrance fee.  Drive the main park road a total of 1.5 miles from the park entrance, passing Canyon Inn and the park’s swimming pool en route, to the Wolf Cave parking area at the campground entrance.  Park in the Wolf Cave parking area.

The hike: Dedicated on July 4, 1916 as part of Indiana’s centennial celebration, McCormick’s Creek State Park was the first state park in Indiana.  (Turkey Run State Park, featured elsewhere in this blog, was established later that same year.)  Before it became a park, the key land tract was owned by Dr. Frederick Denkewalter, a physician who bought the previously logged land for use as a sanitarium.  The park and creek are named after John McCormick, a Revolutionary War veteran who, in 1816, became the first white man to own this land.
Fantastic amenities abound within the park’s boundaries, including a modern 189 site campground, the 70 room Canyon Inn, several picnic shelters, multiple reservable cabins, a saddle barn and bridle trail, and a pool with bathhouse.  For hikers, McCormick’s Creek State Park features 10 trails that total over 10 miles in length, and many experts regard Trail #5 and Trail #7 as the park’s best trails.  Trail #5 leads to Wolf Cave, a small partially collapsed cave structure, while Trail #7 explores the lower portion of McCormick’s Creek Gorge and the creek’s confluence with the White River
Trails #5 and #7 form separate loops, so they could be hiked individually.  However, these two trails depart from the same parking area, so it makes sense to combine them to form a nice tour of the park’s geological attractions.  The park’s human history is featured on the next hike, which departs from a different trailhead.
Waterfall in McCormick's Creek
            The Falls Overlook you pass on your drive in to the trailhead is worth a stop.  A brief descent over some wooden steps brings you to a rimtop overlook of the largest waterfall in McCormick’s Creek, a ledge-type waterfall that drops about 6 feet.  The Nature Center is also worth a visit, as it contains many exhibits on the geology, flora, and fauna you will see on this hike.
Trail #5 trailhead
            When you finally get to the parking area, pick up Trail #5 as it leaves the right side of the parking lot at an information kiosk and a sign.  The wide single-track gravel/dirt trail heads north through mature maple/beech forest.  Several sinkholes, above ground evidence of collapsed caves that lie underground, appear beside the trail.  Steep side trails take you down into the sinkholes.
            At 0.25 miles, you cross Trail #8, an asphalt trail that links the park’s campground to the left with the park’s pool and bathhouse to the right.  A sign here indicates that you are entering the Wolf Cave Nature Preserve.  Still northbound, the trail descends gradually to cross the headwaters of Litten Branch on a nice wooden footbridge.
            0.6 miles into the hike, you reach a section of trail that has recently been relocated closer to the Litten Branch tributary.  Just under 1000 feet later, you reach the entrance to Wolf CaveWolf Cave is only 3 to 4 feet high, but it is deep enough that you will need a flashlight if you choose to crawl around inside, which is legal as of this writing.  The cave gets its name from a pack of wolves that supposedly used it as a shelter in the mid-1800’s and attacked local farmers and other residents as they passed by the cave.  Take a few minutes to admire the cave entrance and read the interpretive signs.
Wolf Cave
            Past the cave, the trail descends and curves right to arrive at Twin Bridges.  As the name suggests, Twin Bridges is a pair of natural limestone bridges, each of which is about 15 feet high and 20 feet wide.  The bridges used to be part of Wolf Cave until the surrounding cave roof collapsed, leaving just the bridges.  The bridges are rather fragile, so walking over the bridges is prohibited.
Twin Bridges
            After crossing a wooden footbridge just below Twin Bridges, the trail curves right to begin heading upstream along another arm of Litten Branch.  The trail crosses the stream three times without the aid of a bridge, but all of these crossings are easy rock hops when the creek flows at normal water levels.  At 1.2 miles, you pass a rock ledge in the creek that would be a nice 5-foot waterfall with sufficient stream flow.
