Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~Robert Frost

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Greetings from Hilton Head, SC!

How lucky I am to have relatives living in Hilton Head, South Carolina--otherwise, I may not have had the chance to introduce my son to the wonders of Spanish Moss, pine-needled trails, and the 'greenness' of the Saw Palmettos, a lovely sight for Ohio winter weary eyes.  We traveled from Cincinnati to Hilton Head during the week after Christmas to celebrate the holidays and visit with my Mother and Father-in-law.  I know what you are thinking:  "Must be nice..."  And you are right.  It was very nice--not shorts and tank tops nice, but I got by without my winter coat.  These folks raised their four boys in Buffalo, New York before retiring to Hilton Head, so they have certainly put in their time for crappy winters.  I made the journey from Cincy to Buffalo a few times before my husband and I were married and that was plenty for me!

Len and Mares live on Hilton Head Plantation, a gated community near the entrance to the island.  The trail featured in this blog post is within the Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy which is maintained and owned by an organization named the Hilton Head Island Land Trust.  I do not believe the trail is open to the general public, but if you happen to have friends or relatives living in this plantation, it's a very peaceful place to take a stroll and the kids will love the boardwalk.  Let's take a look!

We start our hike at the beginning of the Nancy Cathcart path which is well marked with a sign:

Nancy Duane Cathcart was a naturalist on Hilton Head Island and published a book about the region in 1981 titled The Natural History of Hilton Head Island, S.C.: a field guide.  I'm assuming this path was named after her.  My son, Marshall takes the lead and we head down the trail--a carpet of pine needles edged with waving Saw Palmettos:

Not too far into the walk, we approach some boards that cover a wet spot and Marshall takes a moment to rest and examine some pine needles up close:

I'm wondering if we can fit enough of these in our pockets to use as mulch in our yard back home... I know my father-in-law would gladly be rid of a few thousand of these needles which fall onto his lawn each week and require constant raking.  At least he never has to buy and spread mulch for the garden beds, he just rakes them in!  Of course, this being a nature preserve, we look and touch, but leave behind the needles and forge ahead into the more forested part of the preserve.

My mother-in-law, Mary Ann (Mares) is an avid gardener and knows a lot about plants.  She belongs to a local garden club, called--you guessed it--The Avid Gardeners.  In the next picture, she is showing me a diseased red bay tree.  The red bays in the South have apparently been dying out over the past few years due to a disease known as Laurel Wilt Disease which is spread by the Ambrosia Beetle from Asia.

We see many of these, mostly young saplings, during our hike. This reminds me of the problems we are having with the Emerald Ash Borer in Cincinnati and all of the Northeastern U.S. and of my fear that one day, insects will take over the world.  

Another point of interest is a small section of the woods that suffered a brush fire in February, 2009.  You can just see the charred bark hiding behind the Saw Palmettos in the following photo:

It seems the area is recovering well, especially when compared with a photo of the damage when the fire occurred.  

After about a fifteen minute stroll, we finally reach the main attraction of the preserve, the Boardwalk.

The boardwalk allows us the chance to become immersed in the ecosystem of a freshwater swamp without getting our feet wet (hopefully)!  Marshall can't wait to take off running and scare the bejeezus out of me.  Images of him falling into the water and being consumed by a massive alligator enter my mind.  

Fortunately, he is my more careful son and I am thankful my two year-old wild child is taking a nap back at the house.  The swamp is beautiful, filled with the tall, straight trunks of the Tupelo or Black Gum trees that make up the forest.  With the sunlight filtering in and the still, dark waters reflecting the scene, it's quite a peaceful, beautiful place to take a deep breath and contemplate life.  Seeing my reflection in the water as I gaze over the wooden rails with all the tree trunks rising up behind my silhouette, I am reminded that I desperately need a haircut and would be smart not to take a photo at this very moment.  Rather, I shoot some of the trees instead:

and the Spanish Moss:

and the cute hand-made signs describing the plants:

and the Boardwalk from the middle of the swamp after I have fallen in:

Just kidding.  This is taken from another portion of the boardwalk that forks from the main one.  At the end of the boardwalk, you get to look out over a wooded area that is wonderful for bird watching.

We hear more birds than we spot on this day.  That was the only disappointment, not seeing much wildlife.  I did get a glimpse of Ohio's state bird, a red cardinal.  So much for exotic southern waterfowl.  But a red cardinal is lovely anytime and probably much easier to spot. 

