Sunday, January 1, 2012

Flat Fork Ridge - Caesar Creek

Residents of Ohio know that in December, the weather is about as wacky as things can get. I headed out to the Caesar Creek area this first day of 2012 to take in a hike in an area I hadn't previously visited. The area is called the Flat Fork Ridge Trail loop and follows around a Southwestern portion of what is called the Caesar Creek Basin.

The trip to the area displayed weather that was mostly heavily overcast with breaks in the clouds and an occasional sun peeking through. The temperature was in the mid-fifties (yes, this is December) and I ran into some sprinkles on the way. It seemed to be light and soon stopped bringing relief that I wouldn't be hiking in wet weather. To get to the Flat Fork Ridge area, one must pass over the Caesar Creek Dam. More about that later. By the time I reached the Trailhead parking area, things seemed to be looking up. The sun was shining.

Caesar Creek, A Brief History
 Beginning in the middle 1960s. the Corp of Engineers began buying up land along little Caesar Creek, East of Waynesville, Ohio and north of Wellman. The area was known to flood often requiring some kind of flood control. It was decided that a dam would be built creating a huge lake area that would become known as Caesar Creek Reservoir. Not everyone was happy especially the residents of New Burlington, which would disappear 70 feet under the water. One newspaper referred to the disappearance of New Burlington as a "footnote to progress." Referring to people water-skiing on the lake, John Baskin, who wrote about the people of New Burlington said "The Village had largely been forgotten. Most of the pleasure seekers...would have been only mildly surprised if someone had told them they were water-skiing over a town." [From New Burlington: The Life and Death of an American Village, W.W. Norton publisher, 2000]

The dam was built in 1970 and is maintained by the Corp of Engineers along with the whole of Caesar Creek Reservoir, which has become a large recreational area including the many hiking trails surrounding it. The reservoir extends 15 miles northward from the dam.
The initial part of the trail was easy and uneventful. This is the portion that is near the picnic grounds allowing non-hikers to enjoy views of the reservoir and to be able to walk around including intermittent benches to sit and view the area. The clouds were moving rapidly and still occasional sunshine would burst out affording some beautiful views of nature in hibernation as we inch toward a harder winter than what I was experiencing at that time. After all, the start of winter was only December 22nd, nine days ago.

After about a quarter mile walk, you approach what is called the Wellman Meadow. The plain is a low very flat basin that is actually a flood spillway if the water did have to rise. It sits between walls of shale carved out of the hills. U.S. 73 is in the view and across from that is an area that allows one to look for fossils as there were many ancient sea creatures now cast in stone  for collecting.

Unfortunately, for me, there had been a hard rain earlier as well as several previous days of rain leaving the meadow area full of mud and water. One could either trudge directly through it or try to walk along thicker grassy portions to avoid sinking into small pools of collected water.

Another quarter mile and the trail begins to rise into slightly forested area. As with the meadow area, the trail was slippery and muddy. This was pretty much the case for the rest of the hike. The trail is marked by spray-painted markers on trees as there are occasional trail forays to the water level that could be reached. Additionally, the few wood bridge crossings were very slippery and I found it easier to just cross via rocks sticking up from the small tributary lines weaving their way to the creek.

The views of the creek were lovely along with a small horseshoe falls. The creek was swollen as it is during this period that the reservoir is beginning to be lowered to prepare for coming Spring rains. The dam was allowing the water to flow freely.. If one wanted to ford the creek, it was pretty impossible at this time due to the rushing water.

The length of this trail from the beginning to Pioneer Village and back would be six miles. However, the care of the trail has not been good. About a mile into the walk, there is supposed to be a suspension bridge. Unfortunately, the bridge is no longer there. It apparently became impossible to cross and unsafe and was dismantled. Nothing to this date has replaced it. Here is what I encountered on my hike.

I moved on down the trail. It was a bit precarious as the trail begins to fade out and is close to the edge of a 15 foot drop. Given the muddy, slippery bit, I found there was no place to forge the creek. I decided to give up and head back. Encouraging me was that the weather once more turned and began to rain heavily only making the trail worse while I was getting soaked.

As I headed back the wind rose in huge gusts as much colder air masses were moving in that would ultimately drive the temperature to the high 20s. The rain let up, but for the most part it was a miserable return hike.

I want to return to this trail area in the spring on some sunnier, drier day to try to explore the trail a bit more. Perhaps the creek will be less water clogged allowing me to forge it so I can complete the trail run. Until that bridge is replaced, this trail is probably not one to recommend.

I wonder if perhaps I was witnessing some of the area attempting to return to its own natural state and perhaps the ghosts of New Burlington were calling.