As I was planning this outing I told the photographer that this post was going to focus on a study of the North Fork of Grassy Creek, the small stream that runs across the northernmost part of the preserve. Footpaths had been here twice before, once in the winter of 2022, when we highlighted the massive trees found in this old growth wood, and during the spring of 2022, which featured spring ephemeral wildflowers (see links at the end of the article). Frankly, I did not know what to expect to find in the heat of the summer in the mature wood, but I knew the stream would be there.
But nature was not going to allow this to be boring. Within 30 feet of stepping onto the trail I paused because something was different. Absent was the usual earthy musty smell of decaying leaves that I associate with a deeply shaded forest. I couldn’t put a name to it – but the photographer who caught up to me did – Curry. And she was right. We immediately started looking around for some flowering plant that could be emitting the scent, but none was found. Later in the hike, on the other side of the property, we smelled it again, and again no source was noted. Only later did online research give me an answer – Curry Milkcap Mushrooms. They release the curry aroma when they are drying out. I went back to the wood several days later and indeed, in the exact area where we had met the curry smell there were three relatively small mushrooms. Since the region had experienced significant rain since our previous visit, and there was a gusty breeze, the smell of curry was no longer present.
Near the trailhead we also caught up with some old friends – the monstrous Tulip-poplars that are the icons of this place. This single ridge hosts the highest concentration of big Tulip trees that I have ever seen.
Our senses were further activated by the myriad of bird calls gently broadcasting down from the canopy, 80-100 feet over our heads – heard but not seen.
Other sensory stimuli came in the form of the light that filtered in through the tree tops, giving a spectrum of green glows to the vistas. Notice the two additional mammoth Tulip trees in this view.
The photographer was happy to see the improved trail signage that had been placed, as we had gotten off track on our first visit here, and some Footpaths followers had noted similar challenges on their visits.
It appears that the improved signage and active management have led to more visitors and consistent wear on the trail with a more clearly worn path.
While the northern aspect of the preserve is not truly “old growth”, it too harbors mature towering trees with long straight trunks.
After a walk along the ridge, the trail descends down into the valley of the North Fork of Grassy Creek.
This is a peaceful setting with the sounds of running water replacing the ambient noise of the nearby roadways.
Here the trail gave me easy access to the stream bed, where I partook in one of my favorite childhood activities – turning over rocks to look for stream life.
My effort was rewarded with some amphibian finds:
Wood Frog – Adults can reach up to 3 inches in length and their color can range from tan to dark brown or reddish-brown. I found a larger one of the same species but he escaped before we could get a photo.
Southern Two-lined Salamander – named for the dark stripes that occur on each side. As seen in the second photo, the stripe starts at its eye, and will run to the tip of its tail. It inhabits humid areas and is found in hardwood forests, swamps, and creeks. You can usually find them under rocks, logs, or leaf litter. Like frogs, they lay their eggs in standing water and their offspring have a tadpole stage.
And we did capture a photo of an even smaller one of these that I uncovered.
We also liked this image that captured light being refracted through the air bubbles that support the feet of the Water Striders.
The only negative of this endeavor was the moist valley harbored some mosquitoes, our first run in of the year. So don’t forget your bug spray.
After leaving the streamside the trail climbs a small grade and winds around a hill to ascend to another ridge.
In much of this stretch the trail parallels the stream providing the valley view as seen in the title photo.
The eastern aspect of this loop trail demonstrates the cycle of life as this area was previously populated by numerous enormous White Ash trees, but the Emerald Ash Borer changed that. This photo shows an ash tree carcass that recently crossed the path and gives you an idea of the size of the trees that have been lost. There is a short trail detour around this log.
Another feature of the eastern section of the trail is the presence of Linden trees. Linden trees are somewhat uncommon in the eastern deciduous forest, but we saw several of them here. First was this multi-trunk specimen. A tree with six healthy trunks is unusual.
A somewhat more impressive Linden was noted when we came across this obstruction on the trail. It had the winged fruit of a Linden tree and the fallen branch itself was as large as a good sized tree.
