Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pisgah National Forest: Pink Beds Loop Trail (Blog Hike #662)

Trail: Pink Beds Loop Trail
Hike Location: Pisgah National Forest, Pink Beds Picnic Area
Geographic Location: north of Brevard, NC (35.35342, -82.77872)
Length: 5.2 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: September 2017
Overview: A fairly flat lollipop loop, half along the South Fork of the Mills River and half through rolling foothills.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: From Brevard, take US 276 north 14.8 miles to the signed Pink Beds Picnic Area on the right.  Park in the large and only parking lot.

The hike: Located only 4 miles off of the Blue Ridge Parkway southwest of Asheville, the Cradle of Forestry in America celebrates the site of the first forestry school in the United States.  Originally part of the vast Biltmore Estate, the school operated from 1898 until 1909.  In 1916, Pisgah National Forest was established, and the school site and 87,000 acres of the Vanderbilt’s estate formed the nucleus of the new national forest.  The site was declared a heritage site by Congress in 1968, and today reconstructed buildings allow you to tour the school as it once was.
            While only a short system of paved trails runs through the heritage site, a more natural hiking experience can be had at the adjacent Pink Beds Picnic Area.  The origin of the pink beds’ name is not clear, but some people think it refers to the large amount of pink rhododendron that used to grow in this valley.  The 5 mile Pink Beds Loop Trail that starts at the picnic area is somewhat popular because it offers one of the area’s few fairly flat hikes of significant distance.  Nevertheless, do not be dissuaded if the picnic area parking lot is rather full as it was on my visit: most visitors never leave the picnic area, and I passed only a few other hikers on the trail.
Trailhead: Pink Beds Picnic Area
            Start at the northeast corner of the parking area where a gated two-track dirt road heads into the woods.  A wooden sign with a rough drawing of the trail’s route stands here.  After crossing a stream on a wooden footbridge, the trail splits to form its loop.  The two halves of the loop have very different flavors.  The east arm of the loop stays near the South Fork of the Mills River and has a riverside/wetland feel, while the west arm of the loop is more rolling with a foothills feel.  To get to the river more quickly, I chose to turn right and use the left trail as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.
            The trail descends very gradually to reach the first of several boardwalks.  Built in 2013, these wide, expensive-looking boardwalks carry you over some wetlands along the river.  At some points the old boardwalk still sits beside the new, so you can clearly see the improvement.  Although a few wet areas still need to be negotiated, this part of the hike used to be much muddier and wetter than it is now.
New (left) and old (right) boardwalks
            The trail along the river alternates between sunny, grassy wetland and shady woodlands with a dense understory of rhododendron and ferns.  Orange rectangular paint blazes mark the way, but the path is wide and easy to follow for the most part.  The trail goes back and forth across the river, which at this elevation is more of a creek than a river.
Odd bridge across river
            Just past 1 mile, you cross the river on a very unusual bridge.  A huge log has fallen across the river here, and a man-made bridge carries you halfway across the river to the log, which in turn takes you the rest of the way.  I was a little concerned about footing on the log, but I had no problems crossing.  0.1 miles later, where the trail appears to dead-end at the river bank, you need to turn right and cross a narrow footbridge.  Watch for the orange blazes to stay on the trail.
Riverside hiking
            At 1.5 miles, the Pink Beds Loop Trail crosses and briefly joins the blue-blazed Barnett Branch Trail.  The Barnett Branch Trail cuts through the middle of our loop, so turning left and walking across the boardwalk would lead to the western half of our loop.  Such a route would provide a shorter loop of only 3.3 miles.  Heading east on the Barnett Branch Trail would climb 700 vertical feet to intersect the Black Mountain Trail.  Follow the orange blazes to remain on the Pink Beds Loop Trail.
            Next you climb gradually on a section of trail that was rerouted in the early 2010’s to avoid a riverside area flooded by beaver dams.  While no real overlooks are obtained, the trail gets just high enough that partially obstructed views of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s ridge crest to the west can be had through the trees.  Just past 2 miles, the trail drops steeply to return to the river and cross it for the final time.  A couple of established campsites are located in this area.
South Fork of the Mills River
            Near 2.5 miles, you reach a trail intersection.  A spur trail to a river gauging station and an alternate trailhead continues straight along the river, but our loop turns left to leave the riverside area for good.  Carsonite posts and orange blazes mark your options at this intersection.
            In another 0.4 miles, the trail curves sharply left at a turn marked by double orange blazes.  This point is where the hike changes character, as a gradual climb into the surrounding foothills now begins.  The difference between maximum and minimum elevations is only a little more than 100 feet, so the grade remains mostly gradual.  Lots of pine and oak trees live in this valley edge, and some short stretches on bare rock will need to be negotiated.
Hiking through rolling foothills
            After reaching the highest point on the hike, the trail drops to cross a pair of small streams.  The second of these stream crossings looks like a wet ford, but if you look to the right you will see a narrow but functional wooden footbridge.  At 3.6 miles, the Barnett Branch Trail crosses our trail.  Continue straight to remain on the Pink Beds Loop.
            More up and down takes you beside a sequence of wildlife openings, or meadow areas that are mowed occasionally to prevent the surrounding woodlands from encroaching.  While I saw no wildlife of note here on my mid-afternoon hike, these wildlife openings would be prime deer-viewing areas in the morning and evening.  An old Bureau of Roads marker also sits beside the trail here.
Wildlife opening
Immediately after passing the last wildlife opening, you close the loop.  Angle right to return to the picnic area parking lot and complete the hike.  Be sure to stop by the adjacent Cradle of Forestry in America to see the recreated forestry school before you conclude your visit to the Pink Beds.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Secor Metropark: Upland Woods, Wetwoods, and Wildflower Trails (Blog Hike #661)

