Lloyd Woods Trail- Curtis Gates Lloyd Wildlife Management Area, Crittenden, KY

“I will never forget my first trip into Lloyd Woods. The tract adjacent to the highway contained some spectacular specimens. I was impressed by the size of the extremely large walnut, yellow poplar, sugar maple, white oak, green ash, and beech trees. These monoliths were larger than I had observed in any other old-growth forest in the state, perhaps because they are growing in the incredibly fertile Bluegrass soil. I was impressed by the springiness of the soil and felt somewhat like Tigger bouncing in the hundred-acre wood.”

Thomas Barnes, Kentucky’s Last Great Places, 2002.

I felt the same way, minus the ashes due to Emerald Ash Borer, when I first went there in February of 2021.

I became aware of this 10 acre tract of old growth forest while reading Thomas Barnes’ coffee table book, Kentucky’s Last Great Places, over the winter of 2020-2021. “Old Growth” means that it has never been significantly altered by man: Never farmed or timbered. It intrigued me because it was only 20 miles from my home, and yet this big tree fanatic had never been there. On my first visit I was spellbound.

That said, the preserve is a diamond in the rough. When I went there a year ago the trail was impassible due to the numerous huge ash carcasses blocking the trail, especially on the eastern aspect of the property. Historically the trail was marked with signage mounted on 3 foot posts and these were easily dislodged by wildlife, wind, or falling trees or branches. Despite my outdoor experience I struggled to find my way over the one mile trail during my 2 previous visits there.

Late this past summer Lloyd management devoted some staff time to clearing the trail and is committed to making this a valuable hiking resource for the community. The trees are still majestic, but the trail needs better signage for folks to traverse it confidently.

This is a loop trail, giving you the option of clockwise versus counter-clockwise routing. The former is my preference for how the forest presents itself, but on a follow up visit last week, wayfinding, while still challenging, was a little easier going counter-clockwise.

When you enter the wood, there is the heavy, moist scent of decaying leaves. The forest floor leaf cover is thick, even at this mid-winter visit, probably because maples, beeches and oaks are the predominant species here and are reluctant to give up their leaves at the first frost. This photo demonstrates the diversity of trees, with leaves of at least 7 species noted.

The first sentries are extremely large walnut and tulip-poplar, trees of a size and proximity that I have rarely seen east of the Rockies.

Some of these icons are draped in impressive wild grape specimens, whose girth easily exceeds the size of my calves , but yet do not appear to challenge the vitality of the host tree. Are these vines as old as the majestic trees, or did they somehow will themselves up to the 100 feet height?

Many of the large trees have acquired the characteristic deeply grooved or plaqued bark of very mature of trees (Black Walnut, Sugar Maple).

The trail courses across some rolling hills with a creek crossing or two. There is one set of placed stone stairs, but for the most part you are on your own with the terrain and creek beds.

The western side of the trail is littered with ash trunks but the trail there is easy to follow.

As seen in the title photo, the thick tree canopy shades the forest floor and inhibits understory growth, resulting in panoramic views across the woodland.

Eventually the trail overlooks the North Fork of Grassy Creek, with the hum of cascading water in the background. It is a setting worthy of a pause and some observation, and I think calls out for a bench.

From here the trail runs parallel along the creek in a serene winter setting.

The trail markings are sparse but it appears to head up the grade on the eastern side of the preserve. There is private property well marked to the left. As one crests the hill, the property line is irregular and the trail direction is not clear, with leaves on the ground camouflaging the designated route. Episodically we had seen some orange duct tape marking the trail but none was noted at this point. Eventually we found ourselves at the base of an old tobacco barn that we had seen during our two previous visits to the site. I have since been told that the official trail does not route visitors to this barn. It sits on the edge of a couple acre island of a field in succession that I suspect was an old tobacco base.

This historic structure was the highlight of the photographer’s commitment. From the archaic agricultural equipment, to the timber frame construction, she was enthralled. I resolved myself to kill time picking up old beverage containers and other trash while she went artistic.

I honestly think that the antique equipment in the barn is older than the barn itself. Note the actual wood hub of the wheel.

From here we followed an old road out, although we were not confident that it was part of the “trail”. It was obviously aged and worn, holding water and ice in its long standing depressions.

In about 100 yards we came across the marked trail that gave us the option of heading back to parking or to the east, which I thought was the true “trail”. We did follow the eastward trail for a couple hundred yards and it was very much “old growth” across a rolling terrain, and we could see the work that the staff had done to address the fallen ashes.

