Our first adventure was the nature preserve closest to our home, the Gross Memorial Woods in between Botkins and Jackson Center, Ohio on Botkins Road.
Location: Botkins Road, Shelby County, Jackson Center, OH 45334 – 6 miles east of I-75 on Botkins Road or 3.5 miles north of Jackson Center.
Acreage: 49 wooded acres. Trail: ~ 1/2 mile loop wood boardwalk. Suitable for families – more rugged strollers may traverse the boardwalk. Level, easy trail with three benches along the loop.
Parking: a small gravel lot allows for multiple cars. An informational kiosk stands in the parking lot next to the start of the trail (trailhead).
Cautions: No pets allowed, no picking or removal of natural items, boardwalk will be slippery when wet, some boards on the boardwalk need replaced so watch your step, some poison ivy near the benches and trail, marshy area – bring bug spray, no facilities (bring water, etc.).
Review: Gross Woods was a gift of Samuel Gross in 1980. According to ODNR’s site, it is a good example of old-growth woods in west central Ohio and also home to the rare pumpkin ash tree. I’m not sure what a pumpkin ash looks like but now that I have read about it, I am definitely going to try and locate one on my next visit.
My visits to Gross Woods have been mostly undisturbed by other visitors and you almost always have the place to yourself. Remember bug spray, even in the early spring, insects seem to be plentiful here due to the marshy area. You enter by stepping onto the boardwalk and being immediately shrouded by trees. In the spring, there are multitudes of wild flowers, so many that I had to get out several of my wildflower books to identify them all. We found different types of trillium, jack in the pulpit, hepatica, blood root, phlox, mayapples to name a few.
While the woods sits close to the road, there isn’t a lot of road noise and since the area is rural, you can sit on a bench and enjoy the peacefulness of nature. You will hear a lot of rustling in the leaf litter on the ground under the trees as this is also home to many salamanders and skinks. Once it gets warm, if you look closely enough and are stealthy, you may just see one. I’m terrified of snakes and am sure they live here in this woods but I am always relieved to find out the rustling is something bearing legs.
Though the boardwalk is only 1/2 mile long, I will do the loop first clockwise and then repeat it counter clockwise. Walking both directions is a great way to see even more on your visit. While it seems like the landscape doesn’t alter much, there is so much to see in such a short walk. Trees that have fallen over which have a line of plants growing on the top side of their trunks almost remind me of something you would see in a Lord of the Rings movie. Even mid- July we found some flowers blooming such as delphinium. We saw a salamander or skink with light blue coloring. I am no expert on reptiles but it sure was cute as it shyly skittered back under the leaves and out of our sight. There is plenty of shade as the tree canopy is very full above you, though I would still wear sunscreen to be safe.
The boardwalk is wide enough you can walk side by side with another person making it a pleasant place to chat while you stroll. However, you need to keep an eye on the boards, as a few of them could trip you up but overall as of July 2016, the boardwalk was in pretty good shape. If you love peaceful woods, vibrant green in mid-summer or full of wildflowers in the spring, this is a great place to visit. It is a good place for those with limited physical fitness due to illness or age, etc. with three benches that are spaced at good intervals to allow a place to rest.
A short walk, plenty of wildflowers in the spring, quiet and little interruption from other visitors makes this one of my favorite nature preserves.