Trails: Upland Woods, Wetwoods, and Wildflower Trails
Hike Location: Secor Metropark
Geographic Location: west of Toledo, OH (41.66871, -83.78581)
Length: 3.1 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A flat semi-loop through a wide variety of woods.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: On the west side of Toledo, take I-475 to US 20 (exit 13).  Exit and go west on US 20.  Drive US 20 west 4.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park, and follow signs for the National Center for Nature Photography.  Park in the large paved parking lot behind the Center.

The hike: Cutting a narrow 1300 square mile north-south swath through northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan, the Oak Openings form one of the Great Lakes region’s most interesting ecosystems.  The area’s biodiversity was highlighted in Edwin L. Moseley’s book Flora of the Oak Openings published in 1928, and the area is sometimes still called the Moseley region today.  The Oak Openings lie on a series of low sand hills left behind by glaciers, and the glacier deposits make the openings slightly higher in elevation than the surrounding Great Black Swamp.  Thus, while the Great Black Swamp is very wet and heavily forested, the Oak Openings harbor seasonally wet prairies, oak woodland, and oak savannas, hence the name “openings.”  In fact, early settlers said that the trees in the Oak Openings were so sparse that a wagon could be driven in any direction without the need to build a path.
            Only a portion of the Oak Openings remains intact today, but several of the 14 parks that comprise Metroparks Toledo lie in that remnant.  One such park is Secor Metropark.  Established in 1949, Secor was the first Toledo Metropark established after the original six from the 1930’s.  The park is named for Arthur J. Secor, who bequeathed a parking lot that provided the money needed to purchase the land.  Before it became a park, the land belonged to the Jacob Wolfinger Farm, and a Wolfinger family cemetery is still maintained on site; it is located just south of the trailhead parking area.
            Secor Metropark is also regionally famous for its National Center for Nature Photography, which is located adjacent to the trailhead parking area.  The Center features some nice photography exhibits and a wildlife viewing window, but it is only open Friday through Sunday.  Hence, I did not get to tour the Center on my Monday visit.  The park also offers several picnic shelters, 3.5 miles of multi-use trails, and nearly 6 miles of hiking trails.  The hike described here explores the western portion of the park, which contains the transition zone between an oak opening to the east and a swamp to the west.
Kiosk at trailhead
            From the parking area, walk west past the south entrance for the National Center for Nature Photography to reach the information kiosk that serves as the trailhead.  The hike/bike path also starts here and forms its loop by going left and right.  This hike continues straight to head for the dirt Upland Woods Trail, which soon curves left to head into its namesake woods.
            Ignore some side trails that exit right to the Woodland Pond Trail and stay with the wide dirt trail as it heads south through dense woods dominated by large oak trees.  A few good-sized beech and poplar trees also grow here.  Trails at Secor Metropark are identified by name and color with numbered markers posted at one-tenth mile intervals.  The Upland Woods Trail is marked with grey markers that you will pass in increasing order.
Hiking the Upland Woods Trail
            After crossing a dirt road, at 0.4 miles you reach a signed trail intersection.  We will eventually turn right here to reach the Wildflower Trail, but first turn left to hike the Upland Woods Trail’s short loop.  At the next intersection, a right turn will take you counterclockwise around the loop, which takes you through more mature oak forest.  Ignore side trails that exit right to the park road and the bike path and stay left to complete the loop at 0.8 miles.  Continue straight to begin the yellow-marked Wildflower Trail.
Meadowview Picnic Area
            After crossing the main park road, a narrow unmarked spur trail exits left.  We will eventually continue straight to finish the Wildflower Trail.  To get a taste of Ohio’s Great Black Swamp, turn left to head for the Meadowview Picnic Area, then angle right to begin the red-marked Wetwoods Trail.  As its name implies, the Wetwoods Trail spends most of its distance in seasonally inundated swamp forest.  Part of this swamp forest has been drained by creeks that have been deepened and straightened to form ditches.  Bugs are very bad in this part of the park, so wear good bug spray if you choose to hike the Wetwoods Trail in the summer.
The Wetwoods Trail starts in a meadow area but soon descends imperceptibly to reach the gravel bike path and Wiregrass Creek, one of the ditches mentioned above.  The trail crosses Wiregrass Creek on the bike path’s bridge before splitting to form its loop.  Turn right to begin paralleling Wiregrass Creek and hike the loop counterclockwise.  A nice bench sits at this intersection if the bugs are not too bad.
Cardinal flower
The trail heads northwest with the creek/ditch on the right.  Some bright red cardinal flower was blooming beside the trail on my visit.  Soon you curve left to begin following Prairie Creek, another creek that has been transformed into a ditch.  Near the park’s western boundary, as the trail moves away from Prairie Creek you begin a long and fairly new wooden boardwalk that takes you over the wettest area.
Boardwalk on Wetwoods Trail
At 1.9 miles, you reach the end of the boardwalk where the Wetwoods Trail ends at the gravel bike path.  Turn left to return first to the start of the Wetwoods Trail, then to the Meadowview Picnic Area, and eventually to the Wildflower Trail.  Turn left to continue the Wildflower Trail.
The Wildflower Trail heads northwest to cross a paved road and pass near the Lone Oak Picnic Area.  I did not notice many wildflowers along the Wildflower Trail, but August is not the best time of year for woodland wildflowers.  Just past 2.5 miles, the trail splits only to come back together in another 0.2 miles.  The left option takes you through a seasonally wet area along Prairie Creek/ditch, while the right option stays on higher and drier ground.  Choose whichever option seems best based on the trail conditions you encounter.
Entering an oak opening
The trail surface turns grassy as you enter sunny open forest.  Just before you reach the gravel bike path for the last time, you leave the forest and enter one of the sunny oak savannahs that make the Oak Openings famous.  When you intersect the gravel bike path, turn right to cross the main park road and return to the National Center on Nature Photography.  If you want a little more time in the prairie, consider tacking on the sunny orange-marked Prairie Trail, a short 0.3 mile loop located just north of the photography center.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Maumee Bay State Park: Boardwalk Trail (Blog Hike #660)