After making our way back down the boardwalk and toward the parking area, Marshall finds a perfect resting spot:

The Whooping Crane Pond Conservancy is very-well maintained by people who love and appreciate this natural area and I am grateful for their hard work.  Although we don't get to Hilton Head as often as we would like, I appreciate being able to re-visit this trail each time and make good memories with my family.  I also appreciate my in-laws for taking such good care of us when we come to their beautiful home!

I'd like to mention some other natural areas on and near Hilton Head Island that are open to the public for those of you who may vacation there.  Following are links to info about the places I have visited personally and think are well worth the trip.

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge is just off island:

Sea Pines Forest Preserve:

Stoney-Baynard Ruins:

If you have any recommendations for other places to hike on Hilton Head, let me know!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fast Facts: Mariemont Concourse

Village of Mariemont
at W. Center Street and Miami Bluff Drive
Cincinnati, OH  45227

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Kids Will Like
  • Scenic Overlook
  • Climbing the Stone Walls
  • Looking for Fossils in the Stones
  • Possible Train Sightings
  • Running Through the Concourse
  • Open Field for Playing
Good to Know
  • Neighborhood Park
  • No Admission
  • Parking Along Concourse Driveway
  • No Playgrounds
  • No Restrooms
  • Stroller Friendly
  • Off the Beaten Path
The Mariemont Concourse is a neighborhood destination spot.  It is a small, but lovely community park featuring a large stone pergola covered with wisteria and overlooking the Little Miami River and farm fields beyond.  The stone used to build the pergola is full of fossils.  A railroad line crosses the river and stretches across the valley as far as the eye can see.  The Village of Mariemont hosts occasional events here and it is also a prime spot for high school Senior photos.

Historical Information
Mariemont History:
Mariemont History, Book Recommendation:
Mariemont National Historic Landmark Nomination Document:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Trail Tale: Mariemont Concourse, November 2010

Since I live a stone's throw away from Mariemont, I often take walks through the serene neighborhood, marveling at the beautiful homes and big old trees lining the wide streets.  Although Dogwood Park, which I wrote about in an earlier post, is the boys' favorite Mariemont destination, the Concourse runs a very close second (unless you count Graeter's, but we'll overlook that for now).  The Concourse features a huge stone pergola, built by the towns' planners in the 1920s.

(Much has been written about Mariemont's rich history, so I won't repeat much here. You can find links to some good information on the Fast Facts post for the Concourse).  

Besides climbing on the walls,

my boys are drawn to the Concourse for the possibility of seeing a train moving along the railroad tracks down in the valley that lies beyond the structure.

Marshall on the lookout for trains
I don't believe the tracks are in use at this time, but we have seen a bit of activity, like cars being changed.  If any readers have knowledge of these tracks, feel free to leave a comment!  Regardless, it is a lovely view to take in, with the railroad bridge crossing over the Little Miami River.

The tracks head toward Newtown, lining a farm field before they fade from sight.

The second main attraction for us is the abundance of fossils found in the stones which came from a limestone quarry in Indian Hill at the time the structure was built.  It's easy to allow the minutes slip by as we scan the stones, shouting "look at this one!" and "over here!"  Here is a sample a few fossils at which we marveled today:

and my favorite:

Actually, it was during one of our fossil-hunting days earlier this year that I started to form the idea for this blog which is why I've include this destination.  I had been thinking about easy ways to expose the kids to nature in our everyday activities, like while taking walks around the neighborhood or just playing in the backyard.  It's easy to come across a place like the stone pergola in Mariemont and just let the kids run and climb and do the things they do best--play.  But, what a great opportunity to show them the fossils and turn an ordinary walk into a nature adventure.  

The Mariemont Concourse is a peaceful place too, with plenty of benches overlooking a small arboretum, inviting contemplation and a place to rest.  

Do you have a place like this in your neighborhood that a passerby might not know about?  Feel free to leave a comment.  I love to discover new places to explore!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fast Facts: Lindner Park, McCullough Estate Nature Preserve

2726 Cypress Way
Cincinnati, OH  45212

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Kids Will Like
  • Exploring Remnants of Stone Swimming Pool and other Structures
  • Viewing the Goldfish Pond and Gardens
  • Taking Footbridges over the Creek
  • Locating the Old McCullough Seed Co. Sign
  • Climbing on Fallen Trees

Good to Know
  • Parking Lot on Premises
  • Picnic Tables Available
  • Restroom Rating: A
  • Water Fountain
  • Easy Trails
  • Off the Beaten Path
  • Small Toddlers May Need Help on Bridges

Lindner Park at the McCullough Estate is a well-maintained little gem tucked away on the northern side of Norwood near Pleasant Ridge.  The highlight of this park is it's historical structures:  a huge stone swimming pool, bath house made of cypress logs, a foot bridge that looks like it came from a fairy tale, and others, including the McCullough home.  The trails are fairly easy and the whole park can be explored in a couple of hours.  Besides the wooded setting, there is an open area containing picnic tables, a small formal garden, and lovely fish pond the kids will love.   The Norwood Historical Society holds meetings at the McCullough home and the Drake Planetarium hosts outdoor learning labs at the park for schools and groups.  There are several very impressive tall trees on this property to marvel at!

Historical Information
McCullough Estate History

Other Links of Interest
Drake Planetarium Outdoor Labs  
Norwood Historical Society   

Trail Tale 1: Lindner Park, McCullough Estate Nature Preserve, November 2010

One day about a year ago, I stumbled upon this little gem of a nature preserve on the border of Norwood and Pleasant Ridge while taking a round-about way home from a lunch date.  I was hoping the ride would lull the boys into a nap, but we ended up exploring the trails instead.  I am somewhat familiar with the city of Norwood (I worked at the local library and later rented an apartment there for about a year), but I hadn't explored the area north of the Lateral where Lindner Park is located on a sleepy side street which features some really neat old homes, including those once occupied by members of the McCullough family.  So, finding this lovely and historically interesting site felt like I'd just discovered a secret treasure--of course, most of the hikes this year have felt that way since they are all new to me.

On a sunny Friday this past November, I took the boys back to Lindner Park to capture some photos for this blog entry and enjoy the beautiful day.  The inviting entrance to the park is off of Cypress Way.

A small paved parking lot is down the driveway, past the historic McCullough House, and on the left.  A very nice, shady picnic area is located at the end of the driveway near the parking lot with fairly new picnic tables, trash cans, and a working water fountain.  I did not get a photo of the picnic area for some reason, but this is the view from that spot looking toward a formal garden and the house beyond.

We found the restrooms in the building shown below, to the left of the garage doors.  In this view the picnic area is on the right, the house is on the left, and the woods are to my back.

Turning around, we found a trail head to the woods beside a bench overlooking the gardens.  After a quick snack and trip to the restroom, the boys were ready to go!

[NOTE:  This hike is divided into two posts--this post covers the Pawpaw trail at Lindner Park and the following post will describe the Cypress Trail.]

Just a few yards into the hike, we came to the first of several spectacular big trees.  These really stand out in comparison to the smaller, newer trees which make up much of these woods.

Some are nicely labelled, as you can see with this American Sweetgum:

And here we go down the trail...

Soon into the walk, we pass by the remnants of some old structures on the property...

...and quickly encounter a brand-new structure.  This sturdy fence protects hikers from a drop in the landscape and runs alongside the trail. 

It's hard to keep two active boys from climbing the fence, though I did succeed in keeping their climbs to a minimum.

The view is over a small ravine containing a creek and the trail eventually descends to that point.  A big Sycamore looms up from the ravine and I can't help but notice my shadow in it's trunk as I lean onto the fence.  Can you see it?

The trail continues on a little ways before it dips down toward the creek.  It's a bit steep and my 2 year old needed some help, but there are plenty of roots to serve as footholds.  The photos below give you an idea.

Shortly after the descent, we come to the first of two foot bridges (no handrails) crossing the small creek--always a point of interest for the kids.

Soon after the bridge we make a huge discovery--Nature's Own Jungle Gym!!

Welcome to the Jungle Gym

Enjoy Your Stay

Use Caution While Climbing

All Sticks Must Remain in the Play Area

Please Do Not Swing on the Vines

Benches Are Provided for Resting

Come Back Soon!

I took a ton of pictures of the boys at this awesome little nook in the woods created by a fallen tree.  These are only a select few--I could add more, but then I'd be gushing.  It was a lot of fun though and certainly a feature to enjoy.  On down the trail, you walk alongside the creek, which was very dry as all the creeks have been this year.  Soon we came to the second foot bridge.

Here is where a hint of sewage invaded the air.  It is known, according to the park brochure, that "Unfortunately, the creek receives sewer water from Cincinnati and at times can be an unpleasant place to be."  Yep.  It wasn't overpowering on this day, but still, we didn't linger for very long.  We made our way along the other side of the creek and eventually up some stone steps that took us back up to the restrooms and parking lot.

This completed our venture on the Pawpaw Trail.  With our stop and spontaneous photo shoot at the "jungle gym", this portion of the walk took us 35 minutes.  We decided to continue our hike on the Cypress Trail. Please see the entry which follows for the description of the Cypress Trail!