You will not always have time for what I call destination hiking – those venues that demand a commitment of time to travel to see some well known extraordinary habitat, vista, or challenge. That is the reason that you should develop a catalog of hikes close to home that allows you to get out in nature when you need to, but are perhaps short on time. That is the beauty of the Bortz Family Nature Preserve – it is close to home. The added bonus is that it is an unusual habitat – 119 acres of Ohio River floodplain.
The Bortz Family Preserve is the third Cardinal Land Conservancy property that we have hiked this summer. Cardinal states that their mission is “to preserve natural habitats, waterways, agricultural lands and open space that we love in Southwest Ohio by working with individuals, families, and communities.” They recently opened four of their properties for public use and they are a great addition to the collection of public green spaces we have in this region.
We were fitting this outing in between other travels so the preserve’s proximity to home moved it up on our list. It had been a dry 4 weeks so we were confident the trail would be manageable.
The parking area is on the eastern edge of the lot at Four Seasons Marina. From there one can easily see a gravel access road that acts as the trailhead to the preserve.
At the top of the mild grade you get the official welcome.
The access road continues to the right but is off limits to hikers. It enters the part of the preserve that has hosted a Bald Eagles’ nest for several years and appropriately they wish for it to remain undisturbed. I had a great time live streaming the eagle family on Cardinal’s website this spring as three eaglets were successfully raised. I encourage you to check on them again late next winter when hopefully the eagle parents, Bonnie and Clyde, return to the nest with hopes of raising another brood.
We headed left and then dropped down a slope onto this wide path of mowed grass which appears to be a utility access route. To either side in the low lands where the common trees of wetlands: Sycamore, Box-elder, and Silver Maples. Also noted were Cottonwoods, some of which were massive.
From the walkway one could look into the open wood which had an understory of herbaceous plants and overstory of mature trees but virtually no midstory. This can be seen in the title photo and below.
One of the first things we noted were the barrage of hammerings by a collection of woodpeckers – we saw a few but heard many more.
In patches a long the path we saw large collections of Yellow Wingstem. We have seen it on the edges of woods on many of our recent hikes but not to the height that these specimens had. Perhaps it was due to fertile soil of the floodplain.
After a few hundred yards there is a side trail that heads to the bank of the Ohio River. There was a tunnel effect as the bordering trees arched overhead.
The first thing that you see when you reach the bank is an island that is in the river, seen in the forground in the photo below, with the hills of Kentucky in the background.
After working our way to the bank of the river, and looking to our left we see where the Little Miami River empties into the Ohio. The buildings on the Kentucky shore are from the waterworks and some residential buildings can be seen on the hilltops.
And a lone Great Blue Heron was fishing just off the point.
We doubled back to the primary loop and were looking for another side trail that would have taken us to the National Wild and Scenic Little Miami River. Unfortunately, we found it was quite overgrown and our passage was blocked.
This part of the main loop of the trail is a little narrower but well maintained with gravel. It was slightly raised above the lowlands.
At times it gave us a southern feel, like when the photographer took this shot behind us.
Eventually you climb back up to the dike like structure that hosted the trailhead.
The floral stars of the show on this hike were the Yellow Wingstem and Ironweed, especially when they occurred together.
The flowers of Ironweed, in contrast to its name, look delicate when studied closely. The name actually arises from the rigidness of the main stem of the plant, which often still stand erect at the end of winter.
Most of the other flowers that we saw on this outing were more understated.
Ageratum – also called Blue Mist Flower. It is our native Ageratum and is usually much taller than the Ageratum that you see at garden centers.
Virginia Knotweed – it made up a large part of the understory. Its flowers were smaller than a grain of rice.
Virginia Buttonweed – a native plant that likes wet places. When we first looked at the photos we though that the flowers were out of focus but the “blurriness” was in fact just the result of the fine hairs on the flower petals.
Canadian Clearweed – another large component of the understory. It is found in wet habitats with loamy soil throughout the Eastern U.S. and therefore thrives in this floodplain. It is a member of the nettle family but does not have stinging hairs. It is an edible green. If you look closely you see small areas of yellow. Those are its minuscule flowers.
This is a Goldenrod Beetle on some Boneset. The adult form is active during late summer and fall, the same time that Goldenrod is flowering, hence its name.
This summer we have mentioned American Hog-peanut several times but this is the first time that we could see all three of its features. It is a vine that occurred in large swathes in the understory at Bortz. Each leaf has 3 leaflets.
It climbs up neighboring plants, as is seen here, to display its pea like flowers which can range from white to pastel purple.
And here we finally saw its second type of rudimentary flower. They are small and non-descript and occur on runners that form along the ground. They never really bloom, but rather self pollinate and form a small peanut like fruit that finds its way to a crack in the soil or gets buried in the leaf litter, where it will germinate to form a new plant.
On this outing we were seeing are first bit of color change, but by the time this article is published leaf change will be well underway. The photographer liked this Cottonwood leaf laying on the path.
But we like to point out that one of the most colorful leaves of fall is Poison Ivy, whose leaves will turn bright red or yellow.
This colorful “leaf” is actually a Poison Ivy leaflet (part of a compound leaf), and yes even when it has fallen from the vine it will still give you a rash.
In Summary, Bortz Family Nature Preserve is a fun little jaunt. The trails allow you to spend quite a bit of time in a floodplain habitat which is somewhat unique. I liked the vistas that the lack of a midstory allowed through the trees. I plan to go back this winter to get a better visual on all the woodpeckers we heard working the forest on our visit.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – 7 miles east of downtown Cincinnati, on the bank of the Ohio River.
Parking – large asphalt lot at 4 Seasons Marina.
Trail Conditions – a combination of gravel, bare dirt, and mowed grass.
Benches – none
Picnic Tables – none.
Kids – 4 and older should do well here.
Dogs – welcomed on a leash.
Suggested Paired Hikes – California Woods Nature Preserve with its numerous trails is about a mile away.