Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gilmore Metropark, Part Two

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

The surprisingly-natural urban park that is Gilmore Metropark is a great place to take a walk in the woods or go birding. This 250-acre park contains multiple well-maintained trails; a short, 0.9-mile hike along Kingfisher Pond was discussed in our previous post.

Outer Loop Hike - 2 miles
A longer two-mile loop trail also begins from the Gilmore parking lot and follows the previous hike to the end of Kingfisher Pond. At the trail intersection near the wildlife blind, continue straight ahead along the canal and railroad tracks to your left. This section of the trail is relatively open and can be very sunny and warm in the summer. About a half-mile past the wildlife blind, the trail turns sharply to the right and enters a more wooded area. For most of the year, there will be a pond on your right at this turn, as well as a watered but overgrown canal on your left as you proceed into the woods.

At the next junction, bear right and walk along a levee of sorts – low-lying areas on both sides of the trail collect water after heavy rains. In a quarter-mile, you will come to another junction; again, turn right and descend a small set of steps, across a footbridge, and through the treeline into the prairie area. A bench at the forest edge allows you to take a break if needed; to continue, take the trail straight ahead (northward) away from the treeline.

The mowed grass path will bear to the left past an observation deck overlooking the largest of the seasonal wetlands in Gilmore Metropark. Be on the lookout for herons and egrets in the summer and fall months; the trees surrounding this marsh host a large rookery for these waterbirds.

The marsh was drier than I've ever seen it. Note the heron nests in the bare trees on the right.

The trail through this prairie area is grass-covered but very uneven. Watch your step and be prepared to wrestle strollers out of hard-to-see ruts. Continue on the main trail, bearing right or straight ahead at each of the next two intersections. Upon entering a small stand of trees, note another observation deck off to your right, which looks out over a wet area dominated by scrubby vegetation and grasses – look for sparrows and blackbirds here. Just past this overlook there is a four-way trail intersection. The trail to the right leads back to Kingfisher Pond; this section is often flooded and impassable. The trail to the right is a short loop that leads back into the main trail, which you should continue along straight ahead. After two-tenths of a mile, you will return to the Gilmore Road parking area. Allow 45 minutes to an hour to complete the loop.

Prairie Hike - 1.2 miles
Starting at the Bilstein Boulevard parking lot, you have more direct access to the prairie areas and main overlook. Head north along the gravel road to the trail junction; turn left and go down the steps and over the footbridge into the prairie. At the bench, turn right along the treeline – the path will loop around to the left and rejoin the main trail near the observation deck overlooking the largest pond in the park. Continue ahead (westward) on the main trail to the second intersection, then turn left toward a stand of trees adjacent to industrial buildings.

From here, the trail will loop around through the trees, bearing left (eastward), and then follow the treeline back to the footbridge and steps. This southern edge of the park typically holds woodpeckers and woodland species, with the occasional raptor perched on snags or overhead utility lines. Upon reaching the steps, follow the gravel drive back to the parking area for a total hike of about 1.2 miles (approximately 30 minutes).

Southeast Loop Hike - 0.8 miles
A second, shorter hike from the Bilstein Boulevard lot enters the woods immediately from the parking area. Standing at the entrance sign and facing away from Symmes Road, there is a dirt path to your right – follow this through the trees. Note that this area is frequently muddy due to relatively lower elevation than other trails in the park. After about two-tenths of a mile, a short set of steps leads up to an old road that turns left through a tunnel of trees. A small overgrown canal to your right as you proceed northward along this road occasionally hosts ducks and cormorants.

When you reach a trail intersection, turn left and follow the levee southwestward. After a couple hundred yards, a short boardwalk leads to an observation deck on your left. This deck overlooks South Pond, which is ringed by mature trees and covered with cattails and reeds. Return to the trail, continuing to the left, until you reach a T-intersection. Turn left here and follow the gravel drive to return to the parking area. The total distance for this hike is about eight-tenths of a mile and should take just under half an hour to complete.

Of course, you are free to make up your own hike through the rich natural area that is Gilmore Metropark. It’s very difficult to get lost here; just stay on the well-maintained trails and you’ll eventually come back around to your starting point. I’m always surprised by the number of people in the Hamilton area that don’t know about Gilmore Metropark. If you come and explore this park, leave a comment below and let us know your favorite part of the experience.

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