Hiking Charleston Falls Preserve – Miami County, Ohio

Miami County Park District rocks!  There are sixteen properties/trails under their jurisdiction with my favorite being Charleston Falls Preserve.  When I first started coming to this park in the late 1990’s, it did not get the visitors that it does today so I try to visit it on less popular times like weekdays.  The park is over 216 acres with close to 4 miles of trails that wind up and down through prairie and forest.  Of course there is the 37 foot waterfall but also a small cave, wildflowers, plenty of benches, a gazebo, overlook platform, a pond, wildlife and well maintained facilities.  There are also many programs held in the park as well (see Miami County Parks for information/schedules).

Location:  2535 Ross Road, Tipp City, OH 45371

Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset   Pets are allowed!  (please clean up after your pet)  Do not pick or remove natural items.  

Facilities: Flush toilet restrooms, water fountain, picnic tables, trash receptacles, well-marked trails with map kiosks along the trails, benches, mostly gravel trails with the exception of the prairie area – wide mowed trails.

Overview:  A winding paved driveway leads to the parking area(s).  There is a paved area with several handicapped spots.  To the west is a larger gravel overflow parking area.  On the summer weekends, the overflow parking can almost fill up due to the popularity of this park.  The restrooms are open all year around (heated in the winter) which is a big positive for me as I have to drive almost an hour to reach this park.  They recently put several new picnic tables near the parking area.  Another picnic area requires walking into the woods and to the south.

The waterfall is a fairly easy less than a 1/2 mile walk along a wide gravel path through the woods.  For the most part it’s flat, but there is some gentle rolls.  This makes is great for people with young kids and people with physical limitations as they can see the falls without a long strenuous hike.  This is also the most popular direction for most of the people to walk.  once you walk into the woods, take a left at the fork in the path.  There is an informational kiosk as you walk into the woods and they always post on a sawhorse/sign what time the park closes that day.  There is also a bag dispensary for pet waste if you forget to bring one that usually is stocked.  To the right, you go back to the picnic area or the prairie area with the Golden Hexagon (gazebo).

Essentially all the trails form a loop that go through places like the Thorny Badlands and Redbud Valley.  But for this blog post, I’m going to use my preferred direction.  Once I enter the woods, I take the left of the fork.  Not long, there will be a spur going off to the left that is more narrow.  There is a map kiosk there, so I take a left.  If you stay on the main trail (right of map kiosk), it takes you directly to the falls.  The preserve has several pretty steep hills and I have found going clockwise on the loop is easier on my knees than counter-clockwise.  At 0.30 miles, the trail splits after you climb a short hill (there is a bench conveniently located toward the top).  If you go to the right, the path takes you to Cedar Pond and a prairie area.  To the left, you wind through the Locust Grove until the trail meets back up.

Locust Grove gets less foot traffic as the Cedar Pond is a popular spot.  There are steps down to the pond as well as a partial boardwalk.  You can walk all the way around the small pond but the earthen trail can be muddy after rains.   There are several benches situated above the pond which are nice to sit.  The pond is fill of fish, cat tails and water spiders.  In the summer, tiny yellow flowers bloom in the water by the boardwalk area.  I like to take Locust Grove trail in the heat of the summer as it’s heavily shaded.

Both of these trails converge together into one trail again as you go downhill and back into the woods.  The trail is more steep here as it runs down to the creek.  A wooden bridge goes over the stream but if you go to the left of the bridge, you can wander down to the water.  There are several rocks or concrete steps to allow you to cross the water if the stream isn’t high.  This is one of the most picturesque areas of the park in my opinion.  Once you cross the stream, the trail goes off to the right winding along the stream.

In another almost third of a mile, there is a another fork with a map kiosk.  If you go straight, this takes you through the Thorny Badlands (up a hill) to the Observation Tower.  Don’t expect some great view from the tower as it’s mostly grown up across the tower.  To the right, through the Redbud Valley, if you have hit at the right time in the spring, the many redbuds will color the valley in pink.  There are bits of boardwalk here that leads up to a steep hill that will eventually come up to the area above the falls.  I usually do the Thorny Badlands.  As you come up the first hill from the map kiosk/trail split, you can see the observation tower but also another trail that goes off to the left.  To the left is a 0.25 mile spur that runs through the woods and back up to the trail behind the tower.  I like this trail because of the large trees and the tendency for less traffic.

