My Struggle With Intuitive Eating & Emotional Overeating

Toward the end of 2018, I decided to make some pledges (not resolutions) to myself and my own well-being. They are:

  1. My Health & Fitness – Conquering my overeating & shed the extra “person” I carry from the result of not dealing with my emotions, boredom, etc.
  2. My Peace – I can’t control other people/situations but I can control how I react.
  3. My Self-Care – Putting this first, I deserve it at all times.
  4. My Joys – Once my responsibilities are taken care of, I deserve to spend my time in ways that make me happy and joyous.

So No. 1 is what I’m going to focus on though they all sort of tie in together. First off, #1 is not a diet. I’m not counting calories or forcing myself to work out to burn calories. Sometimes I log my food to pick up on trouble spots, make myself more mindful when I’m eating at points that I’m not hungry and maybe need to address some underlying emotions or issues. When I started Intuitive Eating, I didn’t address the core reason I struggle with overeating to start with. Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic household, food became my drug of choice since when you’re 9-10 years old you usually don’t have access to drugs and alcohol. Though watching my father, I knew I didn’t want to abuse alcohol. Food was my friend, my comfort and still is today except now I want to go a step further and shed my frequent need for comforting with food. This feels like one of the final steps I need to take in my journey to overcoming my past abuses and traumas. Frankly, I don’t want what happened to me in the past to win.

Long story short, I didn’t truly follow Intuitive Eating (IE) as it is intended. I used it as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted when I wanted, but I wasn’t eating to true hunger, I was shoveling junk into my big mouth to buffer the pain and anxiety from my past. Then I blamed IE for failing me. Nope, I failed me. I was eating when I wasn’t truly hungry. I wasn’t listening to my body but to my emotions, my fears, my anxiety, my stress, my boredom, etc. IE didn’t fail me, I failed IE. I failed myself but it’s okay. It’s all in a learning and recovery process.

People who have suffered abuse, sexual trauma/rape etc. especially women, tend to be overweight as a coping mechanism.  Wearing a “fat suit” makes you feel safer from unwanted attention. Start to lose weight, get smaller and the moment you start garnering more uncomfortable attention, you’ll unconsciously start overeating to pad up your protective fat suit.  In a way, it feels like your superpower to be invisible to other people.  You can fade into the background considering you’re not being targeted for fat-shaming. 

In my life, I have experienced verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse so I struggle in many different ways but I’m determined to overcome these coping mechanisms. It’s time I break free of my past and live a freer life. I know I will always be haunted by my past but I don’t want it to win. I will falter but I will pick myself up, brush off and keep going. Eventually, the falls will become infrequent and I will also learn to catch myself before hitting the ground sometimes. But I have to be patient and kind with my trips. I just want to overcome and drop this baggage. I want to stop suffering, stop overeating and take care of my body. It feels like this extra “person” of fat/weight that I carry around weighs me down and serves as a constant reminder that I’m still letting my past win.

The principles of IE are simple:  Eat when hungry – eat what you want until just satisfied.  Incorporate gentle nutrition and joyful movement.  Well this is my take on it, the book is more involved but this is the overall view.  When you are struggling with emotional/stress overeating, it throws in an additional challenge.  I’m not going to diet any more.  I’m not going to weigh or measure myself.  It has never once helped in the long run.  I’m not going to berate myself for what I eat but I’m also going to stop ignoring my emotional overeating and fool myself to believe oh, it’s just intuitive eating.  Um, yeah, Laura, nope, nice try.  Stop excusing your overeating as IE.  Just stop it already.

The other night, hubby and I went to Walmart to get some groceries but it had started pouring down rain while we were inside.  Our car was halfway up the parking lot so I grabbed ahold of the cart, bracing some of my weight on the handle and started running toward it.  Because some of my weight was being carried by the cart, I felt this incredible lightness.  I couldn’t tell you how many pounds the cart way holding but it doesn’t really matter.  The experience made me think of how much better I would feel if I was not carrying an extra ‘person’ of weight.  How much lighter and stronger I would feel.  How much more I could do.  Of course this triggered the whole dieting thing in my head, but I pushed it out of my mind.  I can’t live my life dieting.  But I can live my life honoring what my body wants and needs.  I can honor my life by dealing with the hard emotions, loneliness, sadness, grief, anger, frustration, etc. by facing those uncomfortable feelings.  My body is padded with all my overeating.  

