Thursday, February 4, 2016

Gilmore Metropark, Part One

multiple loops 0.8-2.0 miles - natural surface trails - all ages

Nestled among industrial buildings, an active rail line, and the Butler County Regional Airport, there exists a remarkably diverse natural area encompassing over 250 acres of wetlands, prairie, and forest, entirely within the city limits of Hamilton. Gilmore Metropark (formerly known as Gilmore Ponds Preserve) boasts an ever-changing landscape of wildlife habitat ringed with walking trails. Bring your binoculars and field guide – you’re sure to see something interesting regardless of the season.

Water dominates the landscape at Gilmore Metropark, though the only truly persistent ponds (that are accessible) are Kingfisher Pond and South Pond. The other ponds/marshes are often wet, and sometimes even flooded to the point of impassability, but are occasionally dry enough to walk through. Water levels here are very dependent on the season and recent precipitation amounts.

The park is generally quiet and has clear enough view lines to allow kids to run ahead. Especially in the prairie area, multiple loops allow kids to explore on their own without straying too far out of sight or sound. I recommend taking the opportunity to let your kids roam free for a bit – it will be good for both you and them.

There are two parking areas at Gilmore Metropark: one off Gilmore Road, north of Symmes Road and just south of the railroad crossing near the Butler County Airport, and the second at the north end of Bilstein Boulevard, just west of Bypass Route 4 on Symmes Road. Both parking areas are small (~10 spaces); note that only the Gilmore Road lot has amenities (picnic table and portable toilet). Note also that a Butler County Metroparks vehicle permit is required to park at either lot. Although there is no entrance station, I have seen park rangers patrolling the lots.

Recommended Hikes

The official park map lists four trails, comprising multiple loops. There are some additional unmarked but clearly maintained trails through the prairie areas of the park. Most of the trails are grass or packed dirt.

Kingfisher Out-and-Back - 0.9 miles
From the Gilmore parking area, there are two good options for a hike. If time is short, an enjoyable walk of less than a mile round-trip can be had by heading north from the parking lot. A floating plastic “boardwalk” extends through the wet forest – note that this area is subject to flooding and may be impassable at times. Frogs and wood ducks are common here in the spring and summer. When the boardwalk ends, turn right under the power lines and parallel to the remains of the Miami-Erie Canal on your left. The trail here follows an access road and the surface is primarily large gravel, which can be hard on the feet and ankles unless you are wearing sturdy footwear.

Kingfisher Pond
As you proceed, an area of open water will become apparent on your right. This is Kingfisher Pond: keep an eye out for herons, ducks, and the eponymous kingfishers, as well as various songbirds in the trees. At the end of the pond, the trail branches straight or right; turn right and cross the small berm towards the observation blind. The blind is an interesting feature, and my kids always like to climb it, but it unfortunately also attracts graffiti and garbage. I’ve not ever hung out long enough here to see anything worthwhile – I’d rather spend my time out walking the trails. There is also a bench at the edge of the pond if you care to sit and observe at ground level.

The official Conservancy Loop trail continues southwest from the wildlife blind, but is often underwater. It may be passable in a dry autumn or after a hard freeze, but don’t plan on this trail for completing a loop hike. Retrace your steps back along the north side of the pond to the boardwalk to return to the parking area – about nine-tenths of a mile (30 minutes) in total.

Next time, we’ll cover three more recommended hikes through this gem of a park, which has been recognized by both the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Audubon Ohio as an important area for wildlife, especially birds. Let us know in the comments below if you see anything particularly interesting during your next trip to Gilmore Metropark.

This day (October 2015) the path was dry, but this area is usually flooded

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