Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blacklick Woods Metro Park: Buttonbush, Maple, and Beech Trails (Blog Hike #604)

Trails: Buttonbush, Maple, and Beech Trails
Hike Location: Blacklick Woods Metro Park
Geographic Location: south side of Reynoldsburg, OH
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2016
Overview: A trio of nearly flat loops through older growth forest.

Directions to the trailhead: From Columbus, take I-70 east to Brice Road (exit 110B).  Exit and go north on Brice Rd.  Drive Brice Rd. north 0.7 miles to Livingston Avenue and turn right on Livingston Ave.  Drive Livingston Ave. east 1.1 miles to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park.  Drive the main park road to its very end at the large blacktop parking lot for the Nature Center.  From the east, take I-70 to SR 256 (exit 112), go north on SR 256 for 0.9 miles to Livingston Ave., turn left on Livingston Ave., and turn left to enter the park.

The hike: Established in 1948, 643 acre Blacklick Woods Metro Park is the oldest metro park in greater Columbus.  The park came into being when Walter Tucker, Metro Parks’ first director, responded to a real estate ad in the newspaper.  The land’s long history as parkland ensures that the park’s beech/maple upland forest and burr oak swamp forest are among the best forests in central Ohio.
            The park features many amenities including two golf courses (a regulation course and an executive course), two large picnic areas, and the Beech-Maple Lodge, which is available for rental.  The park also contains trailheads for two paved bike trails: the Blacklick Creek Greenway Trail, which goes south to nearby Pickerington Ponds Metro Park, and the Blacklick-Huber Park Connector Trail, which runs near the golf courses.  A 4.1 mile gravel Multipurpose Trail also winds through the park.  For hikers, the park offers three nature trails that form adjoining loops, and this hike goes around all three loops to explore all of the nature trails this park has to offer.
            From the parking lot, start by hiking the asphalt trail that leads to the Nature Center.  You will want to stop in the Nature Center either before or after your hike: it contains some interesting reptile exhibits and a large wildlife viewing window that overlooks a bird feeding area.  On my visit on a hot summer afternoon, I sat at the wildlife viewing window in the Nature Center’s air conditioning for about 20 minutes and saw raccoons, squirrels, gold finches, house finches, mourning doves, cardinals, chickadees, hummingbirds, downy woodpeckers, and a blue heron among other wildlife.
Start of Buttonbush Trail
            Upon reaching the Nature Center on the asphalt path, angle sharply left to pick up the signed Buttonbush Trail.  Traffic noise from nearby I-70 fades as you hike further north away from the interstate.  The Buttonbush Trail alternates between gravel and wooden boardwalk as it passes through a swamp forest, the lowest elevation on this hike.  The swamp forest is dominated by burr oak trees, and interpretive signs describe common plants in the forest.
            At 0.1 miles, the Buttonbush Trail splits to form its loop.  This hike continues straight on the gravel trail and uses the boardwalk going left as a return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.  Soon you find yourself back on boardwalk as the trail reaches the corner of a sunny wet sedge meadow.  Some dragonflies buzzed around the meadow on the hot sunny afternoon of my hike.
Sedge meadow
            0.2 miles into the hike, the spur trail to the Maple and Beech Loops exits right.  If you wanted to hike only the 0.5 mile Buttonbush Trail, you could continue straight here as this hike will eventually.  To see all of the park’s nature trails, turn right on the spur trail, which is named the Walter Tucker Trail after Metro Parks’ first director.  At 0.3 miles, you reach the spur trail’s other end at the Maple Trail’s loop.  Turn right to begin a counterclockwise trip around the Maple Loop.
            The east arm of the Maple Trail heads north along the eastern boundary of the park’s natural area.  Although the land at Blacklick Woods is very flat, the 20 feet of elevation change between the wetland and this area allows maple and beech trees to dominate the forest here.  The flat terrain and wide firmly-packed gravel trails make all of the park’s trails passable by people in wheelchairs with some assistance.
Hiking the Maple Trail
            At 0.65 miles, you reach a junction with the Beech Loop, the northernmost of the three nature trail loops.  Keeping with the counterclockwise theme of this hike, turn right to hike the Beech Loop counterclockwise.  Some small concrete culverts carry the trail over ditches in this part of the park.
            After curving left, the trail crosses the blacktop trail that connects Beech-Maple Lodge with its parking lot.  After crossing the paved lodge access road, the trail surface turns to asphalt before coming out at a developed area of the park with picnic tables and other structures scattered about.  The trail map calls this area the Ash Grove Picnic Area, and a parking lot here provides an alternative point from which you could start this hike.
Old trading post
            Before reaching the parking lot, the asphalt trail curves left to pass an old trading post and ranger station.  Built in the 1950’s, the old trading post is one of the oldest structures in Metro Parks.  Now heading east, ignore a paved trail that exits right to reach more picnic areas.  The Beech Trail turns back to gravel as it reenters the forest at a point that contains an information board, trash can, and sign warning against pets and bicycles.
            At 1.2 miles, you reach the west arm of the Maple Trail.  Turn right here to leave the Beech Trail and begin your return journey on the Maple Trail.  The Maple Trail heads south through more nice maple/beech forest.  Where a spur trail to the picnic areas exits right at 1.4 miles, continue straight on the Maple Trail.
            Just past 1.5 miles, you close the Maple Loop.  Turn right on the Walter Tucker spur trail, then turn right again to continue the Buttonbush Trail.  More boardwalks take you around the Buttonbush Trail’s loop, which is closed at 1.9 miles.  Turn right to head back to the Nature Center and parking lot, where your car awaits.

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