Friday, August 5, 2016

Stage's Pond State Nature Preserve (Blog Hike #598)

Trails: Meadow, Kettle Hole, Multiflora, Moraine, White Oak, and Boundary Trails
Hike Location: Stage’s Pond State Nature Preserve
Geographic Location: north of Circleville, OH
Length: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: July 2016
Overview: A double loop through prairie and forest past two kettle lakes.

Directions to the trailhead: From Circleville, take US 23 north 4.8 miles to Haggerty Road and turn right on Haggerty Rd.  Drive Haggerty Rd. east 1.5 miles to the signed preserve entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the preserve.  Assuming the vehicle gate is open, drive past the first parking lot near Haggerty Rd. to reach the paved parking lot at the preserve road’s end.  The preserve headquarters sits just beyond this parking lot.

The hike: The story of 178-acre Stage’s Pond State Nature Preserve starts many millennia ago with the glaciers that covered the northwestern two-thirds of Ohio.  The preserve is located near the southern edge of Ohio’s glaciated region, so the nearly flat glaciated terrain around Stage’s Pond contrasts greatly with the rugged, unglaciated, hilly terrain of the larger Great Seal and Scioto Trail State Parks located only a few miles to the south.  Also, the depression containing the ponds formed at the end of the last ice age when a large chunk of ice from the glaciers became buried under sediment before melting.  Therefore, while most bodies of water in Ohio result from man-made dams, the two kettle ponds on this property have natural origins. 
            Like most of Ohio’s state nature preserves, the site features no facilities except a parking lot and a trail system.  About half of the preserve is prairie and wetland while the other half is wooded, so many habitats are found in this small area.  The route suggested here explores all corners of the preserve and both of the preserve’s ponds.
Start of trail at parking area
            Start on the mowed-grass trail that heads west from the parking area.  Very quickly you pass the preserve’s dedication marker (a rock with metal plaque that was placed here on August 23, 1974) and reach a major trail intersection at an information kiosk.  Four other mowed-grass trails leave this intersection.  This trail description continues on the trail marked “waterfowl blind” that goes straight.  Note that the trail going sharply left leads to the parking area along Haggerty Rd., and the Moraine Trail going right is not used on this hike.
            A brief descent through a heavily wooded area brings you to the wooden waterfowl blind that overlooks the smaller of the preserve’s two ponds.  While I saw numerous common birds such as cardinals, robins, sparrows, and chickadees throughout this preserve, I saw no waterfowls at this pond during my visit on a humid late July morning.  The trail ends at the blind, so next you must hike the short distance back to the major trail intersection.  To continue your tour of the preserve, turn sharply right to begin the signed Meadow Trail.
Smaller kettle lake, as seen from first waterfowl blind
            True to its name, the Meadow Trail heads west through the heart of the prairie.  Prairie grasses and other plants including coneflower abound in the prairie.  As you approach the preserve’s western boundary, the trail curves right to begin heading north.  An active farm field can be seen across the fence to your left.
            At 0.8 miles, you reach the end of the Meadow Trail at its intersection with the Kettle Lake Trail.  Our main loop turns right to begin the Kettle Lake Trail, but first turn left to visit the second waterfowl blind, which is reached in only a couple hundred feet.  This blind overlooks the larger northern pond, which contained a heron on my visit.  Neither of these ponds have a major source or outlet, so the water level rises and falls with local rainfall and drought.  Enjoy the placid water and see what kinds of waterfowl you can see.
Larger kettle lake, as seen from second waterfowl blind
            Back on the Kettle Lake Trail, the trail heads east through the prairie between the two ponds.  Some short boardwalks carry you over seasonal wet areas, but for the most part the mowed-grass trail makes for dry and easy walking.  1.1 miles into the hike, the trail exits the prairie, enters the forest, and climbs a 25-foot hill that marks the edge of the kettle basin.  The climb is somewhat steep but brief, and the treadway here changes from mowed-grass to dirt.
            At the top of the hill, you reach another trail intersection with options going straight and left.  Both of these trails eventually lead to the Moraine Trail, so the choice is yours.  This description will turn left to begin the narrower Multiflora Trail, which traces an unusual arc-like route along the rim overlooking the kettle basin.  Dense forest consisting of oak, hickory, and black walnut trees prevents any views.
            At 1.4 miles, the Multiflora Trail ends at its intersection with the Moraine Trail.  A right turn here would shorten the hike to only 1.8 miles, but for the full tour turn left to quickly reach another trail intersection.  The Boundary Trail exiting right at this intersection will be our eventual route back to the parking area, but to also explore the heavily wooded northeastern corner of the preserve, continue straight to begin the White Oak Loop Trail.
Starting the White Oak Loop
            The White Oak Loop Trail forms a 0.9 mile lollipop loop through a secluded part of the preserve, which is a heavily forested tract of land surrounded on three sides by active farm fields.  Where the trail splits to form its loop, I chose to continue straight and hike the loop counterclockwise.  On my hike, I passed numerous black trash bags that contained garlic mustard, an alien shrub that volunteers are working to remove from the preserve.  Interpretive signs describe some of the more common trees and animals found in this part of the preserve.
            After hiking around the White Oak Loop and returning to the Boundary Trail intersection, turn left to begin the final leg back to the parking area.  As its name suggests, the Boundary Trail heads south along the preserve’s eastern boundary.  More active farm fields are visible beyond an old wire fence on the left.  After 0.4 miles of nearly level and nearly straight walking, you come out beside the preserve’s maintenance building, which must be walked around to reach the parking area that contains your car and complete the hike.  If you find yourself in this area in October, you may want to time your visit to coincide with the nearby Circleville Pumpkin Show, a regionally famous event that features everything about everyone’s favorite orange fall fruit.

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