To be honest, this was a hike of convenience. After recent travel we were looking for something close to home. The 12 mile drive to French Park near Cincinnati certainly met the need.
French Park is a substantial urban/suburban park, a mere 10 miles from downtown Cincinnati, with some vantage points offering views of the city’s skyline. At 275 acres, it is large enough to offer refuge from the noise of the city, especially as one hikes into the Amberley Creek Valley that bisects the property.
As we initiated the hike, what came to mind was the increasingly popular activity of “foraging”, as we saw many edible plants.
First were a cluster of mature Hackberry trees. When I witnessed some squirrels feasting on some of the berries I decided to give them a try. Hackberries typically ripen, for humans anyway, in September. These were larger than I was used to seeing them, about the size of a pea, and tasted more like green beans, rather than the typical flavor of dates that I associate with them when they are ripe.
The fruit is somewhat impractical as there is little flesh and mostly a large pit inside.
Just a little further down the trailhead we came upon these blackberry canes with developing fruit. With the retained anthers of the flowers they did not look too appetizing. Between now and when the fruit is ripe in late July, the anthers, which are the fuzzy parts in the photo below, will fall away leaving the naked tasty fruit. The sepals, the prominent whitish husk that initially encased the flower bud, will wither away and not be as prominent as they are in this photo,
And nearby was the blackberry’s cousin, raspberry. It is a little further along in the maturation process and they will be ripe in about a month. It too will lose the remaining anthers and the sepals will retract. Raspberry plants have round stems with pink and white coloration, while blackberry plants tend to be angular, or somewhat square, and a solid green.
For dessert we have the nectar of honeysuckle. If you pinch the base of the flower and pull the anthers back through the flower you will be rewarded with a pearl of sweetness.
And finally, if we can beat the wildlife to them, we could harvest wild grapes and perhaps make wine. Here the grape clusters are early in their development.
But alas, understandably Cincinnati Parks prohibits foraging as it takes away from wildlife as well as the experience of other visitors.
Their official statement from their website is as follows. “What is Cincinnati Parks’ stance on foraging? When people use our parks for foraging, our natural areas are no longer being conserved or enriched for all. If a natural element is removed from a park, other park goers will not have the opportunity to enjoy it. That is why according to Park Board Rules, “no person shall take, carry away, remove, dig, cut, disturb, molest, destroy, mar, or damage any soil or mineral substance or any form of vegetation whether living or dead, on park property.” This supports our mission “to conserve, manage, sustain, and enhance the parks’ natural and cultural resources and public greenspace for the enjoyment, enlightenment, and enrichment of all citizens in the Cincinnati community.”
Noted and respected. But I suspect that perhaps you could taste a berry or two as you pass on the trail.
Upon leaving the trailhead, the path wove its way through a succession wood of Walnut and Silver Maple. The trail was bare dirt with surface roots but eventually reached a well constructed stair that led us down into the Amberley Creek Valley.
Here the environs changed. We were now in a relatively mature wood hosting a tremendous variety of trees. Truly quite a comprehensive list of the tree species that you might see in the Ohio River Valley: American Beech, Red Oak, Shagbark Hickory, Bitternut Hickory, Sugar Maple, Sycamore, Wild Cherry, Tulip-poplar, Chestnut Oak, and White Oak. The further we wandered along the trail the larger the specimens became, as evidenced by this canopy photo.
The trail ran along the shoulder of the creek.
It appeared that the stream has constant water as it hosted many small fish. Its base consisted of shelf rock that allowed for the episodic falling water.
The sounds were peaceful, offering a garden like quality.
Interestingly, this area was a wildlife oasis as we noted more animal activity. Initially I noticed a lot of Blue Jay calls, but not quite typical Blue Jays calls – somewhat softer. Then we saw what appeared to be a mother Blue Jay with 3 offspring, perhaps on their first foray away from the nest.
At this same pool we saw a couple of Chipmunks hydrating.
It brought back memories of our eldest, who had a imaginary friend who just happened to be a chipmunk.
