It's finally spring and time to ramp up my walks in the park -- or in this case, out of the park.
While I love the nice, smooth gravel walking trails throughout the Preservation Parks system, sometimes the adventurer in me wants to pick my way over fallen logs, across creeks and down steep dirt slopes with exposed roots as toeholds. Enter Alum Creek State Park.
My office is at Hogback Ridge Park, which is adjacent to Alum Creek. While Hogback is dwarfed by Alum's 8,000-plus acres of reservoir, woodlands and meadows, the fact that the two share a boundary makes it seem as if Hogback is much larger.
Last year, we made our connection official, and -- with the state's blessing -- built an extension of our trail to meet Alum Creek's 42-mile network of hiking and equestrian trails.
What an opportunity that created! Suddenly, primitive hiking was right there for the taking -- that is, for walking. So on a recent fine, spring day -- when the leaves on the trees were just starting to open -- I put on my hiking boots and set out, stepping into as much wilderness as you will find in Delaware County.
The changes in view, sound and feel were palpable when I left the gravel loop at Hogback and stepped onto dirt and leaves. The trail narrowed immediately to single-file width, with trees and underbrush hugging the sides. Shortly, it started to slope down into a ravine, its steep angle precarious except for the tree root "steps." This is a trail for hiking boots, not flip flops.
This part of Alum Creek State Park, like Hogback, is rife with small and medium-sized creeks, all meandering their way toward the reservoir. The creeks flow through ravines and in between ridges, and the trail led me uphill and down as I negotiated the changes in topography.
In early spring, the ridge slopes are blanketed with woodland wildflowers, soaking in the sun before trees fully leaf out and steal the light. During my walk, I saw wave after wave of spring beauties, mayapples and common violets. By now, the wildflowers will be fading as we move toward summer, so I'm glad I saw them while I could.
Rounding a turn, I came upon a large scattering of feathers, likely the leftovers from a predator's meal. Whenever I see evidence of a bird's demise, I spend a little time mourning that bird while feeling grateful that a hawk or other predator had a great meal.
It was at this point that I stopped and did a slow 360 to take in the view surrounding me -- a view that is as pretty as any I'll find in central Ohio, with gentle hills rising and falling on all sides. I became aware of the silence, too, which is punctuated only by bird song and the rustle made by small creatures in the underbrush and treetops.
I could feel the aloneness and the sense that I could get lost here, which is strange, because there are houses probably within a quarter-mile of where I was standing. But the hills block them from view, just as they muffle the noises of nearby civilization.
The trails switch back and forth, following the curves of the ridges and confusing my sense of direction. Yes, I could get lost here -- and I just might like that.
But I returned to Hogback Ridge, with its lovely 1-mile trail and a scenic bridge that crosses the ravine.
For 17 years, Preservation Parks has provided parks and trails for hiking and exploration. Now, I'm happy that we are able -- through primitive trails within and without the parks -- to offer visitors a deeper look at the natural world.
For a hike on the Alum Creek trail, join us at 1 p.m. June 16 at Hogback Ridge Park, 2656 Hogback Road. The Father's Day hike for ages 7 and older will take walkers along the primitive trail to the reservoir.
For more information, visit the program calendar at preservationparks.com.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.