When we looked around we found the parent plant, perhaps the largest Linden that I have ever seen. I think that the branch came off the fractured lower limb.
And soon the trail returns to the ridge that hosts the “old growth” wood. Here I paused for a photo with a majestic White Oak, one of my favorite tree species, whose leaf has been part of the logo for the Nature Conservancy over the years.
The white paint ring on the trunk is a residual marking from the scientific study that the preserve takes part in annually.
Odds and Ends:
Here is a healed lightning strike injury on a large Black Walnut. The vertical scar could be easily identified running 25 feet or more up the trunk. This tree was approximately 30 inches in diameter, quite large for a Black Walnut. Despite the past lightning strike it looked healthy.
The humid summer is peak season for fungi and we saw a colorful potpourri of them here.
But my favorite mushroom of the day was this delicate appearing Pinwheel Mushroom that seems to have been foraged upon. It looks like a sugar cookie but only measured a half inch in diameter.
The Elf Cap is another fungus that warrants its own mention. Their striking color makes you think that someone left a piece of plastic on the trail. It was also about one half inch in diameter but can get up to 2 inches in size. A hickory nut is also in the photo.
One final mention is of the Sassafras tree. It is very distinctive, and when we were teaching our young daughters tree identification, we described this as the “mitten tree”. This small specimen depicts the typical leaves very well. The leaves can have no, one, or two thumbs. The arrow points to the classic “mitten leaf”.
New Plant of the Day – American Hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata). It is a delicate appearing vining plant that we saw in swaths in two locations on the northern part of the loop trail, and its unique appearance made it stand out. Though it was a vine, it was not climbing anything, but rather just growing along the ground. It has a fascinating lifecycle which includes two different types of flowers and two different types of fruits. The genus name, Amphicarpea, literally means “both fruits”. On the upper plant, white to light blue flowers, similar in shape to those on a pea plant, will appear in August or September and will cross pollinate with other specimens, resulting in a pea pod like seed capsule that eventually explodes to launch the contained seeds to the surrounding terrain. But also, on the lower part of the plant, stolons (runners) arise running horizontally and develop inconspicuous flowers that never open. They self-fertilize to produce a fleshy pod that gets buried in the soil or leaf litter, or finds its way into the fissures that form in the ground in the dry late summer. These are the “peanuts” which wild hogs would forage for and give the plant its name. I have attached a link at the end of the article that fully covers this unique native plant.
Seek and Find – I looked right past this Fowler’s Toad as it blended in with the leaf litter on the forest floor, but it could not fool the photographer.
The brown markings on its back differentiate it from an American Toad.
In summary, this outing drove home the message that repeat visits to the same trail is not, in reality, a repeat hike, for time and seasons change the experiences. They are unique and rewarding in different ways. I will never forget the Curry smell – it is a lesson forever forged on both my left and right brain – the scientific and artistic sides of me. The American Hog-peanut experience reinforced the value of the Google Lens functionality to help identify plants and I need to utilize it more in the field, although with a degree of skepticism. It is a good tool but can make mistakes. I look forward to working with the Lloyd Wildlife Management Area staff to improve this preserve, continuing to clear the trail, and adding some benches. Places to sit encourage observation and lead to better experiences. It was exciting to see that the trail is getting more use since Footpaths first wrote about it 18 months ago. And yes, we did have shrimp curry for dinner that evening.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns. Curry Milkcap photos by Patrick Burns and his trusty I-phone.
Location – 230 Gardnersville Rd, Crittenden, KY 41030, about 28 miles south of downtown Cincinnati. It is about 2 miles off I-75.
Parking – large paved lot. The trailhead is at the eastern edge of the parking area.
Facilities – restrooms are only open on event days.
Trail Conditions – bare dirt but in good shape. I would rate as moderate due to terrain change. The trail is a little over a mile in length.
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.
Picnic Tables – one at the trailhead.
Kids – due to the terrain change I would suggest kids 5 and over.
Dogs – allowed on a leash.
Suggested 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.