Trail: Boardwalk Trail
Hike Location: Maumee Bay State Park
Geographic Location: east of Oregon, OH (41.68358, -83.36805)
Length: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A semi-loop on boardwalk through a wide variety of wetlands.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: On the east side of Toledo, take I-280 to SR 2 (exit 7).  Exit and go east on SR 2.  Drive SR 2 east 6.3 miles to North Curtice Road and turn left on North Curtice Road; a traffic light and brown road sign for Maumee Bay State Park are located at this intersection.  North Curtice Road dead-ends 3 miles later at the state park entrance.  Follow signs for the Nature Center and park in the parking lot in front of the Nature Center.

The hike: Located on the shore of Lake Erie less than 10 miles east of Toledo, 1436 acre Maumee Bay State Park is the largest and best-amenitied state park in northwestern Ohio.  Before it became a state park, a community of lakefront vacation cottages called Niles Beach occupied this land.  The cottages were destroyed during a major storm in 1972, and in 1974 the State of Ohio purchased the land to establish the park.  The park offers nearly every amenity including a 120 room lodge, a 252-site modern campground, 24 cabins, 32 boat slips and a beach on Lake Erie, 6 picnic shelters, and a Scottish links-style golf course.  Anglers flock here due to its location on Lake Erie, which is known as the walleye capital of the world. 
In terms of trails, the park offers a 3 mile paved biking and jogging trail, 2.5 miles of multi-use trails, and the 2.5 mile hiker-only Mouse Trail.  Yet the park’s best hiking option may be the 2 miles of interpretive boardwalk on the park’s east side, which is the hike described here.  One of the longest boardwalks in the state, the wooden boardwalk takes you through a wide variety of wetland habitats and offers a great way to experience the marshes along Lake Erie.
Start of boardwalk at Nature Center
            From the porch in back of the Nature Center, pick up the boardwalk as it heads east into an area that floods only occasionally.  A sign engraved in the wood tells you that this boardwalk was built in 1992 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Conservation Corps.  A few of the boards creaked on my visit, but overall the boardwalk was well-maintained and in good condition considering its age.
            After curving left to begin heading north, you reach a trail junction where you should angle left.  The boardwalk is constructed as a pair of loops, a shorter western loop you are currently on and a longer eastern loop we will hike later.  Trail intersections are identified by letters and have trail maps posted; this system is native to Minnesota and Michigan but has been adopted by many Ohio state parks within the past 10 years.  This trail junction is point B.
Marsh mallow in bloom
            The boardwalk heads north through a small wet meadow that contained some marsh mallow in full bloom on my visit.  At 0.2 miles, you reach trail intersection D and the northwest corner of the wetland.  The boardwalk exiting left leads only to the lodge, so you want to turn right to continue the short loop.  Views of Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay peak through the silver maple and basswood trees to your left, but a better view will be obtained later.
            At 0.35 miles, the connector to the longer eastern loop exits left at trail intersection E.  If you wanted only a short 0.5 mile boardwalk hike, you could continue straight here and head directly back to the Nature Center, but this hike turns left to hike the full boardwalk.  The boardwalk heads east first through a swamp forest and then through a buttonbush swamp full of phragmites.  Where the boardwalk splits to form the eastern loop, angle left to walk the long loop clockwise.
Boardwalk through buttonbush swamp
            Just shy of 1 mile into the hike, a spur boardwalk exits left at trail intersection G.  This boardwalk leads to a small elevated platform that gives views across Maumee Bay.  The open cattail marsh that surrounds the platform makes for good bird viewing, and a bench here is a good place for a trail snack near the midpoint of this hike.
Platform's view of Maumee Bay

Tree growing beside boardwalk
            Back on the main boardwalk, the spur boardwalk that exits left at trail intersection I leads to an area that offers benches but no lake views.  Another spur boardwalk exits left at trail intersection K, but it leads only to another trailhead and no other points of interest.  The final segment of the eastern loop leads through more swamp forest, and some trees growing into the side of the boardwalk give further indication of this boardwalk’s age.  At 2 miles, you close the eastern loop.  Turning left retraces your steps to the western loop, where another left turn will bring you back to the Nature Center to complete the hike.

Monday, September 11, 2017

William C. Sterling State Park (Blog Hike #659)

Trail: (unnamed)
Hike Location: William C. Sterling State Park
Geographic Location: east of Monroe, MI (41.91112, -83.33872)
