Friday, May 20, 2016

Farbach Werner Nature Preserve

0.7 miles - paved and natural surface trails - all ages

Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve may be one of the smallest parks in the Great Parks of Hamilton County system, but don’t overlook its importance. Located on Colerain Avenue (US 27) between I-275 and the Cross-County Highway, this gem of a park offers a welcome respite among the busyness of a suburban corridor. Especially in the winter, with the leaves off the trees, it is very apparent how much development there is around the park. In the summer though, a visitor to Farbach-Werner can easily feel removed from the bustle of activity just outside the park boundaries.

The entrance to the park is located off Poole Road, just west of a traffic light on Colerain Avenue. There is no fee booth here but note that a Great Parks pass ($3 daily/$10 annual) is required. Overflow parking during special events (like Maple Syrup or Black Walnut festival weekends) is available just south on Colerain Avenue behind the adjacent church.

Walking into the park, you will notice two buildings. The converted house on your left contains a small but densely-stocked gift shop, with a focus on backyard bird feeding supplies. The larger red building to your right is the Ellenwood Nature Barn, recently expanded to include upgraded restrooms. The barn frequently offers nature programs on the weekends and contains some permanent exhibits, including live turtles and frogs. Outside the barn, a small amphitheater and fire pit provide outdoor programming space.

Pin Oak Trail

The short trail system at Farbach-Werner, dubbed the Pin Oak Trail, comprises three interconnected loops. There is also a short loop around the rear of the barn ; in the spring and summer months, a butterfly garden here provides an abundance of flowers to attract colorful insects and birds.

Most of the trails are paved and fairly flat, but there are some slight hills - nothing too difficult to negotiate with a stroller. Note that bikes and roller skates are not permitted in the park.

The main trail starts between the barn and amphitheater – a large sign here names the Pin Oak trail and includes a trail map. Great Parks interprets their trails quite well – the signage is dated, but the information remains relevant, if not immediately engaging to a tech-driven generation. Trail continues past a grove of thick bamboo on the right, then splits – continue straight ahead on the left branch. This is a loop trail, so you will return along the trail on your right.

Just ahead is a small pond – look for turtles and frogs here, along with lots of large goldfish. Check out the sign on the far side of the water – can you figure out what it says? Two options exist here for the trail – a short cutoff runs along the edge of the pond and includes a wooden observation deck. To your left, a brief loop turns through the trees – note that this path, while paved, has a steepish hill on the back side.

The main trail continues westward further into the park. Around the next bend is a trail junction. The paved trail to your right continues the main loop through the park. Left is an exit to an overflow parking lot. Ahead is an unpaved trail through the back part of the park – what I call the Forest Loop. Note that this trail is inaccessible to wheelchairs and all but the most rugged strollers as the trail crosses twice over a small creek, descending and climbing the creek valley both times. The crossings are on wooden bridges, so no need to ford the creek, but only the first downhill has established stairs. The trail surface is often wet and/or muddy – keep an eye on young kids and anyone with potentially unstable footing.

The western end of the forest loop comes out again to the main paved trail. A right turn takes you back to the parking area. This section of the trail passes by a couple of seasonal pools – important habitat for amphibians such as frogs and salamanders.

Seasonal pool—good amphibian habitat
Turning left from the forest loop leads around the western edge of a small grassland area. This paved “prairie loop” encircles a fire-maintained open habitat for different types of flora and fauna than would be found in the more-thickly wooded areas. At the northern end of the prairie, a stand of red cedar trees enclose a small seating area.

Completing the prairie loop brings you to the north side of the main trail loop; a left turn takes you back to the parking area, gift shop, and barn. Just ahead on the path back to the trailhead, a large beech tree stands in the woods to the right of the trail. My kids never tire of clambering about the branches of this mighty old tree.

Starting from the nature barn and walking the perimeter of the trail system, including the unpaved Forest Loop, works out to about two-thirds of a mile in total. With creative wandering and doubling back on some of the loops, you could eke out a full mile of walking, but any longer of a hike will require multiple laps of the park.

If you're looking for distance, this isn’t the park for you, but if you're looking for a quick place to get away from it all, it’s great.

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