Soon after the trails rejoin east of the tower, the trail winds through a pine forest that smells wonderful.  The trail goes down across the stream and a wooden bridge and up a steep hill.  At the top of the hill is another thoughtfully placed bench.  You can go either left or right here.  I normally go right and wind along the edge of the cliff above the waterfall.  You get glimpses of the waterfall after a bit.  This trail also joins the trail that goes below the falls and past the small limestone cave.  I normally skip that part and keep along the ridge until you cross the creek that feeds the waterfall on a wooden bridge.  As the trail winds around toward the south, a wooden fenced area marks the upper overlook to Charleston Falls.

In the summer, wild red columbine blooms at the edge of the cliff on the other side of the fence.  An old, stately American Sycamore tree stands sentry at the bottom of the falls.  As you look below, you will see a boardwalk and observation deck at the bottom of the falls.  This can be accessed shortly after you walk on from the falls by following the wooden steps down.  Note:  Spring is usually the best time to see the falls running especially after the snow melt.  In the summer/fall unless there is a lot of rain, the falls can just be a trickle of water though still pretty.  In the winter, sometimes the falls freezes into huge icicle like formations.  This is a wonderful park for winter hiking as well.

At this point if you go to the south or to the left when you turn around from viewing the waterfall, the trail leads out into the prairie area to the Golden Hexagon.  There is a trail that goes completely around the area in a square and another trail that runs right through the middle to the gazebo.  The park thoughtfully put in a ramp as well as steps to the gazebo so it’s more easily accessed.  The trail throughout this prairie area is mostly just mowed grass.  The prairie area is full of wildflowers throughout the blooming season.  To the left, you follow the gravel trail through the woods and back to the parking area.

In conclusion, if you don’t like crowds try to go on a weekday morning.  There are many wildflowers and birds within the park as well as small critters like squirrels and chipmunks.  The Falls is a popular dog walking spot as well.  Many trail runners like the park as well as there is a wide variety of terrain in just under four miles.  Every season has something to offer.  When it’s snowy and icy, you do need to be careful in certain areas.  They offer many programs for kids and adults alike.  I’ve taken an inexpensive Nature Journaling/Sketching class there which sparked my love of sketching with charcoals.  This is one of my favorite parks in Ohio and I visit it often.  The parks department does a stellar job of keeping it maintained and clean.   They deserve our thanks.

If you haven’t visited this park yet, put it on your list as you won’t be disappointed.  Though I’ve been here hundreds of times over the years, I mix up my experience by hiking in different directions or different trails.  I never fail to see something new and beautiful.  Until next hike…

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Free, Less, & Me

I was writing in my journal noting that it hadn’t even been a month since my youngest moved out. As I reflected on how I was feeling, I noted several words came to mind.

“Free”. “Less”. “Me”.

I dreaded her moving out, cried for days before and after she moved out. It truly was the end to an era of my life. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been struggling with this whole empty nest idea for about eight years. What will I do? How will I feel? How will I fill the time? How will I feel useful? Needed? I’m not great with the unknown. I want to control everything after growing up in a dysfunctional family. But you can’t control this event nor do you want to. It’s our jobs as parents to raise the baby birds into full fledged adults allowing them to leave the nest and forage on their own. Looking back, I couldn’t wait to move out of my mom’s house. Freedom! Adulting! Doing what I want! Yay! Of course, we all know that it’s never as great as we think because there is always: Bills! Employment! Taxes! Car Issues! Health Insurance!

My life has never really been my own. Maybe a few years late in my teens as I moved from 18 to 19. Then I met my daughters’ father and I allowed my life to get hijacked. So on and so forth, this is all covered in previous posts. But I recovered and made a good life for my daughters and myself. I’ve achieved the majority of my goals that I had from years ago that seem relevant today. Being a famous rock star died out once i had the first baby.

“Free”. I have 4 things I’m responsible for: Myself, Pets, Home and Job. Suddenly I find I can spend a lot more time doing things I enjoy. It’s been going this way for a long time but now it feels more permanent. Outside of my responsibilities, I can chose how I spend my time. If I want to hang out with my kids I can. If I want to spend the day hiking in the woods, I can. If the hubby and I want to spend the day out driving in the Corvette we can (at least until the first salt hits the road). Holy shit! Freedom, or as much as a grown mid-life adult can have.

“Less”. Less cleaning, less cooking, less toilet paper, less grocery shopping, less picking up, less drama, less expectations, less responsibilities, less shit in general. I’m in the process of streamlining household chores, grocery shopping and so on to spend less time on these activities. Less = more freedom, more money, more fun. Essentially less becomes more. More of my own life to life.