Length: 3.1 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A lollipop loop on asphalt trail around several lotus-filled lagoons.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: South of Detroit, take I-75 to North Dixie Highway (exit 15).  Exit and go east on North Dixie Highway.  Drive North Dixie Highway 0.9 miles to the signed park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, pay the park entrance fee, and drive the main park road 1.7 miles to the small trailhead parking area on the right.  The trailhead parking area sits opposite the large beach parking area on the left.

The hike: Established in 1920, William C. Sterling State Park’s 1300 lakefront acres comprise one of Michigan’s oldest state parks.  The park was established to preserve one of the few remaining undeveloped stretches of Lake Erie shoreline, and it remains Michigan’s only state park on Lake Erie.  The park features a 256-site modern campground as its main amenity, though its lake access for swimmers and boaters comes in a close second.
The area has a history of environmental contamination: swimming in Lake Erie was illegal for many years due to water pollution from Detroit’s heavy industry.  During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, several multi-million dollar renovation and environmental clean-up projects removed toxic sediment and improved the lake’s water quality.  Today swimming is once again allowed at the park’s beach, although the water is still checked for toxins constantly.
            As part of the renovation, in 2003 a system of asphalt paths was constructed through a lagoon-filled area that had been closed for years due to contamination.  Also open to bicycles, the paved trails do not make for compelling hiking except in late July and early August.  At that time of year, the large lotus colonies that live in the lagoons bloom, thus transforming the lagoons into a sea of yellow flowers.  The area does offer good wildlife and waterfowl viewing year round.  I came here on a seasonally cool Sunday morning in early August and had a nice hike even with a decent amount of trail traffic.
Trailhead at parking area
            The asphalt trail departs from the signed trailhead at the far (west) end of the parking area.  After crossing the asphalt campground bike trail, you cross an iron bridge with wooden deck over a narrow spot in a lagoon.  Across the lagoon to the left stands an ugly coal-fired DTE Energy plant.  One of the major sources of the environmental contamination of yesteryear described in the introduction, this plant reminds you that this area still hosts heavy industry today.
            After crossing the bridge, at 0.15 miles the asphalt trail splits to form its loop.  We will eventually turn left to hike the loop clockwise, but first take a brief detour straight ahead to visit Lotus Pavilion and get your first view of the lotus colony.  The pavilion features some benches and some interpretive signs that talk about the flora and fauna that live in and near these lagoons.
Lotus-filled lagoon
            The trail heads southwest atop a dike that separates two of the lagoons.  Because the trail follows these dikes for its entire distance, the terrain is almost dead flat.  Other nice flowers such as Queen Anne’s lace add to the scenery in season, and I also saw a muskrat swimming in the lagoon.  A high voltage power line draped across the lagoon’s southern end keeps the industrial aura persistent.
            As you approach the park’s southern boundary, the trail curves 90 degrees right to begin heading northwest.  1 mile into the hike, you reach a metal observation platform that stands about 18 feet above the lagoon.  24 steps lead to the top of the platform, but the platform’s location directly under the high voltage power line makes it a rather uninviting spot for wildlife viewing.
Observation platform
            At 1.25 miles, you reach the park’s southwestern corner where the asphalt trail splits.  The trail going straight leads out of the park to the River Raisin National Battlefield, so you want to turn right to continue the main loop.  Many large basswood trees live along the lagoon here, and several benches make nice places to sit and rest near the midpoint of this hike.
            For the next 0.7 miles the trail traces a zig-zag path along the park’s western boundary.  A golf course lies beyond a ditch to your left, and the lotus colony appears again on your right before you reach an area filled with sedges.  This area’s shallow water and relative seclusion make for good waterfowl viewing.  My bird count included an egret, several swans and 2 swan nests, and numerous kinds of ducks.
An egret and ducks
            Just past 2.5 miles, the asphalt trail splits again, now at its northeast corner.  The trail going left leads to an alternate trailhead that is popular with anglers, so you want to turn right.  More straight, level walking on asphalt path closes the loop.  Turn left to return to the trailhead parking area.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Parker Mill County Park: Hoyt G. Post Trail (Blog Hike #658)