Rock ledge in Litten Branch
            Upstream from the rock ledge, the trail curves right and climbs out of the Litten Branch ravine on a moderate grade over several wooden waterbars.  Just shy of 1.8 miles, you intersect paved Trail #8 again, which our trail turns left and follows for a short distance before turning right to return to the dirt.  Trail #5 ends just over 1000 feet later at the north shoulder of the park road.  Turn right on the lightly traveled road to return to the parking area and close the Trail #5 loop.
            Perhaps after refreshing yourself with some food and drink you stashed at your car, begin Trail #7, which starts at a signed trailhead on the other (south) side of the park road across from the parking area.  Trail #7, which is a wide, flat, gravel trail at this point, heads west in a narrow strip of woods between McCormick’s Creek Gorge on your left and the park road on your right.  2.2 miles into the hike, a spur trail labeled as Trail C on the park map exits right to head for the campground.
Limestone cliffs of McCormick's Creek Gorge
            The limestone cliffs of McCormick’s Creek Gorge become visible to the left as you continue west.  Just past 2.3 miles, you reach a major intersection where some wooden steps descending to the left lead to Trail #10 and another unmarked trail exits right to head for the campground.  Although no signs indicate such, this intersection forms the loop portion of Trail #7.  This description continues straight and uses the unmarked trail going right as its return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  Also, note that Trail #10 is the park’s most difficult trail (it crosses rocky McCormick’s Creek several times without the aid of a bridge), but it could be used as an alternative route because it intersects our Trail #7 again later in this hike. 
            At 2.5 miles, the easy-going gorge rim hiking ends as the trail descends steeply on a somewhat rocky course to arrive beside McCormick’s Creek.  This descent is the only somewhat difficult part of this hike.  At the bottom of the hill, Trail #10 exits left for the last time.  Turn right to stay on Trail #7.
McCormick's Creek
            After climbing briefly to pass around a small rock outcrop, you arrive back at creekside and reach a wooden boardwalk at 2.9 miles.  The boardwalk is several hundred feet long, and it carries you over a seasonally wet area beside the creek.  After crossing the boardwalk, a small sewage treatment facility appears through the trees uphill and to your right.
            The trail soon enters the White River’s floodplain as it reaches the mouth of McCormick’s Creek.  The quiet narrow creek contrasts with the wide muddy river.  Some large sycamore trees appear in the forest as the trail curves right to head upstream with the river in view through the trees on the left.
White River
            3 miles into the hike, you get your best White River view where the trail curves right to exit the floodplain.  A bench beckons you to sit, rest, and enjoy the river.  A moderate climb brings you to the gravel sewage facility service road, where a sign indicates that Trail #7 turns left to follow the road.  You quickly pass a small shelter on the left labeled as a “trail lookout,” though any view that might have been had here has been reclaimed by the forest.
            After 0.2 miles of climbing, the trail turns right to leave the service road at another signed junction.  Like many of Indiana’s state parks, the trails at McCormick’s Creek are unblazed, but many signs and other identifiers clearly mark the trails and make the trail system easy to navigate.  Trail #7 soon reaches its highest point as it skirts the edge of the campground before following signs back into the forest.  Note that the campground’s Coke machine sits less than 100 feet left of the trail here.  An easy downhill glide closes Trail #7’s loop, where a left turn and 0.2 miles of fairly level walking return you to the parking area to complete the hike.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Hoosier National Forest: Fork Ridge Trail, north section (Blog Hike #525)

