As I was planning this outing to our fourth venue of the Edge of Appalachia Preserves, I did not expect it to be about textures and humidity, but that was what struck us as we worked our way up through the gorge valley .
We selected this hike as a reprieve from the sun-drenched prairie and meadow hikes that we had done throughout July, opting to spend some time in the shade of a wood, walking a stream-side trail.
To be honest, the Edge of Appalachia website listed the trail as strenuous, but online trail reviews at sites like All Trails, downplayed the challenges. We are here to say that the trail is challenging, especially in the 90 plus degree heat of early August.
The trail is a mix of history and nature, something that we very much enjoy. The trailhead is located at the site of a historic water powered grist mill that had been built in 1842. The axle of the mill-wheel was located in the circular opening in the stone wall of the second photo.
The initial trail is gravel and travels through dappled shade that features some nice summer wildflowers.
Shortly the gravel ends and it becomes apparent that you are entering a humid and moist environment. Although it had not rained for days, the trail was somewhat muddy, but made more passable by the work of several Eagle Scouts who had placed some boardwalks covered with hardware cloth over the wettest passages. These were probably a real game changer for the enjoyment of the trail.
This early part of the trail passed through a younger transitioning wood consisting of Redcedar, Tulip Poplar, Honey Locust, and Sugar Maples.
We then crossed a nice bridge over a flowing creek that was the entryway into the wooded gorge proper.
The forest changed, now featuring a variety of white and red oaks, as well as hickories. We also saw some impressive specimens of Musclewood. The trail developed a steeper grade and frequently was rock strewn, requiring a degree of concentration, as due to the moisture the footing was slippery.
As expected this wood was more shaded, even more damp, and began to feature a broad collection of ferns, mosses, and fungi.
The mosses were the first to be noted on the forest floor of the somewhat wide valley that was softly lit with dappled sunlight.
And this small moss specimen was in full reproductive mode, with its sporangia held high, in the hope that their spores will catch a breeze and travel a good distance from the parent plant.
I recently learned, while reading Gathering Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer, that generally mosses were never given common names, as compared to most plants, and therefore are a very challenging area to master, as all dialogue references their scientific names. At times I feel that I’m too old for that much new science.
In this humid enclave the fungi were varied and everywhere.
The camera makes apparent some things that you do not see in the field, like the very thin stem holding up the comparatively large cap on this mushroom.
Perhaps our favorite were these minute mushrooms arising from a tree covered with moss. They looked like small sconce lanterns.
The title photo is one of these on close up.
This was our first exposure to Jellied False Coral Fungi, named as it resembles the branching of a coral.
As I have written previously, I have been trying to improve my identification skills for ferns, and this hike, through the moist and shaded gorge, was a crash course. There were some familiar species that we have seen before:
But there were others that I was not familiar with:
Walking Fern – frequently found on limestone boulders as it was here. The identifying characteristic is the elongated, stringlike leaf tips. These leaf tips can develop small plantlets that take root.
Glade Fern – is typically found in rich moist woods. Here their appearance seemed to change significantly depending on the amount of light that they got, with variation in the width of the leaflets.
Lady Fern – a larger, deciduous fern of moist woods.
One of the more interesting features of the trail was the hardscape, with the bluffs above you, and the “Boulder Field” that the trail wound through.
The plant communities existing on and around the boulders was fascinating.
This rock slab had a tree growing out of it.
There was evidence that this preserve would be an outstanding hike during spring ephemeral season, including seeing the False Solomon Seal berries and the rarer, formal appearing Hepatica.
After the long climb we did finally reach Cedar Falls and its outstanding deck overlook. Unfortunately for this 94 degree day, it appears that a wind sheer took out much of the Sugar Maple canopy previously shading the overlook, leaving us generally in the sun. Still we had a nice view of the falls, which remained in the shade.
Perhaps this video will do a better job of giving the reader a sense of place.
The overlook had a built in bench that was an excellent place for a picnic lunch, and allowed views of the White-cedar trees for which the trail is named.
The White-cedars, which are not actually cedars but rather Arborvitae, are typically found in more northern latitudes with cooler climates. The pockets of them found in Ohio are remnant populations from those that were present in the most recent ice age. The range map shows its presence in a few locations in Ohio, where they are typically found in cool, moist river and creek gorges as they were here.
We had several interesting animal sightings included a spider completing an intricate web,
A Checkerspot butterfly with a fascinating eye,
a Fence Lizard sunning himself on a log near the falls,
and the photographer’s favorite, capturing the curled proboscis of this Frittillary butterfly
New Plant of the Day
Horse Gentian, with its small tomato like fruits at the axils of the leaves. The seeds in the fruit were toasted and used as a coffee substitute in the past.
In summary, the Cedar Falls Preserve Trail at the Edge of Appalachia is excellent but its difficulty is not to be downplayed. It is challenging, especially on an August day with temperatures in the 90’s. I suspect that it is frequently damp and I can not imagine hiking it shortly after a storm. That said, the geology and botany are outstanding and I think that it would be a great hike in the spring wildflower season. My advice – pace yourself.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns. Video by Caroline Burns. White-cedar range map from Wikipedia.
Location – 64 miles east of downtown Cincinnati in Adams County, Ohio.
Parking – Large asphalt lot for over 20 cars.
Facilities – None.
Trail Conditions – Damp bare dirt path frequently studded with exposed rocks. The trail and rocks were often slippery. There is a elevation change as you climb up to the falls. It is an out and back trail.
Print Map Link – https://www.nature.org/content/dam/tnc/nature/en/documents/oh-eoa-cedar-falls_trail-map_draft.pdf
Benches – Two, one just after the climb a short distance before you get to the falls, and one built into the overlook at the falls.
Kids – I would be reluctant to take kids under 10 on this trail.
Dogs – Prohibited
Suggested Paired Hikes – The other Edge of Appalachia Preserves are nearby including Chaparral Prairie and Buzzardroost Rock.