While some areas of Turkey Run Park are designed for relaxing, while taking in its serene beauty, others are meant to bring out the more adventurous side of you.
Located deep within the backwoods of Turkey Run Forest, in the midst of oaks as old as our country itself, lays the Chinkapin Trail. This more difficult 2.2 mile trail is remotely located, 1.5 miles along the Paw Paw Trail, but has an altogether different feel to it.
Having hiked the Paw Paw Trail a dozen times, I would always arrive at the fork where the Chinquapin Trail split off, wondering wether or not to do it while passing it along. The few hikers I’ve run across would always avoid it and it seemed only the mountain bikers would venture onto the split, so I was never sure wether I would even be welcomed on it. On a warm and sunny afternoon, I found myself trail running along Paw Paw, seeking a bit more of a challenge and with a devil-may- care attitude, I decided it was now or never and swung a hard left, veering onto the Chinkapin Trail.
The first .5 mile runs more or less exactly like paw paw, a high canopy forest with clear views of the valley below, awash in wildflowers. Suddenly the trail switches back on itself and begins a steep climb into the uplands. Within a few moments the trees close in on both sides and the dominating juniper groves block the suns rays, making a midday afternoon seem more like dusk. The density of the trees and brush act as an insulator, blocking out all noise except for the creaking sound of trees swaying in the wind.
Some hikes are meant for quiet contemplation, an escape to solve yours and the worlds problem, far away from others. This is that hike. The stillness of the forest is comforting and haunting all at the same time. Your main companion here is the wind. You can hear it coming from a hundred yards away before it hits you, much like the scenes from Lord of The Rings, when Frodo can sense the Ringwraiths approaching as the sound of the wind builds and then unleashes a deep and howling whoosh onto the characters.
The gentle and meandering nature of the paw paw trail is not welcomed here, replaced by deep divots and steep hills that sometimes require you to climb out of, on all fours. Sharp bends hide the approach of hikers and bikers, forcing you to be more present on your journey. This trails keeps you on your toes, never quite sure which direction it’ll take you. As the junipers give way to the stately oaks, the sun begins to filter back in, allowing smaller wildflowers to take hold.
Chinkapin oaks thrive in this particular landscape, enjoying the dry and alkaline soils spread out over the bed of porous limestone below. With this being late spring, clusters of its male catkin flowers litter the forest floor, creating a bright yellow mulch. The acorns from this tree are at the top of the food preference list for many wildlife species, which would explain why I’ve seen wild turkey pilfering through here on more than one occasion.
When early pioneers would slash an area to create pastures for cattle to graze, they would leave stately specimens of chinkapin for the animals to rest under. Its straight lumber was used to make fences on every farm within the Ohio River Valley. Its dried wood was used to fuel steamships that ran all the way from Pittsburgh to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi River, all the way down to New Orleans. Some of those would carry passengers to early travel attractions, such as Mammoth Cave.
As the trail abrudtly begins its descent down the rocky slopes, it’ll lead you straight towards Turkey Run Creek. The creek is wide here unlike other portions that have to be crossed. Its gentle waters have washed away all sediment to expose it smooth limestone bed. I usually stop here to take a break, wether I need it or not. All hikers have a particular spot they like to stop at on their favorite trails, this is mine. Once while sitting here, a large blue heron flew overhead and landed a mere ten feet away from me.
I’ve dreamed of building a cabin here, up on the slope facing the creek, and of how I would spend my mornings starring out at the water as it flows by while sipping on a cup of coffee. This is as close to the source of Turkey Run Creek The creek crossing is just above a shallow waterfall and is usually ankle deep. Hikers normally place large pieces of fieldstone to hop from one to the other in order to cross. Climbing out of the ravine, the trees begin to close back in bring shade as the junipers remerge. Catching strong whiffs of cedar in the air here reminds me a lot of the great evergreen forests up north in Michigan near Sleeping Bear.
As you emerge from the Chinkapin Trail, you’ll find yourself in a confluence of three trails. To the left is the trailhead for Hickory Trail. This 1.45 mile hiking and biking trail was designed by the International Mountain Biking Association, curving up a wooded ridge with scenic views of the woods below, before beginning its endless decent towards the outer of edge Turkey Run Park, just below the Silo Center. Many hikers will alternate between entering Paw Paw and exiting through Hickory, for a change of scenery.
Turning right will take you back the way you came from Sky Meadows. If you chose to go straight and finish the Paw Paw Trail near the Silo Center, you will be greeted by an intense uphill return hike to Sky Meadows making the entire hike just shy of 10 miles. I suggest everyone do it at least once, its a great workout and your body will thank you in the morning. See you all on the trails!