Trail: Hoyt G. Post Trail
Hike Location: Parker Mill County Park
Geographic Location: east of Ann Arbor, MI (42.27395, -83.66825)
Length: 1.8 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A semi-loop mostly on boardwalk through alluvial forest.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: Near Ann Arbor, take US 23 to Geddes Road (exit 39).  Exit and go east on Geddes Rd.  Drive Geddes Rd. east less than 0.3 miles to the signed park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, and park in the only parking area.

The hike: Owned and maintained by Washtenaw County, tiny Parker Mill County Park comprises 45 acres along Fleming Creek and the Huron River.  The park is named for a pair of mills William Parker and his family operated for nearly 90 years.  The grist mill and cider mill date to 1873 and 1887, respectively, and both structures stand near the trailhead for this hike.  The grist mill is still operable, while the cider mill has been converted into a small museum.  Grist mill tours and demonstrations are held on select Sundays in September and October.
            In terms of trails, the park’s best offering is the 1.2 mile Hoyt G. Post Trail, a boardwalk through the floodplain forest along Fleming Creek and the Huron River.  Because the Hoyt G. Post Trail has no direct trailhead access, you will need to hike part of the park’s asphalt bike trail in order to reach the boardwalk.  The bike trail also connects with the City of Ann Arbor’s Gallup Park and the Huron River Greenway Border-to-Border Trail, so it sees plenty of traffic.  While bike trails do not make for the best hiking, the segment on the bike trail is short, and the boardwalk you eventually reach offers a very pleasant and interesting hike.
Starting the asphalt bike trail
            Pick up the asphalt trail that leaves the northeast corner of the parking lot.  The only noticeable elevation change on this hike comes at the very beginning as the asphalt bike path drops about 20 feet to enter Fleming Creek’s floodplain.  The historic grist mill and cider mill stand to your right here, but you have to admire the plain wood and stone structures from the outside unless you can time your visit to coincide with one of the grist mill tours.
Grist mill and cider mill
            The asphalt bike path curves right to begin heading downstream along Fleming Creek.  Ignore the asphalt trail that exits left and heads under Geddes Road for Concordia College.  Next you pass the restored Parkers’ log cabin on the right.  The cabin was built in the 1870’s, and it is fun to imagine what it would have been like living in this cabin and operating the mills.
Parkers' log cabin
            At only 0.1 miles, the gravel Sugarbush Trail exits left to cross Fleming Creek on an iron bridge with a wooden deck.  The Sugarbush Trail forms a completely flat and very short 0.2 mile loop, so you may as well tack it on so that you can say you hiked every trail at Parker Mill County Park.  After completing the loop, keep heading down the asphalt trail to reach the signed start of the Hoyt G. Post Trail on the left.  Turn left to leave the asphalt and begin the wooden hiker-only boardwalk.
            Immediately you walk through a stile designed to keep bikes off of the boardwalk and pass a meeting area that features numerous interpretive signs.  Several short spur trails lead to Fleming Creek, which flows to your left.  Many large oak trees grow in this area.
Passing under the railroad
            0.75 miles into the hike, an active rail line crosses above you via a nice stone and concrete bridge.  The boardwalk is built directly over Fleming Creek here as they both pass under the low and narrow bridge.  A couple hundred feet later, the boardwalk splits to form its loop.  For no particular reason, I chose to turn right and use the left boardwalk as a return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.
            Almost immediately you reach the first to two spur boardwalks that exit right.  The first spur takes you to a peat dome.  An interpretive sign tells you that peat domes form when underground springs swell a peat deposit with water.  The sign also warns of the 17 foot deep mud that lies just off of the boardwalk here.
Confluence of Fleming Creek and Huron River
            Following the main loop a little further brings you to the second spur boardwalk.  This boardwalk leads to an overlook of Fleming Creek’s confluence with the Huron River where good waterfowl viewing can be had.  Continue following the main loop as it takes you through more nice floodplain forest.  At 1.2 miles, you close the loop.  Turn right to head back to the asphalt path, and then turn right again to retrace your steps past the historic mills to the parking lot and complete the hike.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Pinckney State Recreation Area: Crooked Lake Trail (Blog Hike #657)

