The calendar said late winter but the flora said spring, and the photographer and I were taking every opportunity to get outside.
When our youngest daughter and her spouse told us last fall that they were moving back to Louisville, the father in me was saddened. We would lose the spontaneous get-togethers, the pickleball evenings, the visits with our grand dog Cappy, and the close proximity to share our mutual interests. But the hiker in me saw opportunity, as she would be within striking distance of some great hiking venues: Berheim Forest, Pine Creek Barrens, The Parklands of Floyds Fork, and Otter Creek Park.
This was our first hiking venture in the Louisville area since their relocation. We picked up our little grand dog and headed to Pope Lick Park of The Parklands of Floyds Fork, and Big Beech Woods specifically.
This would be Footpaths’ second visit to the Parklands of Floyds Fork. The Parklands is really a park of parks, consisting of 4 separate parks (Beckley Creek, Pope Lick, Turkey Run, and Broad Run), and totaling over 4000 acres. They are tied together geographically with wildlife corridors along Floyds Fork Creek, a 62 mile tributary to the Salt River, that runs east and south of Louisville. It is located in a more rural area in anticipation of the Louisville population moving that direction and needing greenspace.
If the name “Big Beech Trail” was a lure, I bought it hook, line, and sinker. I pictured a large wood with innumerable large beech trees, with the forest floor blanketed in spring wildflowers, as beech woods so often are. I didn’t notice that “beech” could be interpreted as the singular – as in one – for that is what we found on the hike – a singular medium sized beech tree. But that is not to forsake the tranquility of the place.
The park website told me that the “Big Beech Trail” was 1.57 miles long. What it did not tell me is that it was a one mile walk to the trailhead from the parking area at John Floyd Fields. I am all for a good work out, but I am also “Type A” and like to budget my time accurately. We had a dinner date with our daughter and son-in-law and from the outset we knew that our timetable was tenuous.
From the parking area one enters on the Louisville Loop, the concrete path that traverses the expanse of The Parklands of Floyds Fork.
At Pope Lick Park the Louisville Loop crosses the flood plain of Floyds Fork Creek and there was evidence of a recent flood over the banks. Despite the suburban accoutrements of athletic fields, community hall, and the concrete path, there was plenty of nature to be enjoyed.
After a mile the Louisville Loop path crosses Floyds Fork Creek on a substantial bridge, giving us a great view of the waterway.
The numerous fly fisherman that I saw along the way testifies to the health of the creek.
Shortly after crossing the stream, signage told us to enter the Prairie Trail to get to the Big Beech Trail.
We left the pavement and entered the gravel Prairie Preserve Trail,
which shortly brought us to our trailhead as outlined below.
When one leaves the relatively manicured passage of the Louisville Loop and the Prairie Trail the vibe changes. We are now more intimate with nature. The angst level recedes as there are no bikers or runners cruising by. We are in an Oak, Hickory, and Maple wood of medium age and it is soothing.
Big Beech Trail is bare dirt and considered “moderately difficult”. I would concur with that assessment. The terrain is moderate but the surface is challenging with exposed roots and rocks, especially for a tree canopy watcher like myself. The creek crossings are “unimproved”, and this is the mildest of them.
We are now hiking east, parallel to Floyds Fork Creek, and heading up a steady grade. It is not challenging and we are entertained by our sightings. Another creek crossing offers up these stairs, which utilize the ubiquitous sandstone of the Louisville region.
I only wish that we could pipe in the joyous birdsong that we heard as we walked this trail.
Then the dendrologist (tree guy) in me noted these – beautiful mature Redcedars, in amongst the oaks as we climbed the grade. As I have said it before, I am a Redcedar junky. You do not often see thriving Oaks and Redcedars in the same hillside.
But I need to share with you the true benefit of our terrain climb – this view of Floyds Fork Creek, which includes the part of the concreted Louisville Loop that we took to get to the trailhead. Yes it was a climb.
