by Lance Gideon

NDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA-Early Spring is one of my favorite times of the year, things are coming back to life, new flowers are beginning to bloom. Airing out after another cold Indiana winter is always nice to do on these beautiful days. My family and I recently traveled to Fort Harrison State Park to take a hike down the Harrison Trace Trail and enjoy a beautiful early spring day in Indiana.

As we arrived at the park, I noticed many people were walking around and enjoying a beautiful day. My wife and I parked our car near the Delaware Lake area and got the stroller ready for a hike. We had decided to hike down Harrison Trace, which is paved and easy to push a stroller down. Many people also like riding their bikes down the Harrison Trace trail.

My wife and I started our walk down Harrison Trace and decided to head toward the park’s Shaffer Picnic Area. The hike is about 1 mile in length, about 2 miles round trip, and there are plenty of places to see Mother Nature at her finest, especially this time of year. There were not any leaves on any of the trees quite yet, although most have buds on them, so there is much more to see on a hike. I saw many squirrels running around the woods floor on Harrison Trace and could hear birds singing in the trees.

My daughter, Rayne, also really enjoyed her ride through the park. She loved listening to those birds and looking at the trees that are on the trail. Rayne also liked seeing the many dogs that enjoy taking their friends out for a hike on the trail. As we reached the picnic area, we came to a bridge that crosses over the Lawrence Creek. Rayne really enjoyed listening to the water as it rippled under the bridge and there was even a dog that was playing in the creek’s water.

After walking over the bridge, we entered a more open area of the park. The park’s sledding hill is in this area of the park, but sledding is, probably, over until December. This area also has a playground to climb on and many children and adults were playing in the area. Some kids were playing soccer, others were sliding down the slide and swinging on the equipment’s swings. Shortly afterwards, the trail enters the Walnut Plantation area of the park.

We walked another 20 minutes down Harrison Trace, enjoying the Walnut Trees that had been planted. Once again, Rayne looked around and listened to all the birds that she could hear while riding in her stroller. We also heard an owl while walking down this section of the trail, it was almost dusk and there was chill beginning to set in the air. So, we decided to turn around and head back to our vehicle. Once again walking past the picnic area and into the woods. We eventually arrived at our car, tired but excited to see what spring and summer has in store for us. Rayne was also tired and quickly fell asleep as we drove through the park, on our way home after another awesome visit to this beautiful state park.

by Cameron Clark

Texas – Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River State Park is located along the boundary of Comal and Kendall counties. It was acquired by deed from private owners in 1974 and was opened to the public in 1983. The park is bisected by the clear-flowing waters of the Guadalupe River. The park is comprised of a 1,938.7-acre segment of the Texas Hill Country noted for its ruggedness and scenic beauty.

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Most People enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including canoeing, fishing, swimming, tubing, picnicking, hiking and camping. Opportunities also exist for less vigorous pursuits, such as bird-watching and nature study.

The Guadalupe River, with banks lined by huge bald cypress trees, is the park’s most outstanding natural feature. On its winding path through the park, the river courses over four natural rapids; two steep limestone bluffs reflect its awesome erosive power. Trees in lower elevations and bottomlands include sycamore, elm, basswood, pecan, walnut, persimmon, willow and hackberry. In the uplands away from the river, the limestone terrain is typical of the Edwards Plateau and is composed of oak and juniper woodlands, with interspersed grasslands. One area of virgin Ashe juniper woodlands provides the proper nesting habitat for the rare golden-cheeked warbler. In addition to numerous species of birds, the park supports a wide variety of wild animals, including the white-tailed deer, coyote, gray fox, skunk, raccoon, opossum, bobcat and armadillo. Other smaller species abound, and efforts of wildlife observers are usually well rewarded.

The Guadalupe River State Park is located in a very convenient location inbetween San Antonio and Austin. The park is very well maintained and is all about the river. I have been going there since i was a kid with my twin sister and parents to just sit back relax and look at the flowing Guadalupe River.

by Cameron Clark

Texas – McKinney Falls State Park

 

 

Summer time is approaching at it gets especially hot here in South Texas but there is a spot where you can cool off. McKinney Falls State Park is located in Austin Texas and just a stone throws from Texas parks and Wildlife Department’s main headquarters. The park is named for Thomas F. McKinney, who came to Texas in the early 1820s as one of Stephen F. Austin’s first 300 colonists. Sometime between 1850 and 1852, McKinney moved to Travis County and to his property on Onion Creek, where he became a prominent breeder of racehorses with his own stable and private track. McKinney falls is located on onion creek, which has a tendency to flood so make sure to go when it has not rained recently. The park is really cool. The park is not located way out in the middle of nowhere but instead just outside Austin. The park is very well maintained but does see some flood debris from time to time. The falls have created caves along onion creek, which are really cool to go checkout. There is also a large exhibit located on the property showing the different types of rocks and nature present. The park is great for little kids especially due to the large amount of tangible interpretive displays through out the park. Be careful when swimming due to the large amount of obstacles to get down to the water, just be careful and don’t jump off the top of the falls like an idiot. Highly recommend McKinney Falls state park for a little weekend getaway.

by Cameron Clark

Padre Island National Seashore- Corpus Christi, TX

Yes I know that this is a National Park. But it is probably one of the best national parks in the entire country. Padre Island National Seashore separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre, one of a few hyper saline lagoons in the world.  The park protects 70 miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and wind tidal flats teeming with life.