Trail: Fork Ridge Trail, north section
Hike Location: Hoosier National Forest
Geographic Location: northwest of Brownstown, IN
Length: 3.4 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A ridgetop out-and-back on old logging roads.

Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of US 50 and SR 135 west of Brownstown, take SR 135 north 5.6 miles to SR 58.  Turn left on SR 58.  Drive SR 58 west 4.2 miles to Cleveland Street in the town of Kurtz.  Turn right on Cleveland St., which becomes Pike Road after leaving town.  Drive Pike Rd. 1.7 miles to CR 975W and turn right on CR 975W.  Drive CR 975W 0.3 miles to CR 750N and turn right on CR 750N.  CR 750N turns to gravel when you enter Hoosier National Forest.  Drive CR 750N a total of 1.1 miles to the unsigned roadside trailhead parking area on the left.  You arrive at the parking area just as the gravel road reaches the ridge crest and curves sharply right.  There is room for 3 or 4 cars here; take care not to block the gate when you park.

The hike: Several of my friends in South Carolina remarked that I was heading out to do some “flat hiking” when I told them about my forthcoming June 2015 hiking trip to Indiana.  Obviously they have never been to the Hoosier Hills region south of Indianapolis, for the low but steep ridges here feature some of the highest relief in the entire Midwest.  At over 200,000 acres, Hoosier National Forest is the largest landholder in the Hoosier Hills.
            The national forest has many hiking trails, and the 3.5 mile end-to-end Fork Ridge Trail is one of them.  The trail’s only road access lies near its midpoint, so you have to decide whether you want to hike the 1.7 mile one-way north section or the 1.8-mile one-way south section or both.  The trail overview posted on the forest’s website for the north section sounded better to me than the one for the south section, so I chose to hike the north section.  Neither section goes anywhere in particular at present, though there are long-term plans to connect the south section with the famous Knobstone Trail, Indiana’s best long-distance backpacking trail.
            I can only recommend the Fork Ridge Trail as a fall or winter hike.  The large number of mature oak trees that live on this ridge would make for nice fall leaf-peeping, while the leafless months would provide nice views off of the ridge.  In the summer, the leaves will block any views, and much of the trail becomes quite overgrown.  Thus, almost any hike in this area would be better than this one during the summer.
Vehicle gate at trailhead
            Start by walking around the vehicle gate and picking up the two-track dirt trail that heads into the forest.  I was unable to find any specific history about this land, but this two-track ridge-running trail has all the earmarks of an old logging road.  The trail heads north with the summit of a low knob on your left.
            Just past 0.1 miles, you reach the first of two gas pipeline clearings.  The trail in the clearing was indistinguishable from its surroundings on my visit, but it crosses the clearing diagonally and reenters the forest on the other side.  A pair of metal signs marks where the trail reenters the woods.
"Trail" through pipeline clearing
            0.3 miles into the hike, you cross the second gas pipeline, where the trail becomes equally difficult to find as at the first pipeline.  Although the forest has been cut through to bury the pipelines, the lay of the land ensures that the pipeline clearings offer no significant views.  The trail crosses the second pipeline clearing on a shorter more direct line and again reenters the forest.  The forest will surround the trail for the remainder of its distance.
Orange butterfly
            At 0.5 miles, the trail curves left to take a more westerly course and dip to a low point in the ridge.  This point marks the lowest elevation on this hike, and a steep 80 foot climb is required on the other side to stay atop the ridge.  Although the difference in elevation between the highest and lowest points on this trail is only a little over 100 feet, the trail’s many ups and downs and poor condition make the going more difficult than you might think.
Trail through ridgetop forest
            Ignore a side trail that exits right just past 1.1 miles and stay with the main ridgeline.  The Fork Ridge Trail is not marked, and some blazes would be helpful at intersections such as this one.  Now heading almost due west, the final knob is reached at 1.7 miles where some blue paint splotches on trees mark the national forest boundary.
National forest boundary
            The official Fork Ridge Trail ends at this knob, which is known as Hominy Mortar.  Two unofficial trails (also old logging roads) head right and left.  The trail going left leads downhill to a privately-owned farm field, while the one going right leads directly onto private property.  The forest brochure tells of some unusual pockmark rock formations up here, but I was unable to find them even after exploring the knob off trail a little.  The only way out is the trail you hiked in, so after exploring the knob you will need to retrace your steps along the ridge to the trailhead to complete the hike.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Mounds State Park: Trail #5 (Blog Hike #524)

Trail: Trail #5
Hike Location: Mounds State Park
Geographic Location: southeast side of Anderson, IN
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2015
Overview: A rolling loop hike past Adena-Hopewell Indian mounds and the White River.

Directions to the trailhead: In central Indiana, take I-69 to SR 9 (exit 226).  Exit and go north on SR 9.  Drive SR 9 north 2.7 miles to SR 232 and turn right on SR 232.  Drive SR 232 2.3 miles to the park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and park in any of the lots near the Visitors Center.