French Park is known for its 1930’s house that is a venue for outdoor weddings. The park was donated to the City of Cincinnati in 1943 by Herbert Greer French, a Procter & Gamble executive. Beginning in 1930, he had developed an estate named Reachmont on this property. The only reference to this history was this small brass plaque which is almost 100 years old, found on a rather random stone along the trail, . It appears to be a tribute to the “man’s best friends” that spent time here
And this stone wall lining a part of the stream suggests a “managed” wildness to the property.
Sometimes there are more questions than answers on a hike, like when we came upon this item seemingly floating on the breeze. As we watched it, it appeared to move about 2 feet , almost in a hovering flight pattern. It seemed to be suspended – perhaps some sort of plant debris captured on a strand of spider silk – but no silk was seen. It could have also been, given its symmetry, a surprisingly small space module from another galaxy. But the sci-fi loving photographer scoffed at that suggestion. Go figure.
The Creek Trail is an “out and back trail” so we decided to pair it with Trail C which returned a little higher up along a hillside that paralleled the creek.
Here the trees were even larger.
This is better appreciated when you put me into the landscape for comparison.
This view from the base of the American Beech that was before me better displays its immensity.
Noted amongst this mature wood were a couple of our favorite understory trees. First was Musclewood. This specimen was quite large for the species, perhaps 5 inches in diameter. In the photo one can appreciate the muscle like texture to its trunk. It is also known as Ironwood, a reference to the strength of its wood. It was used to make tool handles in times past.
The other was the Pawpaw which had a substantial presence in this wood. Pawpaws have the second largest leaves of the eastern deciduous forest; behind only big leaf magnolias of the Appalachian region.
They spread by root growth extension and therefore are frequently seen in thickets or “Pawpaw patches”.
It was in this area that we had a fascinating experience. We noted a significant but still gentle wind, and suddenly saw thousands of winged seeds come drifting down on the breeze – like graceful paratroopers attacking the wooded hillside. They are the winged seeds released from the seed ball of a Sycamore tree, although no sycamores were in sight.
Odds and Ends:
I will take this time to remind everyone how to identify Poison Ivy. It has a compound leaf consisting of three leaflets and the end leaflet always has a longer petiole (stem).
It is important to realize that it does not just occur in the vining form low on the ground. Here we also saw it in an upright shrub form with very large leaves. This specimen was about 4 foot tall.
In many articles during the spring ephemera season we commented on Waterleaf, the wildflower plant that has a bicolor leaf ever present over the course of winter. Here we found it in several locations displaying its periwinkle colored flower.
I know nothing about this fly species but we liked his dramatic coloration and saw several specimens sunning themselves on broad leaves over the course of the hike.
French Park is known for the quantity of fossils found within the exposed stone of the creek bed and hiking trail.
And lastly, another seek and find.
Did you see it? Perhaps these will help.
We watched as this 18 inch Northern Watersnake wove its way between and under rocks in the creek bed looking for prey. The Watersnakes have tremendous variation in their color patterns, and typically young snakes have more remarkable contrasting colors as seen here.
In summary, the trails at French Park have a lot to offer. The tree species diversity along the Creek and Trail C paths is outstanding and would be a great place to learn tree identification. In addition, the ambience of the creek valley, with its gentle waterfalls and absence of the sounds of the city, make it a great nearby respite to soak in the peace of nature. There are other trails at French Park, including several prairie trails that may warrant a visit in the July through September time period to see the floral display and to observe pollinators at work.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns. Video by Patrick Burns.
Location – 3012 Section Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45237. It is on the east side of Cincinnati, about 10 miles from downtown.
Parking – large asphalt lot.
Facilities – restrooms at a nearby picnic shelter.
Trail Conditions – bare dirt with exposed roots and rocks that can be trip hazards. Overall moderate in difficulty.
Benches – none on trail.
Picnic Tables – many elsewhere in the park.
Kids – kids four and older should do well and would enjoy some creek exploration.
Dogs – welcomed on a leash.