Monday, July 25, 2016

Grindstone Nature Area: Grindstone Nature Trail (Blog Hike #597)

Trail: Grindstone Nature Trail
Hike Location: Grindstone Nature Area
Geographic Location: south side of Columbia, MO
Length: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: A lollipop loop through an old agricultural area and atop limestone cliffs.

Directions to the trailhead: Near Columbia, take I-70 to US 63 (exit 128A).  Exit and go south on US 63.  Drive US 63 south 1.9 miles to SR 740.  Exit and turn right on SR 740.  Drive SR 740 west 0.9 miles to Old US 63 and turn left on Old US 63.  Drive Old US 63 south 0.4 miles to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, and park in the only parking lot.

The hike: Located just off campus from the University of Missouri, Grindstone Nature Area protects 199 acres along Grindstone and Hinkson Creeks.  The historic Boone’s Lick Trail, a major route across Missouri used by early settlers, passed through this area in the early 1800’s.  Corn and other crops were grown on this land for many years, and some evidence of this land’s agricultural past will be seen on this hike.  The City of Columbia purchased the land in 1975 as part of a greenbelt plan, thus forming the park.
            True to its name, Grindstone Nature Area has only a parking lot, a restroom building, a picnic shelter, and an off-leash dog area for amenities, so nature is allowed to take center stage.  Two concrete bike paths have trailheads here, and several miles of natural surface trails pass through the Nature Area.  Grindstone Nature Area also features two creeks that, like many of central Missouri’s waterways, are lined with tall limestone cliffs.  While several routes are possible, the route suggested here takes you past some of this land’s agricultural remnants and atop the limestone cliffs.
Trailhead area: Hinkson Creek Trail
            This hike starts at the rear of the parking lot on the crushed gravel Hinkson Creek Trail, which is also open to mountain bikes.  The Hinkson Creek Trail links the nature area to the University of Missouri campus.  The trail curves right to cross Grindstone Creek on an iron bridge with wooden deck.  The Ridgeline Trail exits left in this area, but it was very overgrown on my visit.
            After crossing Grindstone Creek, look for the mulch trail that exits the bike path on the right.  This mulch path is the start of the hiker-only Grindstone Nature Trail, so angle right to begin the Nature Trail.  Less than 200 feet later, you pass a tall concrete silo on the right, one of the reminders of this area’s agricultural history.
Concrete silo
            Just past the silo, the trail splits to form its loop.  This hike will continue straight on a path that heads up the right side of a prairie planting and use the narrow path exiting right into the woods as its return route.  None of the trails at Grindstone Nature Area are marked or signed.  With the many narrow and winding trails that exist here, this trail system could really benefit from some better trail markings to make trails and trail intersections easier to identify.
            The grass-dirt trail heads northwest in almost a straight line with the prairie planting on your left and the woods on your right.  Continue straight wherever side trails exit left or right.  At one point the trail seems to head into the woods on a mulch path, but it quickly comes back out into the prairie.
Hiking through the prairie
            Just shy of 0.7 miles, you reach a T-intersection at the northwest edge of the prairie with options going left and right.  The trail going left quickly leads back to the gravel Hinkson Creek Trail, and it could be used if you wanted a hike entirely in the prairie.  To also see the limestone cliffs for which this part of Missouri is famous, turn right to begin following a sewer line, a reminder of this hike’s suburban setting.
            Upon reaching the edge of the prairie, turn left to head into the woods, which features a large number of cottonwood trees.  The trail surface turns to packed dirt as it curves right to begin paralleling Hinkson Creek.  Some narrow trails exit left and right, but the main trail assumes a southeasterly course with the creek several feet to your left.  As I mentioned above, some trail markings would really help here.  Also, the packed dirt soil can become quite slippery when wet, so take your time and watch your step.
            Slowly but surely you gain elevation as you climb to the bluffs overlooking first Hinkson and then Grindstone Creeks.  There are no developed overlooks, but some spur trails take you to the edge of the cliff, which stands some 70 feet above the creek level.  At first trees block any views, but finally at 1.2 miles a clear view over an apartment complex to the east emerges.  No railings guard the edge of the cliff, so mind your position relative to the drop-off.
View from cliff top

Looking down from the cliffs at Grindstone Creek
            The trail becomes a bit rockier and narrower as you continue southeast.  A brief descent precedes a brief ascent to the bluffs overlooking Grindstone Creek.  The creek waters are visible below, but trees block any expansive views.  A final descent brings you to the mulch trail beside the old concrete silo to close the loop.  A left turn returns you to the packed gravel Hinkson Creek Trail, where another left turn returns you to the parking lot to complete the hike.

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