Trail: Crooked Lake Trail
Hike Location: Pinckney State Recreation Area
Geographic Location: northwest of Ann Arbor, MI (42.41713, -83.96395)
Length: 4.4 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A loose circumnavigation of Crooked Lake.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: North of Ann Arbor, take US 23 to North Territorial Road (exit 49).  Exit and go west on North Territorial Rd.  Drive North Territorial Rd. west 10.7 miles to Dexter Townhall Road and turn right on Dexter Townhall Rd.  Drive Dexter Townhall Rd. north 1.1 miles to the recreation area entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the recreation area, pay the entrance fee, and continue straight to enter the Silver Lake Day Use Area.  Park in the area’s second parking lot on the right near the beach area; the first parking lot is for the mountain bike trailhead.

The hike: Comprising 11,000 acres mostly of abandoned farmland, Pinckney State Recreation Area is one of several state parks in southeastern Michigan authorized by the Michigan Legislature in 1944; nearby Island Lake State Recreation Area is another.  The recreation area consists of several connected but scattered parcels of land that surround private lands.  The recreation area gets its name from the village of Pinckney located just outside of its northeast corner.
            As usual with a state recreation area (as opposed to a state park), the area’s amenities take center stage.  Pinckney State Recreation Area features a 186-site modern campground, 2 other rustic campgrounds, several lakes that offer swimming, fishing, and boating, and many miles of trails for every conceivable nonmotorized user.  The area’s two most popular trails for day hikes are the hiker-only 3.3 mile Losee Lake Trail (not described in this blog) and the 4.4 mile Crooked Lake Trail described here.  These two trails depart from the same day use area, so you could combine them to form a long 8 mile double-loop hike if desired.  Be warned that the Crooked Lake Trail is very popular with both hikers and mountain bikers, so try to plan a weekday visit to minimize the crowds.
Crooked Lake Trail trailhead
            A maize information kiosk at the far (north) end of the parking area marks the trailhead.  As usual for Michigan state parks, major trail intersections are numbered, and this trailhead is trail intersection #1.  The wide single-track dirt trail heads into the woods with Silver Lake on your right.  Very quickly you reach a wooden boardwalk that was surrounded by blue vervain in full bloom on my visit.  A nice view of Silver Lake’s backwaters opens up to the right.
Backwaters of Silver Lake
            At 0.2 miles, you reach trail intersection #2, which forms the loop portion of the Crooked Lake Trail.  To help avoid collisions, trail regulations require hikers and mountain bikers to travel opposite directions around the loop, so you need to turn right here to hike the loop counterclockwise.  After another 0.3 miles of level hiking along the backwaters of Silver Lake, the trail curves left to begin a moderate climb away from the lake.  Some waterbars built into the trail seem to be doing a good job of preventing erosion.
            0.7 miles into the hike, you cross dirt Silver Hill Road for the first of three times.  The shady mature forest you have been hiking through now gives way to younger forest featuring many red cedar trees.  The northern part of the Crooked Lake Trail’s loop also carries the nearly 20 mile long Potowatomi Trail, so you will pass many mountain bikers coming at you on this part of the trail.
Red cedar forest
