It had been a very rainy week in the Ohio River Valley when we visited this Ohio state nature preserve, which is set on the bank and amongst some backwaters of the Ohio River, 35 miles east of downtown Cincinnati. While there were puddles on parts of the trail, standing water to the side of the trail, and the foliage was wet as seen in the title photo, the trail system was largely passable.
Crooked Run Nature Preserve is a 77 acre facility located on a flood plain and has the typical plant communities of that ecosystem.
There are two trailheads for this loop trail and we chose to start on the one at the small bluff above the river. There are mature trees but not a full canopy, resulting in thick growth of forbs and shrubs on the ground, giving the trail a tunnel effect, and limiting the visibility from the trail.
There are however several locations that provide vistas of the Ohio River and the Kentucky hills above the southern bank.
Eventually the trail turns away from the river and heads north toward the backwaters. Here the trail, which is clearly marked, overlaps with a well maintained wide private drive.
One of the unique features of the preserve are the 3 blinds that allow visitors to observe the wildlife utilizing these backwater pools.
With the full leaf growth of early summer, the views were somewhat limited in June, but one can anticipate better visibility during the fall and spring migration seasons. The water was quite muddied by the recent rains.
The views were somewhat broader in the second and third blinds.
To be honest we were disappointed with a relative lack of waterfowl and shorebirds on this date.
There are several alternative routes to consider when hiking Crooked Run, as shown on this map. They take you through some different ecosystems, including forest, meadow, wet meadow, and wetland. On the date of our hike some choices were dictated by standing water on some of the trails.
This preserve hosted some of the typical tree species seen on floodplains including Box Elder, Black Locust, Silver Maple, American Elm, and Black Walnut. There were also numerous majestic Bitternut Hickories, which were the largest trees seen.
Other interesting tree findings included these large atypical Hackberry trees that featured surprisingly smooth bark. Hackberries typically have a very abrasive bark.
On a smaller scale, one of the more ubiquitous plants seen along the trail was wild strawberry.
The seeds being present on the surface of this strawberry, as well as the bland taste and gritty texture in my mouth, indicated that these were Wood Strawberry. The wild Common Strawberry, on the other hand, is described in my Audubon Field Guide as “producing the finest and sweetest wild strawberry”. Its seeds are not born so obviously on the surface of the fruit. I will keep my eyes open for them.
On this outing we had the opportunity to witness the progression from flower to fruit for a couple of trees species. The first was Redbud, seen flowering at Withrow Nature Preserve in mid April in the photo below.
At Crooked Run we saw where its legume fruit was developing along the branches that were flowering earlier this spring.
A similar progression was seen with the rapid development of the Pawpaw fruit. We had shown the flower on a hike at Dinsmore Woods Nature Preserve at the end of April.
Here we saw 2 to 3 inch pawpaws developing beneath the much larger leaves.
If you are interested in honing up on your Poison Ivy identification, this is an ideal place to do so. The trails are wide keeping you a safe distance from the plant, which was abundant on the ground and on the trunks of trees. In these photos you can see the alternate arrangement of leaves that helps one identify the plant.
And here you can see the berries developing in clusters. As the year progresses they will change from green to white.
For a more complete tutorial on identifying poison ivy please see this link from an article that we posted last fall.
While we did not spend a lot of time in the very wet meadow, we did see a couple of plants that are important to pollinators:
Indian Hemp – a key nectar plant for butterflies.
Trumpet Vine – a native vine with bright orange flowers whose buds are just about to open. It is a nectar source for a wide variety of pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.
At Crooked Run we did see a lot of Honeysuckle vine in flower, which is a throw back to my childhood. With its alluring sweet scent you could smell it before you saw it.
And I was able to taste the sweet nectar by doing the trick many of us learned as kids. You remove the flower from the vine and gently pinch the base with your thumbnail.
You then gently pull the pistil through the tube of the flower, which will extract the drop of nectar that you place on your tongue. If you look closely you will see the drop in the photo below.
Delicious trail candy!
There have been over 200 species of birds documented at Crooked Run but we did not have a great birding day. Some of that was due to the thickness of the understory and midstory – we could hear birds but not visualize them. We did however see this Rufus-sided Towee.
In summary, Crooked Run is an enticing venue for a waterfowl or birding enthusiast. The well positioned blinds should make observation of migrating ducks and shorebirds rewarding and I plan to venture back in the fall. The “meadow” that we observed seemed to be overgrown and undergoing plant succession with the invasion of woody plants but further study is warranted. The large amount of acreage dedicated as meadow would suggest a lot of pollinator activity. That could make a late summer visit worthwhile.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Parking – Excellent paved lot that is shared with the Chilo Lock 34 Park.
Facilities – Nice restrooms in the park.
Trail Conditions – Absolutely flat trail with gravel and bare dirt underfoot. Trail is well mowed and wide. Poison Ivy is abundant but easily avoided when identified. I would strongly suggest printing out a map as there are numerous trail intersections and some wood signs are missing from their posts.
Print Map Link -It has been a challenge to find a easily printable trail map. This Discover Cincinnati site is the best I could find. You will need to copy and paste this map to a Word document and then print it.
Benches – Only noted in the blinds.
Kids – Kids who are walking should do well here.
Dogs – Allowed if on a 6 foot leash.
Suggested Paired Hikes – There is also a trail that goes through the 1.5 acre wetland as seen on the map above. In addition, for those with an interest in history, there is a walk at the associated Chilo Lock 34 Park Visitor Center and Museum that explains the community that once existed at this site of a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam.