Thursday, October 9, 2003

Walk this way: Miami University Natural Areas

Multiple trails dot Oxford area

By Robin Buchanan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] This walking bridge crosses a creek in Bachelor Preserve.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
The delights of autumn are evident - crisp air, changing leaves, colorful days often warmed by midday sun, all offering a pleasant opportunity to exercise out of doors.

Take advantage of it all at a well-kept hiking secret approximately 30 miles north of Cincinnati in Oxford.

The Miami University Natural Areas encompass more than 1,000 acres of land, much of which was donated to the university to be preserved and protected in perpetuity. There are 13 miles of hiking trails for public use, selected areas for jogging, soccer, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, baseball, picnicking, and wildflower viewing.

Needle-covered loop

I chose the Bachelor Preserve Pine Loop, starting at the trailhead entrance on Bonham Road, Oxford Township. As the trails intertwine, starting points to your hike may vary. This particular location offers a small parking lot with the trailhead entrance directly across the street.

Where: Oxford Township
Distance: Approximately 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy; flat to moderate
Location: Parking and accessibility to this portion of the Bachelor Preserve Pine Loop is located on Bonham Road, Oxford Township.
Features: Find detailed maps of the Miami University Natural Areas Hiking Trails with litterbags for litter removal at the trailhead.
Best time of year: Year-round
Items to bring: Walking stick, camera, binoculars, water bottle
Information: James E. Reid, field manager, Natural Areas (513) 529-3100,
Upon entrance at the trailhead you are immediately immersed in a thick line of trees and groundcover, stifling the sounds from the road. The silence is almost deafening, the sense of serenity, priceless. The area contains a good cross-section of mature beech, maple, oaks and pine woods. The hiking surface itself is well-defined and covered in pine needles.

My first course of action was to search for a makeshift walking stick from the surplus of fallen branches that line the trail naturally due to the elements The first stretch of the Pine Loop portion of the Bachelor Preserve is flat, providing easy footing. The trees along the trail all have pronounced height, making it easier for taller hikers; there's very little bending to avoid branches on this trail.

Listen closely and you can hear one of the reported 61 species of birds that breed here in the natural areas calling out to one another.

Crossing the creek

As the trail starts a downhill turn near Hackers Run you have an option of crossing man-made round cement stepping stones protruding from the creekbed or opting for the hike (with less mileage) that follows the basin of land running parallel to the creek. Trail signs indicating your location are abundant and quite informative.

I chose crossing the stepping stones, 14 in all, where a test of balance challenged the successful crossing of the creek. On land again the trail ascends slightly, the tree line opens, allowing peeks of sunshine and sightings of wildflowers such as goldenrod, bergamot, Ironweed and Queen Anne's Lace. I was even delighted to note a buckeye tree growing right along the trail.

This section of the trail leads you to Bachelor Pond where you'll be treated to an occasional beaver sighting slipping in and out among the reeds. Make sure you check trail markers here, as there are intersecting paths that can lead you in the wrong direction.

Leaving the pond area, the path terrain continues changing; the trail bed here is lined occasionally with crushed gravel to allow drainage in low-lying areas. Pay close attention to your footing, especially near the steps that lead to the newly renovated, 45-foot span of swinging bridge crossing another point at Harkers Run.

Next, the entrance to the Pine Forest, where much to my delight, is a strategically built bench. If your schedule permits, this is the place to rest and regroup. Exiting the pine forest brings you back to the entrance and your vehicle.


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