            Just past 1 mile, you cross dirt Silver Hill Road for the second time.  Rustic Crooked Lake Campground lies 0.3 miles down this road to the left, which is open to vehicles.  Ironically given this trail’s name, the trail passes Silver and Pickerel Lakes, but Crooked Lake never comes into view.  Thus, you will need to take a detour down to the campground if you want to see Crooked Lake.
            At 1.2 miles, you pass under a power line at the highest elevation of this hike.  Some guidebooks and trail maps show an overlook here, but trees obstructed any view on my visit.  Next comes the longest prolonged downhill on this hike as the trail loses 100 feet of elevation to reach a feeder stream for Crooked Lake, which it crosses via a wooden footbridge.
Feeder stream for Crooked Lake
            2.2 miles into the hike, you reach trail intersection #9 where the Potowatomi Trail exits right.  Angle left to continue the Crooked Lake Trail, which will now feature much less traffic.  A nice bench also sits here and provides an opportunity to rest and have a trail snack near the midpoint of this hike.
Sandy trail surface
            The trail surface changes to sand before you cross Glenn Brook Road, which accesses some private land holdings within the recreation area.  Continuing south, at 2.5 miles a spur trail exits right to head for the recreation area’s Halfmoon Lake beach.  Keep straight to remain on the Crooked Lake Trail.
            You pass an area managed by controlled burns before curving left to begin heading east.  Soon Pickerel Lake comes into view through the trees on the right.  Unlike many of the recreation area’s other lakes, the shores of Pickerel Lake remain undeveloped.  Thus, Pickerel Lake offers a very pleasant, tranquil, and natural setting.
Pickerel Lake, as seen from footbridge
            At 3.1 miles, you reach a long wooden footbridge that crosses a marshy water channel connecting Crooked and Pickerel Lakes.  The shallow water with numerous sedges makes for good waterfowl viewing; I saw several blue herons and Canada geese while I was here.  The next mile comprises the most rugged part of the loop as you enter kettle and kame topography and its many steep ups and downs.  See my hike at Huron National Forest’s Loon Lake Day Use Area for an introduction to glacier-created kettle and kame topography.  Some black plastic mesh buried under the steepest areas of trail represents another effort at erosion control.
            Just past 3.5 miles, you reach trail intersection #3 where a spur trail exits right and connects with the Silver Lake Trail.  Continue straight to remain on the Crooked Lake Trail.  More up and down brings you to the third and final crossing of Silver Hill Road at 4.2 miles.  A final short, steep descent returns you to trail intersection #2 to close the loop.  A right turn and 0.2 miles of retracing your steps return you to the parking area to complete the hike.  If you have more time and energy, try the 3.3 mile hiker-only Losee Lake Loop Trail, which starts at trail intersection L1 on the south side of the Silver Lake Day Use Area not far from the area’s fishing pier.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Island Lake State Recreation Area: Hiking Trail (Blog Hike #656)

Trail: Hiking Trail
Hike Location: Island Lake State Recreation Area
Geographic Location: east of Brighton, MI (42.51174, -83.67625)
Length: 5 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2017
Overview: A fairly flat loop featuring Trout and Kent Lakes.
Hike Route Map:
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: West of Detroit, take I-96 to Kensington Road (exit 151).  Exit and go south on Kensington Rd.  Drive Kensington Rd. south 0.7 miles to the signed recreation area entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the recreation area, pay the entrance fee, and drive the main park road 0.7 miles to the large Kent Beach parking area on the left.  Park on the left (west) side of the parking area.

