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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Ohio the Beautiful

People love to knock my home state of Ohio. I'm not sure why it gets such a bad rap when it comes to people in other states but Ohio is pretty darn cool. After a 2500 mile road trip to Maine and back, I'm even more convinced of this descriptor. Sure, I saw some beautiful places especially Acadia National Park in Maine but it also solidified even more the love of my state. I'll tell you why.

I wasn't born in Ohio, but just outside our nation's capitol so I am a transplant but this is the state I have resided the longest so hence I consider it my home state. Well, because my home is here. I lived on the east side of the state in the early 1970's near Youngstown where my immediate maternal family hails from. After moving to Tennessee and then Missouri (where my paternal family is from), my parents returned to settle NW Ohio in 1981 when my father took a job here. When I got older I lived in Indiana for a bit until my first marriage broke up. Since 1998, almost 20 years, I've resided here settled between Dayton and Lima, Ohio.

When I mention to someone who doesn't live in our great state that I live in Ohio, their face might crunch up in concentration before they blurt out, "Oh, Ohio has a lot of corn doesn't it"? I'm not sure how we got this reputation, but okay, yeah we have a lot of corn. Actually, I live in the country and I can look out my windows right this second and see corn fields. You know what? Corn fields and other crop fields can be really pretty. So there, doubters. I don't mind living out among the crop fields, it's better than crammed up against people you don't get along with. I'm happy as a calm out here in bumfuk Egypt as my dad used to call it.

But while I live in what most outsiders believes our state consists of, I can in 1-3 hours drive to multiple cities. In an hour I can easily be in Columbus, Dayton and Toledo. If I want to drive less than 4 hours, I can add in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Ft. Wayne (IN), Indianapolis (do I need to put the state?), Detroit (MI), Lexington (KY), Youngstown, and Louisville (KY). When we plan a vacation where we need to fly, we have quite a few cities to check fares. Within a few hours, I can drive to another country, entering Canada through Detroit. All these cities offer their own unique experience so there is always a million things we can plan for a night away or even a day trip.

And sports? Are you kidding? Ohio is chock full of college and pro sports. We have two NFL and MLB teams. Sometimes it can divide families but hey it's all in fun. Not to mention to all the college sports (Hello – THE Ohio State Buckeyes) so you always have something follow or go spectate throwing in hockey and soccer as well. I'm not a huge sports person but you get the idea. We are even very grudgingly so, somewhat tolerant of Michigan fans. The rivalry of just OSU and Michigan could warrant it's own blog post. There are plenty of minor leagues and local sports to keep you engulfed in sportsdom. Even if you aren't a fan of a Ohio NFL team (I'm a Redskins fan – no comments ha), chances are you can see your team in our state some years as they may play the Browns or Bengals.

While our cities are great, our small towns are pretty awesome too. My town has been working over the years to spruce up the downtown and bring in new businesses. My daughters graduated from the same school system as I did which wasn't in my life plan as I wanted to get the hell out of dodge the moment I graduated, but I am grateful they had the same great education I did. They have all moved on to be successful, self-sufficient adults. They also all 3 attended OSU at least part of their college career (I had to throw that in lol).

I have to brag about our hometown a bit though. Our town not only supports sports like most school systems, but they are very active in all the activities such as music, academics and so on. My oldest daughter was in Quiz Bowl for 4 years and our school always had the most parents and family supporting their team. When our high school football team went to the playoffs with a big Dayton school at a bigger stadium between the two schools, our side was chocked full of people while the Dayton school side was pretty sparse. We also have a heart, people from our side went to the other team's side and sat and cheered both teams on.

Side note – Parental involvement is so important. When my oldest was in an honors psychology class at OSU, I went in to help out with a project for the class. The instructor told me he does the same project with the non-honors class as well but the parental support is much less. He contributes the kids being in the honors class to having strong parental involvement much of the time, not always, but over his years of teaching, this seems to be a consistent pattern. Okay off my soapbox and back to my subject.

Ohio has an incredibly diverse and rich parks system from local to state to national parks. Our terrain just isn't miles and miles of crops, we have shoreline along a massive Great Lake (Erie) and to the south we run into the rolling hills of Appalachia and everything in between. Okay, no desert but there are so many opportunities to be outside. Boating, hiking, cycling (road and mountain), kayaking/ canoeing, backpacking, hunting, and much more. Ohio also pays attention to providing handicap accessible options to get everyone outside. I can attest to the hundreds and hundreds of miles of bike paths/rail trails traversing through our state. I have ridden much of it at one point or the other. I love bike paths because you aren't dealing with cars so much and it's a bit safer though you still have to be careful of people. We have backpacking loops in our state. More hiking trails from short jaunts to the Buckeye Trail which circles our entire state.

Musically, you have local opportunities and then also considering all our cities, if your favorite band is touring there is a good chance you can catch them in Ohio or the state next door. We are also in a days drive of 50% of our country. Great location I think. One day I can be hiking in Hocking Hills and the next day lying on a sandy beach on Lake Erie. There is all sorts of culture from local theatre to attending Broadway productions in our larger cities that may be touring. We even have ski resorts, one just a half an hour from me. There are opportunities for many ethnic experiences as people from all over the world have settled in our midst, especially in our cities. The Arts are very alive and well with numerous large art museums and so on.

Ohio's other resource is it's people. It is rare that I run into anyone really unpleasant in our state. In general, people are really nice. The more rural you travel, the more this seems to stand out. If I'm out walking the dog on our country road and it starts raining, I'll have 3-4 people stop and ask me if I need a ride. That is the one thing I hear when I travel, besides the cornfield comment, is that our people are kind and friendly for the most part. No we aren't all backwards hillbillies.