“Me”. I’ve spent my life care taking people due to my crazy upbringing and then jumping into young motherhood. Now I can focus on me for the first time in my life. There are no grandparents or parents around pushing their expectations on me. Sad they are gone but it’s simply the truth. These people can really influence your life choices and in my case, I didn’t follow what I truly wanted. I hope I haven’t pushed too much onto my daughters though I know I have in the past. I try to just be supportive now. Me – Doing things I enjoy. Me – Spending quiet time alone which is an introvert’s paradise.

Though I will admit, it has taken me some time to adjust to this time and not try to force myself to be more extroverted because of some odd expectation I had set in my mind. I have the rest of my life; however long that is, to focus on myself for the most part. Which this may just be simple things like doing what I enjoy or pursuing a goal that I find I desire or taking naps. Aren’t naps amazing?

My biggest issue with this change of seasons in my life has been my fear of the unknown and the fear that I would no longer be relevant or useful. I’m not a helicopter mom, nor did I get so involved in my kids’ lives that I forgot my own but the change was significant for me. At times, I miss having kids in the house but mostly, I don’t. They all seem pretty happy on their own and I work at remembering that. I gave them a better shot than I had. I gave them a better childhood than I had. I did my best and honestly, I failed a bunch. I would never get “Perfect Parent of the Year” award but I would get “If You Fuck With My Kids, I Will Kill You” award. They never had to doubt I had their back. They still don’t. I would go all psycho mom on anyone who hurt my kids, grown or not. It’s my job. If they need me, I’m there. No questions asked. Okay, about 100 questions asked, but still there. Some things don’t change.

Bottom line is that you will live through this change. Yes, it can be very sad and you can feel very lost at times. Being a parent is the toughest and most rewarding job I ever had so it’s hard to replace that in my life. I’m really trying to look at it as I was successful at it, as much as anyone can be and now is time for new adventures. Now is the time to get back into my own life, take care of myself, buy myself fun things now and again, relax and enjoy. My life is in a rare quiet moment (knock on wood) so I need to enjoy it. Instead of worrying about what do I need to do now. Who cares? If I look back on my life at the end, will I think I should have started another business, went back to school, filled up my free time pronto? Probably not.

I did though sign up to be a Lunch Buddy for Big Brothers Big Sisters for a young girl who attends middle school. I’m excited (and nervous) about our first meeting next week. This is a volunteer activity that I can have face to face contact with one person with little commitment. I meet her for lunch for 30 minutes every other week (or more often if the Little wants). I chose older children because everyone wants the little kids because they seem less daunting and more cute. My hardest time wasn’t in elementary school but middle school. Nothing more awkward than my 5th grade self. I desperately needed a Big Sister in 5th, and 6th, and 7th, etc. (Shout out to my friends, hubby and boss who gave me a glowing reference – love you guys). I didn’t want to jump full in to a volunteer thing so this seems perfect. Wish me luck! I hope my Little likes me! I love that I have some time to give back to others.

One thing I did promise myself (outside of the BBBS gig) was that I am going to just take a deep breath and not make any major decisions or changes until after the new year. This is to allow me to continue to acclimate to my new reality and to really take time to think about what I want to do, if anything. I tend to knee jerk when I am feeling lost and uncomfortable. I should start a soap making business! I should sign up to volunteer for something I deep down don’t want to do but think I should do! Anything to fill the silence and uncomfortable moments. But those are the moments that I need to truly find my purpose, calling or what makes me happy.

Thats been my folly all my life. Not taking the time to sit in the uncomfortable silence for as long as it takes to find my next path or listen to my heart. I avoid the uncomfortable unknown like the plague and this has never served me well. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off does not lead to smart decisions. Nor did listening to everyone else close to me in my life. Sometimes their advice was right but when I ignored what I really wanted, I did myself a huge disservice. Not trusting my instincts/gut – another disservice. Huge one in fact. Since I can’t fix the past, I can be more cognizant of my future. This time, I am forcing myself to stay still. To listen. To just be for a bit. A few months will not kill me. Learning that I don’t have to be productive 24/7 or have some big goal at every moment, is a good lesson for me.

Be kind to yourself through this entire transition. No one can tell you how to feel (though they will try) or minimize your feelings (also will try – ‘well you knew they were going to grow up’ – no shit – thanks, so helpful). It’s okay to be sad, just don’t get stuck. Your feelings will be up and down or maybe you’ll be elated. Everyone is different. I never can figure out why people expect you to look, act, think and feel just like them. If you don’t, then there is something wrong with you. Stupid.

If you are going through this and need someone to talk to, shoot me a message. I’m here for you. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful support system and realize not everyone has this. Try to remember to be a little excited. This is the next phase or season of your life! Make it what you want! Hugs!