The hike: Established in 1944, 4000 acre Island Lake State Recreation Area is one of the most visited lands under Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ jurisdiction.  The area’s location just off of I-96 and US 23 less than 40 miles west of Detroit partially explains its popularity, but the area’s nice amenities factor in as well.  On point, the area offers 7 picnic shelters, canoe/kayak access to the Huron River, 2 cabins, a boat-in campground, and 2 ponds with developed swimming areas.  The area also contains the only hot air balloon launch in the Michigan state park system.
            For trail users, Island Lake State Recreation Area is best known as a biking destination.  A 4 mile one-way paved trail is good for street bikes, and 15 miles of dirt trails beckon mountain bikers.  Sometimes lost in the biking trails is the 5 mile Hiking Trail, a loop in the eastern part of the recreation area that is open only to hikers.  While the Hiking Trail has some flaws that I will point out in this trail description, the trail offers a surprising amount of solitude given how many people use this recreation area.  I hiked here on a nice Friday morning in early August and did not encounter any other trail users outside of the developed areas.
Trailhead at Kent Beach
            Start at the west side of the parking area where a wooden post bearing a trail map marks the trailhead.  As usual at Michigan state parks, major trail intersections are identified by letters, and this intersection is marked as trail intersection A.  This hike passes trail intersections A through I in “increasing” order, although trail intersections H and I appear on the map but are not yet posted on the ground.  Ignore the wide canoe/kayak access trail that goes downhill to the right and head due west on a fairly level single track dirt trail.  You may hear gunshots from a shooting range located across the river here, but all was quiet on my visit.  Also, parts of this trail pass through land that is open to hunting, so wear bright orange during hunting season to avoid accidents.
            The trail stays atop a bluff overlooking the Huron River before descending about 20 feet to enter the river’s flood plain.  The Huron River follows an unusual L-shaped course through southeastern Michigan.  The river rises near Indian Springs Metropark west of Pontiac and flows southwest past this point into northern Washtenaw County.  The river then makes a prolonged left curve to begin flowing southeast through Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and southern Wayne County before emptying into Lake Erie.  Like most rivers in this part of the state, the Huron River is wide and slow-flowing with a muddy bottom.
Entering a pine planting
            The meandering trail curves left more than right to climb out of the floodplain and enter a pine planting.  Some skinny sapling stumps sticking up in the trail make it easy to trip or stub your toe.  At 0.9 miles, you exit the woods at the recreation area’s entrance booth.  Cross both roads (straight and left) to continue a southward course through a meadow that was filled with blooming Queen Anne’s lace on my visit.
Hiking through a meadow
            After crossing the recreation area’s paved bike path at trail intersection B, a gradual descent brings you to the north shore of Trout Lake and trail intersection C.  A sandy beach-type area also sits here.  Turn right to begin a counterclockwise journey around Trout Lake.  Note that turning left here would omit the trip around the lake and reduce the length of this hike by just over 0.5 miles.
            The area around the lake is mostly meadow, so the lake stays in full view for most of your journey on the wide sandy path that circumnavigates the lake.  Unfortunately, adjacent Kensington Road and some nearby industrial areas also stay in view and within earshot, so you will never mistake this hike for a wilderness hike.  Some more sandy beaches beg you to stop, rest, and observe the lake, but be careful if you wade into the water: Trout Lake’s sandy floor drops off very steeply in some areas.
Trout Lake
            2 miles into the hike, you reach trail intersection D.  Future plans call for a trail to exit right here and connect with our route later in the hike, but on my visit the trail going right dead-ended in the middle of nowhere.  Continuing another 0.15 miles around Trout Lake brings you to trail intersection E, where you need to turn right to leave the Trout Lake area.  Note that angling left here would take you back to trail intersection C where you started your journey around Trout Lake.
The trail climbs slightly and curves right to reach trail intersection F just shy of this hike’s midpoint.  Continuing straight here would return you to the Kent Beach parking area in only another 0.2 miles, but if you are up to hiking some possibly wilder trails, turn right to head into the recreation area’s easternmost parts.  The trail narrows considerably as it heads east through a meadow that also features some red cedar trees.  Soon you reach trail intersection G, where the previously mentioned future trail from intersection D will join our route.  For now, the only option is to angle left.
Trail intersection G
            The next mile of trail assumes a general eastward course that passes very close to the recreation area’s southern boundary.  At first you are in meadow, but soon you dip into a forest dominated by oak trees.  I found evidence that the vegetation along this section of trail had been cut back in the past, but it needed to be cut again on my visit.  Prepare to wade through knee-high grass if you hike this section of trail.
Narrow trail through meadow
            After the recreation area’s main road comes into view on the left, you pass under a power line at 3.7 miles.  The trail gets a little rockier before you reach the next intersection at 3.9 miles.  This point is the aforementioned unsigned trail intersection H.  The Hiking Trail crosses a paved bike path here that connects the recreation area with the Huron Valley Trail, a 12.2 mile rail-trail that runs east of here.  If you have had enough wading through weeds, you can turn left here and hike the bike path back to the developed area.  Otherwise, continue straight to remain on the Hiking Trail.
            Road noise from nearby I-96 and Kent Lake Road comes in from the right as the trail curves left and reaches another paved bike path at 4.1 miles.  This point is trail intersection I, and this bike path leads to Kensington Metropark, which is located just beyond I-96 to the right.  With the worst of the trail conditions likely behind you, continue straight to remain on the Hiking Trail.
Kent Lake
            4.2 miles into the hike, the trail curves right to descend some wooden steps to a fantastic overlook of Kent Lake.  When I came here, the wind was whipping across the lake as a cold front blew through.  The single-track dirt Hiking Trail exits the platform to the left and begins a westward course along the south shore of Kent Lake.  The remainder of the hike parallels the lake shore, and more good lake views open up to the right.  All too soon you come out at the east end of Kent Beach, and walking through the beach area returns you to your car to complete the hike.