Education in Ohio is abundant with great school systems throughout the state (some better than others of course) and colleges galore. Of course everyone knows of Ohio State but there are so many others like University of Cincinnati, Toledo, etc. Many private colleges as well such as Ohio University and smaller ones most people have never heard of. There is little you have to travel out of this state to pursue education wise at least on the undergrad level.

Our medical facilities in the state are also very progressive with places like the Cleveland Clinic and the Ohio State set of hospitals like the James Cancer institute which amazingly extended my mom's life to the fullest with her three boughts of cancer. Research is being done all the time to find new treatments and hopefully a cure in the near future. I pray for a cure.

I could continue to go on about the many historical sites and rich history, the restaurants, and many festivals that dot the state all summer long but I will stop here. I"ve got the day off and I'm going to go enjoy some of the great offerings of our great state. Don't knock Ohio, you doubters, come visit us. Ohio has a lot to offer!

Till next time.

Why I Love Bike Paths…

Since the closest bike path to me is 35 miles, I do a lot of road riding straight from my driveway though cars fly up and down my country road like it’s the Autobahn.  While the roads out here are fairly straight, there are many hills near my house which when you are not a light person, are a bit of a struggle.  Cue in the wind and I’m usually always struggling on the road while feeling like giving up at any moment.  While I suppose it is making me a stronger rider, I don’t enjoy the ride as much and so it becomes a chore to even get my bike down off the rack and push it out of the garage. 

A shady and wooded path


Lately, I have been trying to reach my weekly mileage goal by peicing together 4-5 shorter rides where I used to do two longer bike path rides a week.  This adds to the ‘chore’ feeling of riding.  I’m simply meeting a goal and am not really enjoying my ride.  Plus the I’m gearing up 4-5 days a week rather than a few.  Though some cycling enthusiasts will say you should ride most days of the week, I’m not feeling like I’m getting anywhere fitness-wise.  Plus, I would like to do more walking or hiking, maybe put in a swim at the lake.  I’m not sure my knees are up to daily riding, I seem to do better riding several times a week for longer stints than fighting hills for 4-5 rides.  

A run along the river


Today, I had an early morning appointment to get the oil changed in my truck 10 miles away from the closest trail so I tossed my bike in.  I figured, I’m that close, might as well ride the path.  The heat across the country has been oppressing, and even though it was only 845 a.m., the temperature was a very humid 84 degrees.  I chose the shadiest section of trail and started at the closest parking lot.  Though the parking lot was in the sun and I was sweating before I even clipped into the pedals, I felt that I was already looking forward to the ride.  When I ride down my driveway, I am not usually excited to ride, but I feel more like it’s a forced march.  

A small lake tucked away


As I crossed the road and passed the dry creek bed, I slipped into the shady wooded area in some of my favorite trail sections.  Instantly, I am in my happy place.  I love the dappled shade, the twist and curve of the path, the river running near, the older couple who say good morning as they ride by, the little dog who sits and waits for me to pass, the black wrought iron benches placed at scenic spots, the downtown buildings, the different bridges I cross, the cemetary that reminds me that life is short, the white mansion that sits on the hill, the small quiet lake, the city parks, the mother pushing two young children in a double stroller with a third child strapped to her chest, the lady jogging who gives me a pained smile, the barefoot fisherman, purple lupine, dame’s rocket, Queen Anne’s lace and the miles that seem to pass without my notice.  Okay that is a huge run-on sentence, but that is just a few things I loved from today’s 22-mile ride.  

An iron bridge that trains once traversed


While I rode today, I wondered why have I been killing myself on more frequent, shorter road rides.  Why not just put in two longer rides on the bike path even if I do have to drive an hour round trip or longer?  If it means I enjoy cycling more, then shouldn’t I do that as much as possible?  Fill in with road rides when I need to.   When I am out riding on the road, I am worried about cars hitting me, fighting harsh pavement conditions, big hills, no shade and really not a lot of to engage my senses.  Miles and miles of crop fields broken up by the occassional home or farm.  

A field of wildflowers


I worry about dogs chasing me or weird strangers slowing down and abducting me while I ride out in the middle of nowhere.  I carry dog spray (pepper spray that shoots far) more for people than dogs.  Not that you don’t run into the occassional weirdo on the bike path. There have been moments when my spider senses go into hyper drive but usually there are people around moreso than riding in the country.

The river view from a recently opened secrion of trail


Not that you can’t have an accident on a bike path.  You still should wear a helmet and pay attention.  I’ve had two bad accidents on a path.  The first one was an ambulance ride and a concussion because I wasn’t paying attention (didn’t I just warn about that!).  My front tire had slipped off the pavement causing me to go end over appetite crashing head first into the pavement (why you wear a helmet).  The EMTs had to drive back in a pickup truck becuase there was no way to get an ambulance to me.  That was certainly an expensive mistake.

A white mansion tucked behind the trees


The second time was hitting a suicidal racoon that darted out of the woods.  Hitting him was like hitting a brick wall which again sent me head over heels and to the ER to later find I had a separated shoulder.  So, while cars are usually no an issue unless you are crossing roads, you still have to be really careful and alert.  

Canal view


That aside, I am a big advocate for bike paths and bike lanes.  They help keep us safe from vehicles though they aren’t bullet-proof.  The paths normally wind through interesting scenery and take you to places you may not normally see from a car.  It gives you the opportunity to interact, even if it’s just a quick hello, with other cyclists and exercises of all walks of life and ages.  They provide normally a fairly flat surface to ride or walk or run.  They help us get or stay fit.  Bottom line is that bike paths are a great asset to every community.

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