Another recent experience is I deleted all my fitness tracking apps off of my phone.  Since my late teens, movement has been mandated exercise to lose weight.  I must walk, ride, run, hike – X amount of time at Y intensity to burn Z calories.  It was never about joy or enjoyment.  Diet mentality sucks.  One day I walked four miles with my daughter on the bike path.  Several times I caught myself thinking – ‘you better walk faster you’re not burning enough calories’, ‘quit stopping, your heart rate will drop’ and ‘push, push, push’.  Each time, I would push those thoughts out of my mind and go back to enjoying what I was doing.  If I wanted to stop and poke under the leaf litter hoping to find an early wildflower, then so be it.  If I wanted to stop and take a few photos of an area, no problem.  If I just wanted to stop, close my eyes and breathe in the fresh air, go for it.  Somewhere along the way, I had completely given up my enjoyment of being outside moving.   Without realizing it, we had walked four miles (my phone auto tracks steps and I checked out of habit).  

The next day, it was warmer and the sun was in and out.  Being in west-central Ohio, the winters can be brutal and I wanted to get back outside.  This time I drove to a park fairly close to my house that has a lot of off pavement trails as walking on pavement makes my knees and hips hurt if I do it too much.  Even though it was muddy, I brought an extra pair of hiking shoes and set off.  This time the exercise Nazi in my head was quieter.  A few times, she popped up but I ignored her commands.  I wasn’t on a set schedule and had several hours to myself.  Before, I would have my exercise tracking app on and be compulsively checking it for my average walking speed, calories burned and time elapsed.  I’d be hiking briskly, not stopping to admire much of anything.  

Three different times, I had scared up a giant blue heron who was fishing in the creek and nearby small lake in the park.  The last time I saw him, he was standing on a slowly shrinking ice patch at one end of the lake.  He cocked his head to one side so he could see me better as I slowly approached.  I pulled out my phone and started taking pictures with my camera.  I crept along the trail excited that he hadn’t flown away this time.  He watched me cautiously and I watched him.  As I gently took soft steps, I was able to get closer photos until I had walked right by him (or her – I have no idea how to tell them apart).  I stood there staring back at him, taking in the quiet of the day, the sun coming in and out from behind the traveling clouds.  Maybe, I thought, if I were to have a spirit animal, maybe it’s a blue heron.  

Eventually, I moved on and he stayed on his ice perch to fish.  As I finished my hike, I reflected on my heron encounter.  A month ago, I would have been so focused on burning calories that I would have barreled down the trail scaring the heron a fourth time.  I wouldn’t have given myself permission to just go gently, slowly and enjoy the encounter with reverence and awe of such a beautiful bird.  My mom used to say ‘like a bull in a china shop’.  Well that’s been me going through my life breaking things and missing the delicate cues of the world around me.  Missing the beauty of the ‘china’.  I don’t want to be the bull anymore.  I don’t want to charge through my life.  

When I got back to my car, I was surprised to find I had walked five miles based on my phone’s step counter.  This time I checked out of sheer curiosity and not a goal.  If I had set my goal to hike five miles, I would have charged through just wanting to get it over with and on to the next thing.  I wouldn’t have enjoyed the hike like I did that day.  I’d been impatient and making up reasons in my head why I couldn’t possibly hike five miles.  But this time, I took my time, I took many photos with my phone (prompting me to order a recharageable portable power source since I almost ran the phone battery down).  I spent time just being present, being mindful.  I didn’t even notice I had hiked so far because distance wasn’t my goal.  Left to my own devices and enjoyment, I obviously will hike further than I would expect.  

Between the grocery cart experience and that day’s joyful hike, I realized I am on the right track.  I want to be lighter, more joyful, less encumbered and simply mindful.  When I ordered the power source, I also ordered a small sling day pack to carry a water bottle, maybe a sketch book, some charcoals and possibly my Nikon camera.  I also ordered a bracelet with a butterfly charm as a reminder to focus on the beautiful, to fly above the world’s expectations and BS, as a promise to myself to enjoy life, to honor what my body needs, to conquer the emotional/stress eating, to live the very best way I can.  I also ordered a pack of my fave Pilot V5 roller ball pens in a bunch of colors just because I wanted them and the bright chartreuse green is my fave.  