After enjoying the view I turned to find the photographer hard at work. She had found a young specimen of one of our favorite trees – the American Holly. We get excited whenever we see it in the landscape, especially in a wild one. They are a great wildlife resource, providing shelter and berries.
I mentioned that this trail had “unimproved” creek crossings. At one point it went from “unimproved” to down right challenging. As the photographer said, we had to do a log roll to get across. However the little grand dog was undaunted
It was shortly after this creek that we came across the lone modest Beech. I had spent much of my childhood in a beautiful Beech wood with dozens of iconic trees, so this solitary medium aged specimen was a bit of a let down, but still earned my respect.
In this area that we came upon a group of flowering Spicebush, a native plant that is attractive all year long. Below, and in the title photo, you can see the beauty of its flowering.
In the fall it will have scarlet red berries.
Here we also saw this guy, a Pileated Woodpecker, high in the canopy.
Pileateds were the model for one of our childhood favorites, Woody the Woodpecker, who happened to have a little more red on his head, but the same overall hairstyle, and his laugh mimicked the Pileated call.
First the sound of a Pileated’s call. Please listen to the entire 35 second track.
Second, Woody The Woodpecker’s laugh.
The photographer and I have noted increased Pileated sightings since starting retirement and wondered if there was a population surge due to the abundance of dead trees for cavity nesting related to Emerald Ash Borer. What the scientists note is that, in fact, the population has been increasing since the 1960s and probably reflects a change in forestry management, providing larger areas of contiguous forest which Pileateds need, as well as allowing dead tree stags to remain standing for nesting. Perhaps the photographer and I have been seeing more Pileateds because I have learned to slow down and observe.
The trail across the ridge was challenging, with exposed roots and rock.
But I did enjoy this intimate passage through two substantial white oaks.
As the trail descended we were again reminded of the sheer power of nature. The Louisville area had recently experienced a devastating storm with straight line winds and we could see evidence of that along our route. Redcedars are some of the strongest trees native to the Eastern U.S., but here we saw how the winds snapped them off mid trunk.
As we came down the grade we were entranced by the sounds. First by the sound of falling water,
but also by the sound of a Barred Owl, heard but unseen, just across the creek…. “Who cooks for you”. The call mesmerized our grand dog Cappy.
Of course what brought us out to this “Beech” wood was the anticipation of spring ephemeral wildflowers beneath beeches, and though the beeches were lacking, the outing was not a total failure in the wildflower experience. We did catch a few of our favorites:
Spring Beauty – with the spectrum of colorization demonstrated in these two photos.
Harbinger of Spring – perhaps my favorite spring wildflower name, because it suggests a sense of seasonal optimism.
Purple Cress – was the star of the show at Big Beech Woods. Its petals tended to be on the white side of the white to pastel purple spectrum that can be seen.
And for those who ask of the future I offer this, leaves of Trout Lily, one of my favorite wildflowers, who should be flowering with a regal yellow or white bloom in late March and early April.
In summary, though the outing was filled with surprises with regards to total distance and the number of Beech trees, this was still a very worthwhile jaunt. The terrain was fun and somewhat challenging, and the wood itself was a peaceful blend of trees, especially those of the white oak family. It is what I would describe as a stable ecosystem with virtually no invasives. The trail crossed several small streams and the bird population provided a soundtrack. Plus, there were the spring wildflowers. Did I mention the beauty of Floyds Fork Creek itself? I could gaze upon it for hours. Find your way there.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Parking – Large paved lot at John Floyds Fields.
Facilities – Indoor facilities at John Floyds fields.
Trail Conditions – Overall this trail offers it all. It transitions from concrete to gravel to bare dirt. The trail in Big Beech Woods has surface rocks and roots but otherwise is in excellent condition.
Print Map Link – None. Take a photo at the trailhead.
Benches – None on the Big Beech Trail but plenty on the Louisville Loop.
Kids – Kids 5 and over should do well here with minimal assistance, and the creeks are ideal for “hands on” aquatic play.
Dogs – Welcomed while on a leash.
Suggested Paired Hikes – There are numerous trails within the Parklands.