Due to fading daylight we reversed course and headed out to finish the loop toward the parking lot. Along the way we saw several trophy size trees and came across this humorous monument to the facility’s namesake, Curtis Gates Lloyd, just east of the parking area. One has to love a philanthropist with a sense of humor. This monument turns 100 years old this year.

One unusual sighting noted throughout the hike were the numerous trees that are spray painted with letters and or numbers. Lloyd Woods is a participant in a multi-state research project on mast/nut production by oak, hickory and beech trees. It helps the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife evaluate how changes in mast production may impact the wildlife species that rely on nuts for survival. In recent years the survey involved approximately 3000 trees at 25 sites across the state. As of this time, wildlife biologists do not have a good understanding of all the factors that result in the significant fluctuations in mast production that is seen year to year, species to species. The documentation is as such: White paint is applied to trees of the White Oak family, red to the Red Oak Family, and orange to the Hickory species. In all, 25 of each family are marked and their nut production quantified each fall. For the past few years, like with everything else, GPS has been used to mark and identify each of the specimen’s location for follow up year to year. On other sites American Beeches are also included but they are not abundant enough in Lloyd Woods to qualify.

With the casualties of Emerald Ash Borer everywhere in this wood, we witnessed nature doing her recycling. It is sad and impressive at the same time. I would have loved to have been in this wood prior to the devastation brought by the Ash Borer, not to mention Chestnut Blight and Dutch Elm Disease.

The loss of the ashes has allowed more sun to reach sections of the forest floor, resulting in a flush of growth in the understory in these areas; but sometimes, unfortunately, it is invasives like bush honeysuckle.

Lloyd Woods was the first protected natural area in Kentucky. When it was donated in the 1920’s, the state did not have a Office of Nature Preserves as it does today, and therefore the site was placed under the management of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, who continues to oversee it today. The funds for running the Department of Fish and Wildlife come solely from fishing, hunting and boating licenses, as well as some federal grants. The department receives no money from the Kentucky General Fund or budget.

In summary, the Lloyd Woods Trail has the potential to be a premier hiking location in Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati. The old growth ecosystem is unique and warrants observation, appreciation and continued protection. I can think of no other location in the region where you can find so many massive trees in close proximity. But there is more than that. There is the rolling terrain and associated plants, like the massive wild grapes, and the Grassy Creek valley. The circle of life is evident as you see the decay of fallen monoliths. Lloyd Woods needs to be experienced, embraced, and improved. I think that the new leadership at Lloyd Wildlife Management Area recognizes the uniqueness of this treasure and will continue to work to enhance it. I can not wait to return in the spring, during the ephemeral season, as I would expect great displays of our native spring wildflowers in these fertile valleys.

Big Trees – I previously posted this link for the outstanding segment on big trees that NPR’s Science Friday had broadcasted in December. It seems appropriate to repost it with this blog entry about the big trees in Lloyd Woods. https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/big-trees-forest-ecosystems/.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.


Location – 28 miles south of Cincinnati and less than 2 miles off I-75.

Parking – Asphalt lot. Trailhead is at the eastern aspect near the picnic table.

Facilities – There are restrooms nearby at the associated shooting range building but typically only open on event days.

Trail Conditions – Overall rating would be moderate due to terrain. The most challenging part is when the trail rises up above Grassy Creek as it is a little steep and slippery for a short distance. The new manager, who has only been in place for 18 months, is committed to improve trail signage. I will update Footpathsblog.com followers when this is completed. In the meantime, one could always treat it as an out and back trail if they can not comfortably find their way. Nearby there is a shooting range so sometimes the sound of gunfire is present, but not a danger.

Print Map Link – https://fw.ky.gov/More/Documents/CurtisGatesLloydWMA_ALL.pdf

Benches – None at this time but hope to see some added in the future.

Kids – Kids 5 and over should do well here with minimal assistance. The distance is perfect for the 5-8 year olds.

Dogs –Welcomed while on a leash

Paired Hikes – just down the road, east of this parking lot, is a gravel drive that leads to a fishing lake. This is also the trailhead for the Archery Trail. While the trail is designed for archery target practice in the woods, it is still a nice trail for a hike. It is approximately 0.75 miles long and also has some impressive trees, especially a Shagbark Hickory, a White Oak, and some Sugar Maples. The way the trail is designed there is no danger from errant arrows. The trail ends up on the south side of the fishing lake at which point you can walk the bank back to your vehicle.





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