I don’t know if I will get smaller or lose weight.  The only way I will know is by how my clothes fit because I just can’t weigh or measure my self any more.   I don’t have an ideal size in mind, I figure this is up to my body to let me know what my size should be.  I believe that if I can for the most part eliminate emotional/stress overeating and that I listen to my body giving it gentle nutrition, that I may end up smaller/lighter.  Or not.  Either way it doesn’t matter.   The goal is to overcome old, poor habits and trust myself and my body.  That’s it.  To learn how to deal with my stress and emotions.  Instead of grabbing something sweet that I am not truly hungry for, I sit down and journal my feelings or go for a long walk to ease anxiety.  It’s all about self-care which I have ignored for years.  

It’s time to be brutally honest with myself each moment of every day and ask myself ‘what do you need right now?’.  There is truly no better time than right now to be my own best friend.  

 

 

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…

Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve – Kenton, Ohio

My daughter and I finally had a chance to explore a new nature preserve east of our home located at 13278 County Road 190, Kenton (Ridgeway), Ohio.  A gravel drive winds back to the parking lot where three kiosks stand with different information posted.  A little further past the first parking area there is a special parking for handicapped which offers convenient entry close to the 1.1 miles of boardwalk.  

Entrance sign


The area around the woods is a beautiful prairie that hosts all sorts of wild flowers and grasses.  You get a chance to view this terrain when you drive into the preserve.  The skies were overcast since storms were rolling in from a distance.  We could see flashes of lightening far off against the carbon steel tinted skies.  We checked the radar and determined that the storm was moving in the opposite direction before we proceeded.

Storm off in the distance from parking lot


The Trex boardwalk slips into the woods a short walk from the main parking lot (a mowed pathway traverses to the handicap parking area).  At first, there are boards with names of people who I am guessing people who donated money to this project.  The names are fun to read as you are walking.  The boardwalk is in excellent condition and well-maintained but with no side rails.  

The start of the boardwalk standing in handicapped parking


The preserve has 1035 acres in Hardin County with many mature trees and several endangered species of plants such as the Heart-leaf plantain.  There are many different types of oaks and it states on ODNR’s website that there is a great show of spring wild flowers.  Since the preserve is heavily wooded where the boardwalk trails through, I imagine a fall stroll would be gorgeous as well.  The setting is incredibly peaceful. 

My daughter standing next to a tree that looks like a rhinocerous


Along the board walk, which is like a lollipop, you walk the stick until you come to a junction where you can walk right or left which loops around and back to the junction.  You rewalk the “stick” back to the parking lot.  About midway through the loop is a spur that goes off into an open area.  We didn’t walk the spur because we had a moment of stupidity and forgot our bug spray so we were jogging parts of the trail to avoid the bugs.  There is also poison ivy that grows close to the edges of the boardwalk so be cautious of the sides.    

Namesake of the preserve at the loop junction


We passed one woman who was using the loop as a track for running.  The Trex boards prove to have enough traction and a bit of give for a more cushioned run.  I used my workout app to track how far we walked.  From the parking lot, through the loop and back, it stated 1.53 miles though I won’t swear that is exactly accurate.  There are numbered signs with “1, 2, 3” along the path I believe which are marking tenths of a mile.  At first I thought maybe there was an interpretive brochure that went with the numbers but they were evenly spaced at tenths.  

Number sign


This is a beautiful area that we plan on visiting again (and using bug spray).  As has been our experience so far, there are no pets and no facilities.  Pack water if it’s hot or you plan on walking the loop more than once.   There are many sections where there are small benches to sit and enjoy the woods.  It was very quiet while we were there and we were only accompanied by the usual sounds of the forest.  Leaves flittering in the breeze and bird song.  We didn’t see any wildlife but a storm was approaching.  

Boardwalk winding between 3 mature trees


In conclusion, this offers a nice stroll or maybe even a run.  The boardwalk is in excellent condition as of August 2016.  Like most preserves it is not heavily used at least during the week.  This is one of the better maintained preserves so far and a beautiful area.

Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve

Davey Woods – Ohio State Nature Preserve

Davey Woods SNP is located in Champaign county at 7661 Lonesome Road, St. Paris, Ohio east of Piqua, Ohio.  I love the name of the road.  It is a very quiet and fitting for it’s moniker, Lonesome.  This is a 130 acre wooded tract with almost 2.0 miles of trail that winds up through gentle hills of old-growth woods.  The Conrad Trail is 1.4 miles and the Short Loop trail is 0.6 miles.  There is a gravel parking area right next to the road with the sign proclaiming that this is indeed Davey Woods. There are no facilities and no pets allowed.  Bring plenty of water.  