The hike: Weighing in at only 290 acres, Mounds State Park is the third smallest state park in Indiana, yet it is also one of the most visited parks in Indiana’s state park system.  The park’s location near Indianapolis and Anderson combined with its nice amenities and historic value account for its popularity.  The park has almost anything you could want at a location that is easy to access.
Mounds State Park’s main attraction is its collection of Adena-Hopewell ceremonial mounds.  The mounds date to around 160 B.C., and they display a wide variety of sizes and shapes.  In addition to the mounds, the park features a campground, a tent area, several picnic shelters, and a 500-person swimming pool with bathhouse. 
For hikers, Mounds State Park features 6 trails, but most of the trails are short trails that connect one developed area of the park to another.  The exception is the 2.5 mile Trail #5, which circumnavigates the entire park.  Combining Trail #5 with a tour of the park’s famous mounds yields the 2.7 mile loop hike described here.
            This park’s trail system is a bit of a maze, and it is not as well-marked as the trails at some other Indiana state parks.  Thus, I advise stopping in the Visitors Center to pick up a trail map before heading out.  The Visitors Center also has a nice nature observation area that featured several squirrels, a few birds, and a few frogs on my visit.
Trailhead: Trail #5
            After walking out the front door of the Visitors Center, angle right across the handicapped parking area to pick up Trail #5, a wide two-track gravel trail that starts beside an information board.  Almost immediately you pass the brick Bronnenberg House, a two-story structure built by Frederick Bronnenberg Jr. in the 1840’s.  Almost all of the materials to build this house came from the present-day park land, including the limestone foundation, the clay for the bricks (hand-made on site), and the tulip poplar woodwork.
Bronnenberg House
            Past the Bronnenberg House, the park’s mound collection soon comes into view across a mowed grassy area to the right.  Walk across the grass to get a close-up view of the mounds.  The largest mound, called the Great Mound, is a circular enclosure that measures over 1000 feet in circumference and several feet in height.  Several smaller mounds near the Great Mound line up with astronomical events such as the summer solstice sunset, which suggests that the mound was used for ceremonial and time-keeping purposes.  A single gap in the circular enclosure allows you to view the interior of the earthwork.
Southern end of the Great Mound
            Rather than returning directly to Trail #5, continue your mound tour by walking northwest partly around the Great Mound to reach Fiddle Back Mound.  Fiddle Back Mound gets its name from its unusual figure-eight shape, which looks like the back of a violin.  This mound measures less than a foot in height, but it is the only figure-eight-shaped mound in the entire world that remains intact.
Fiddle Back Mound
            Walk to the left of Fiddle Back Mound, now following Trail #1 as it enters the woods.  Where the trail forks, turn left to quickly pass a low circular mound.  At 0.4 miles, Trail #1 ends at a junction with Trail #5.  Turning left would take you directly back to the Visitors Center for a total distance of only 0.6 miles, so this hike will turn right to hike the entire Trail #5 loop.
            Trail #5 used to be the park’s horse trail, as evidenced by the wide treadway and gradual to moderate grade, but Mounds State Park has been hiker-only for several years.  This section of trail lies very close to SR 232, so it would not be a great horse trail anyway.  At 0.5 miles, you pass some concrete piers in the ground beside the trail.  These piers date to the early 1900’s, and they are all that remain of a waiting station for Anderson’s interurban train system.  This stop was a popular one due to a nearby amusement park that was located in the southern part of the present-day state park.
            The trail soon curves right to begin a gradual to moderate descent toward the White River, which forms the park’s western boundary.  The forest here is a beautiful mix of maple, beech, and tulip poplar.  At 0.7 miles, you reach the east bank of the White River as the trail curves right to head upstream.  The river was high and muddy on my visit.  Some large sycamore trees live in the lowland area beside the river.
Descending toward the White River
            Trail #5 stays within sight of the river for most of the next mile.  Several trails (including Trail #3 three times) exit right to head for higher ground.  Most of these trails are unsigned, but at each junction Trail #5 stays to the left to remain near the river.  Points of interest along the river include an exposed limestone rock outcrop (a rare sight in central Indiana) and a brick foundation that appears to be the remains of an old chimney.
Brick structure beside the White River
            Just after Trail #3 exits right for the last time, a brief steep climb brings you to a bluff almost 50 feet above the river.  A couple of benches here provide rest for the weary.  One last Adena-Hopewell mound called Circle Mound can be seen through the trees on the right just past the benches.
Circle Mound, through the trees
            At 1.7 miles, Trail #5 reaches the paved campground road.  Cross the road and re-enter the forest on the other side.  Just after re-entering the forest, Trail #4 exits right, but Trail #5 turns left to descend and cross a small stream on a wooden bridge right beside the campground road.  Immediately after crossing the bridge, you need to turn right twice to continue following Trail #5.
            The trail climbs on a gradual to moderate grade to attain the highlands along the park’s eastern boundary.  Near the top of the hill, you reach two unsigned intersections in short order.  Turning left at either intersection would take you to the family campground, but you need to turn right at the second intersection to stay with Trail #5.  The trail drops to cross two small streams on footbridges with the first ravine much deeper than the second.
            After crossing the second creek, the trail comes very close to the park boundary on the left.  The last segment of the loop passes through a narrow strip of woods between houses and private property on the left and the developed park on the right.  After crossing a gravel maintenance road, you come out at the grassy area beside the park’s gatehouse.  A short walk across the grass returns you to the parking lot and completes the hike.


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.