Saturday, June 13, 2009

Osage Tunnel and the Three Sisters

There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country.
A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken
at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.
- Paul Scott Mowrer

Recently, I spent a partly cloudy morning at the Sugarcreek Metro Park near my home. The hiking trails in this park are mostly an easy hike, but set on the outskirts of the city of Bellbrook, Ohio, very close to housing developments, one is surprised to find such a treasure so close to home. The trails can run from over three miles to half that. Or if you chose to literally hike the whole park since the trails intertwine you could have a rather decent walk.

Because this is so close to the city of Dayton, even going early, you will encounter large amounts of joggers, photographers, and families. It is not a hike to take if you are looking for isolation. But it is definitely worth a visit because there are some surpising sites to see. When you walk down the asphalt entrance to the central location from where all trails extend, you can turn east and within a few hundred feet, you can take a short extension from the trail to come into an open natural prairie area which at certain times of the year will bloom with wildflowers. At the time of the month I reached it, the flowers were fewer but the tallgrass was just so. You can move around the prairie area on a special path that will wind you through the growth. This is a place that is reminiscent of an Ohio past when there were no settlements except for the Indians roaming the area. At one time there were over 300 natural prairie openings. While this is a planted prairie, it does give you an idea of what Ohio was like with nothing but forest and open prairies.

There were within these grasses hidden gems of tiny flowers. Sometimes they were quite visible, but other times, one had to look carefully to find them. The other spectacular thing this particular morning (and the main reason I like to go in the early mornings) are the number of distinct bird calls you could hear in the surrounding area. Seeing the dew on the grass with small wildflowers open to the sun and hearing the cacophony of the variety of bird fills one with the wonders of mother nature.

Leaving the prairie behind and re-entering the hiking trail, the path, while rock encrusted, is an easy one. There are the occasional hills up and down which add a bit to the challenge including a couple of steep inclines requiring a choice of trudging up the path, or using the natural stone steps added by the park department. The trail is at first somewhat open but soon begins to darken from the thicker canopy of trees overhead. As I followed the "green" trail, the longer one, I found myself a bit isolated as I moved through the wooded areas until I reached a stream that required crossing over the stone rock laid down to minimize getting wet. Continuing on, I briefly left the "green" trail where it met the "orange" trail. I wanted to see the first surprise.

The orange trail moves up a small hill and one is suddenly presented a sort of tunnel like effect as wiry osage orange trees have been worked to create a canopy of limbs.
Osage Orange trees are also known by the large softball fruit they produce commonly called "hedge apples." In the 1800s before the invention of barbed wire, Osage Orange trees were planted as a living fence or hedge along farms. The thorny saplings were aggressively pruned to promote bushy growth. The trees were considered "horse high, bull strong and hog tight." Tall enough that a horse would not jump it, stout enough that a bull would not push through it and woven so tightly that even a hog could not find its way through! The trees on this trail were originally planted in the late 1800s to serve as a fence and now are part of the trail. Among Osage Orange trees are male and female trees with only the female species producing the "hedge apples." I am not sure which sex these particular trees are, however.

Leaving the orange trail behind, I headed back to the green trail and continued to wind my way through the heavier areas of the wood. Interestingly, while this is a great place for bird watching and listening to their songs, it is also mixed with the outside world of vehicles passing, overhead planes, and campers over and up nearby hills. But still a delight to travel.

Another continued walk along a nearby stream, I soon diverted once more onto the Orange trail as I wanted to check out another feature of the park.
At a sharp curve in the trail is a suddenly open area called the Three Sisters Oak trees. Sadly, only one still stands. These are trees that are/were over 550 years old. When Columbus came to America, these trees were already 50 years old having begun growing around 1440. The one tree that is left is in decline now. The documentation says that two still stand, but as best as I could tell, I could only see one. The middle tree was brought down in the summer of 2008. Having been weakened by an earlier fire, the tree fell of its own accord. In the photo the tree looks somewhat smaller, but in actuality it is quite large. My camera did not have a wide enough lense to really do the tree the justice it deserved. This tree is really much more massive that the photo seems to show. But the fact that these are perhaps the oldest trees in the area and in a way have witnessed a lot, it boggles my mind to think that it was around when there were roaming buffalo and native Indians in the area only.

If you are looking for a moderate challenge, but an easy and convenient getaway, SugarCreek Metropark is a fine area. There is in addition to hiking, camping and horseback riding. Another section of the park is devoted to horseback riding.