To the left of the signs, you walk down a wide path in the woods that was once a road bed now grass.  In mid-July everything is a beautiful lush green as we have not had any dry spells yet.  You come to a kiosk which has the trail map on it and you can elect to go left or right.  We chose left because we saw a dark wood bridge.  The bridge always wins.  There is also a small donation box with the kiosk if you so choose to help fund these great preserves.  The bridge crossed a small creek and headed up into the woods.  

The trail is well traversed, very shady and I am sure offers wonderful wild flowers and beautiful fall foliage in other seasons.  There are several small bridge crossings as the trail winds up through the trees and hills.  Quite simply, we walked on an extremely hot day but did not feel the heat within the woods.  Of course you want bug spray and sunscreen even though it is shady.  The trails give you a bit of challenge going up and down but mostly they are moderate and easy to traverse.   Short Loop breaks off of Conrad Trail so we only did just Contrad Trail this trip.  We want to return soon to do both trails we enjoyed this nature preserve so much.   It reminds us a bit of the Lake Hope area, with very large trees such as oaks and tulip trees.  

There was no one on the trails with us that day and only one spot of Conrad trail had a little bit of road noise.  Otherwise, you are ensconced in the sweet peacefulness of wooded bliss.  Toward the last part of the loop back to the kiosk area, we climbed a hill and came across a little surprise.  Three old gravestones which had been set flat into concrete to protect them in the place in what the sign stated was the Pence Family Cemetery.  David Pence and his wife, Barbara, moved to this spot from Shenandoah County, Viriginia in the early 1800’s.  We had to pause and pay our respects as well as read the gravestones which were worn by time and the elements.  

At this point the trail started to descend and brought us out on the other side of the kiosk.  We could have extended our hike by taking the Short Loop.  Quite a pleasant trek.  We will certainly do this one again as it has beautiful and quiet woods as well as enough trail length and challenge to break a good sweat.  This one is good for anyone in relatively decent shape as there is ups and downs over the hills but I would not call it much more than a mild hike for the average person.  You do feel though as if you were transported into an era before even the Pence’s settled the land.   One of my favorite preserves so far!

Siegenthaler – Kaestner Esker – Ohio State Nature Preserve

Siegenthaler – Kaestner Esker SNP is located near West Liberty, Ohio, at 5505 Couchman Road and consists of 37-acres which contains an esker, kame and kettle which are glacial landforms which I had never heard of or learned in school and completely forgot.  

Parking area


Some definitions as per the ODNR site:

Esker – long, winding ridge of stratified sand and gravel deposited in layers according to grain size by running water with steep sides and a sinuous shape.  Or to me, a long narrow hill.  

Kame – Knolls formed by piles of gravel that were dropped into pits and crevices in the glacier when meltwater streams flowing on top of the ice.  Or as I would call them, small hills.  Often associated with kettles.

Kettle – A pond formed when a block of ice remained and surrounded by till.  When the ice melted, a depression was left and filled with ground water.  Or to me, simply a pond.

Black sandy, silty soil at base of esker


In other words, geology buffs will love this glacial area or simply nature lovers who like a gentle stroll in a quiet area.  We literally drove right by this preserve and had to turn around and go back.   The parking area is a grassy area which you can easily miss for a field.  You park in the grassy area, driving through a narrow former gate area between two fence posts, where there is a sign and kiosk for the preserve.  Like most preserves, there are no facilities.  Remember to bring water, bug spray, sunscreen and pack out any trash.  Don’t remove any natural materials.  Pretty much the same instructions for most nature preserves.  Oh and no pets.  

The trail is like a lollipop and approximately 1 mile long depending on if you decide to also traverse the summit of eskers as well.  The initial part of the trail is much like walking along a narrow, grassy country road with fence on both sides.  One side during our hike was a crop field (soybeans) and the other side appeared to be a livestock field, probably cattle.  There are mature trees on one side and then you slip into a more wooded area, make a sharp right turn and down a hill to where the trail tees at the first esker.  You can go either left or right, the trail will loop around to itself.  The day we visited, the trail had been recently mowed but be cautious of the poison ivy if you go during the late spring to fall months.  I am beginning to think the state plant should be poison ivy.  

