photo courtesy Indiana DNR
~by Chrissy Alspaugh
Hikers soak in the splendor of Brown County State Park every spring, summer, and fall.
But nature explorers are missing perhaps the park’s most spectacular season if they’re not visiting in winter, said Patrick Haulter, the park’s interpretive naturalist.
The park’s upcoming annual 8-part winter hike series will use some snow-covered scenery, tasty treats, and just a little Brown County lore to lure hikers away from their fireplaces and into their boots this winter.
“Think about it: hiking in the winter, there are no insects, no heat, no poison ivy, and— everyone’s favorite—no snakes!” Haulter laughed. “In the summer, everyone flocks to the park’s vistas. But in the winter, there is no vegetation on the trees, and the whole park is a vista. You can see the old roadbeds from when the park connected a bunch of little villages. You can see where residents used to live. If you haven’t seen the park in the snow, you haven’t seen the park.”
Haulter, a Louisville native, described visiting Brown County State Park as a child as “magical.” What he didn’t expect about later working there was the history and more than a few legends that came with it. Haulter will share some of the best stories in this year’s winter hikes, all of which will begin at 11 a.m. at the Nature Center, unless otherwise noted. Several hikes will require carpooling to the trail head.
* Dec. 21 – Hike to Kelp Village
A 1.5-mile walk that will begin at Strahl Lake. The village peaked in population between the late 1800s and the early 1920s and was comprised of a tavern, church, school, post office, and residences, Haulter said. As the community dispersed, the park purchased properties, he added. Hikers will see photos and maps of the village, as well as relics including building foundations, roads, a bridge, and a cellar.
* Jan. 1 – First Day/Vista Voyage Hike
A 2.3-mile unguided hike to some of the park’s most stunning vistas. Participants can hike at their leisure between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The park will provide interpretive stations highlighting furs of winter animals and tree bark identification, and hikers also can enjoy hot chocolate and a bonfire.
* Jan. 18 – Hike to the Lake That Never Was
A 2-mile hike through several water crossings to the Taylor Hollow Dam site. The 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps construction project was abandoned for unknown reasons. The dam, hidden in the woods, would’ve created a lake nearly as big as Ogle Lake, Haulter said. Construction photos will be shown.
* Feb. 1 – Winter Dog Hike
A scavenger hunt-style hike throughout the park trails and contest for best pet-owner costume. Hikers will compete for points by finding codes shown on maps; many other codes will be hidden. Participants can begin as early as 9 a.m., and all tally cards must be turned in no later than 3 p.m. Prizes will include an annual state park pass and a night’s stay in Abe Martin Lodge’s pet-friendly room.
* Feb. 8 – Hike to the Boulder in the Tree
A rugged 2-mile, off-trail hike. Haulter said hikers will enjoy an “absolutely gorgeous” area that’s usually inaccessible to the public, as well as the hike highlight, a boulder lodged 20 feet up in a tulip tree. “We have no idea how it got there,” he said. “It’s a neat mystery.”
* Feb. 22 – CCC Ruins/Deserters Cave Hike
A 2-mile trek that begins with an easy hike to the remains of bunk and shower houses, stair cases, and more from the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp; followed by a rugged hike to Deserter’s Cave, where a group of Civil War soldiers from Nashville reportedly hid overnight while the Union Army sought to stop them from becoming Confederate soldiers. The route allows hikers to leave after the camp visit if they choose.
* March 14 – The Curious Quarry Hike
A rugged 4-mile hike to the quarry where the Civilian Conservation Corps gathered sandstone to construct the park’s Abe Martin Lodge, shelter houses, saddle barn, bridges, and more.
* March 28 – Hike to the Ten O’clock Line Nature Preserve A moderate 2.5-mile hike to one of two of the park’s nature preserves. The Ten O’clock Line Treaty was signed in 1809 by William Henry Harrison, then governor of the Indiana territory, and Little Turtle, a Miami Indian chief, for the acquisition of 3 million acres of American Indian lands. Native Americans distrusted surveyors’ equipment, so the treaty boundary was drawn by the shadow cast at 10 a.m. on Sept. 30. The nature preserve surrounding the line at the park boasts pristine examples of uplands, ravines, and floodplains, providing habitats for rare plants, animals, and the state threatened yellowwood tree. Haulter will discuss early Indiana history.
Hikers are encouraged to watch the park’s Facebook page for meeting point updates and weather-related announcements. Participants should dress appropriately for the terrain and weather and bring their own snacks and drinks. Non-aggressive dogs are welcomed but they must be on a leash (no longer than six feet) at all times. Only park gate fees apply for each hike. No sign-ups are required. The Abe Martin Lodge will offer hikers lunch discounts after each hike.