Start of trail from parking area


We turned right initially, choosing to walk in the more open sunny area first followed by what seemed would be more shady.  The day was hot but not unbearable as there was a nice breeze most of the time.  One we rounded the first bend in the loop, we took the trail that went up to the summit of the first esker or hill to me.  You can see larger rocks where they have mowed a trail among the grass meaning that the heavy rock was deposited on top.  Again, be cautious of the poison ivy.  The hills are narrow and long and there are two of them with old trees, such as oaks growing there as well as many wild raspberry bushes.  When we went down the first esker, and came around to the trail going up the second one, we decided it looked too overgrown with poison ivy to chance walking the top so we chose the lower trail that went between the base of the hill and the fence.  

Mowed trail taverses top of esker


As we walked, we noticed the dirt that was exposed was black and sandy different from the brown dirt we saw on the other portion of the trail.  Curious, we bent down to touch it and it was soft and silty which means the finer till was deposited on the bottom of the esker.  Admist the thick growth we saw wild delphinium, a white phlox  and a red bell type flower growing on a vine.  When we rounded the far side of the furthest esker, the trail became more overgrown with thistles and a grass (and poison ivy) so we had to be careful to step around the plants otherwise the thistles would have scratched us.  You return to the start of the loop and turn back right to return to the parking area.  

Vining flower, unidentified


Due to the overgrowth of poison ivy, this may be better an early spring, late fall or winter hike or if you are brave like us, you just go and dance around the poison ivy.  This is a pretty area, open and peaceful.  If you have an interest in glaciers and/or geology, this is also a good place to visit.  It could be an easy stroll with kids though again, poison ivy might be a concern, maybe older children.  The trail is about half shad and half sun so if it’s extremely hot, you may want an earlier morning hike or later evening.  Open dawn to dusk.  

Gross (Samuel) Memorial Woods, Botkins – Ohio Nature Preserve Review/Info

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.  

Kiosk and the start of the boardwalk


Basic info:

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.

Lush greenery flank the boardwalk


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.

Ohio’s Nature Preserves – Little Hidden Gems

So I’ve been lacking ideas for posts.  I go back and forth and around on what to write.  Today my youngest daughter and I decided to go do some hiking even though it was going to be in the 90’s, we figured if we could find wooded trails, it wouldn’t be too unbearable.   There is a small preserve not far from my home, that is set into a woods with a half mile boardwalk.  At the trail head, there is an announcement board/kiosk with information regarding the preserve plus a brochure on Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s  (ODNR) other preserves.  My daughter picked on of those up on our way back out to my truck.

We were sitting in the air conditioning trying to decide what to do next.  On the last page of the brochure is a map of Ohio with all the current preserves pinned on it with each preserve’s name.  We realized we hadn’t been to most of these places on the map and the idea for a new blog direction and many possible adventures cropped up in our mind.  We would visit them, take pictures and write a review of each preserve.  To us, they feel like little hidden gems that usually are empty of other people, though some preserves such as Conkles Hollow in Hocking Hills are much more well known.  We, being the lovers of solitude in nature, gravitate toward lesser known and used areas and are excited to explore these areas.

Ohio’s nature preserves in general do not allow pets, they do not usually have any facilities such as bathrooms or water and you must pack out your trash usually.  Some may not even have clearly designated parking areas (you may just pull off the side of the road).  Trails may be somewhat more rugged and less maintained.  You are not allowed to pick or remove any natural items such as flowers or rocks.  However, you will find a varied landscape in each preserve along with endangered species of plants, insects and birds.  This land is set aside to “preserve” what is left of unsettled or reclaim formerly settled lands to their natural state.  

According to ODNR there are 136 nature preserves with ore than 30,000 acres in the great state of Ohio.  Partners such as businesses and groups as well as volunteers assist the state in keeping these lands available for our enjoyment and use.  Most of the time, you probably just drive by a nature preserve without even realizing it.  They are usually only marked with a dark brown sign with white lettering and a kiosk/ message board.  There is no big sign announcing their presence such as Ohio’s state park system so you have to look just a little bit harder for a preserve.  Sometimes, you pull into the parking lot and are hesitant to explore because the area isn’t developed like state parks or metro parks may be.   The goal is to preserve the land and leave it as untouched as possible by humans while letting people enjoy the land as well.  

As we (or me) explore each nature preserve, I will update this post to include the preserve’s name as well as a link to the review post for that particular park.  I hope you enjoy this adventure with me as I have already started and have found as my daughter state, some hidden gems, we had no clue existed.  Just remember to pack plenty of water and prepare for minimal or no facilities.  Happy trails!  

Gross Memorial Woods

Sigenthaler-Kaestner Esker Nature Preseve