Padre Island National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. In addition to its 70 miles of protected coastline, other important ecosystems abound, including rare coastal prairie, a complex and dynamic dune system, and the Laguna Madre, one of the few hyper saline lagoon environments left in the world. The National Seashore and surrounding waters provide important habitat for marine and terrestrial plants and animals, including a number of rare, threatened, and endangered species.

Situated along the Central Flyway, Padre Island is a globally important area for over 380 migratory, overwintering, and resident bird species (nearly half of all bird species documented in North America). Thirteen of these species are considered species of concern, threatened, or endangered.

Four nations have owned Padre Island at different times. The first was Spain, which owned Padre Island from its entry into the New World until the Mexican Revolution of 1820. Following the revolution, Mexico owned Padre Island from 1821 until 1836, when the newly formed Republic of Texas claimed the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Padre Island was under ownership by the Republic of Texas until its territory was acquired by the United States, following the War with Mexico of 1845-1848. Throughout these times, the island has been known by several names, with Padre Island being only the most recent. It has also been known as “la Isla Blanca” (White Island) and “Isla de los Malaguitas” (Island of the Malaquites, a band of the Karankawa people).

Padre Island National Seashore has been a destination for visitors for a very long time. I have coming to this site since I was a little kid. Padre Island is very important in Texas history, and protecting the state from possible environmental hazards. Padre Island National Seashore may not have that many interpretive opportunities but that does not matter. The reason why you go here is to experience the coast line and the landscape. The site does not need any explanation through interpretive guides and visual aidsthe site speaks for itself. Padre Island National Seashore is a great place to spend time in the outdoors.

by Cameron Clark

Old Tunnel State Park-  Fredricksburg ,TX

Old Tunnel State Park is the smallest state park in Texas, consisting of only 16.1 acres of land

Things To Do

Visitors can enjoy hiking, bird-watching, and general wildlife-viewing on the Old Tunnel nature trail, which is less than one-half mile in length and open to the public 365 days a year. The trail opens at sunrise and closes at varying times throughout the year based on bat emergence time. Monday through Wednesday evenings, May through October, the trail and lower viewing area are not open to the public. On Thursday through Sunday evenings, the trail is open to those visitors who pay admission to view the bats at the lower viewing area. The trail is primitive and can be steep. Visitors should carry their own drinking water and snacks, as no water, food, or man-made shelter is available on the trail. No water fountains or other water is available on-site. No pets, or smoking, are allowed at this park. Although entrance into the tunnel is prohibited, visitors are encouraged to enjoy the view of the tunnel from the trail. In order to minimize disturbance to the bat colony and for the safety of our visitors, people must stay on the designated trail.

Bats

The abandoned railroad tunnel that gives Old Tunnel its name is home to up to 3 million Brazillian Free tailed Bats and 3,000 cave myotis bats from May through October. During those months, visitors come to watch the bats emerge from the tunnel each night. You have to pay an admission fee to come watch the bats at night and it is first come first serve.

The Old Tunnel State Park is not just cool because of the bats but also because it is located outside of Fredricksburg. Fredricksburg is a neat old town with tons of history. There is tons of shopping and activities along mainsteet. The town and park can become very crowded during the weekend so I advise to visit on a weekday, very worth the trip.

by Lance Gideon

NEW CASTLE, INDIANA-The woods around Indiana are coming back to life and so are the parks throughout the State of Indiana. With the recent warm temperatures, my wife and I recently traveled to Summit Lake State Park to walk the park’s trail 2 and to take our daughter to the playground.

My wife and I first parked our car at the trail head of trail 2 in Summit Lake’s Campground B. Our first stop at the park was the playground in the campground. There is a baby swing on the swing set as well as a couple of slides and play set. We pushed Rayne in the swing for about 5 minutes and then decided to show her the slide. After a few more minutes at the slide, we decided to head to the trail head and start our walk.

As we started our walk, we noticed several robins in on the trail. Rayne also noticed the birds, frogs, and bugs on the trail. This part of the trail has a lot of younger trees and saplings and winds through the woods and has some very beautiful views of the lake. As we walked on the trail, there is a lot of mud from the recent rain falls. In the mud, we could see several animal tracks, including deer, and probably some domestic dog.

Along the trail, we noticed several patches of wild violets. We also noticed several wild raspberry plants as we walked, and they’ll be in season in the near future. Soon, we were near a spot on the trail where someone can see most of the lake. My wife and I noticed that the water level seems to be up compared to recent years, and with the recent rain fall that is not really that surprising.

As we walked away from that view of the lake, we noticed several spots wear beaver knocked several trees down. There were several stumps that were several years old, but a couple that looked relatively fresh. At one spot, we could see a tree that had been recently knocked down by a beaver and where he, or she, was working on some other trees in the immediate area.

Soon, we saw a cove on the lake that we enjoy when we’re out on our kayaks, and I know that we’re both excited about the nearing kayak season. Along this portion of the trail, we could hear frogs in the close wetlands. This section of the trail has the oldest set of trees in it and has very little ground clutter. We also could hear frogs croaking nearby and several more birds. Finally, we noticed more wildflowers, including spring beauties and trillium. This is the last section of the trail and we were soon back in the campground. We walked back to our car and packed Rayne back in her car seat and headed home after another fun day in one of Indiana’s beautiful state parks.

by Cameron Clark

Choke Canyon State Park, consisting of two sites South Shore and Calliham, is located on 26,000-acre Choke Canyon Reservoir, a water supply for Corpus Christi. The South Shore Unit is a day-use only park and offers boating, fishing, picnicking, wildlife viewing and birding. The Calliham Unit offers camping, picnicking, boating, hiking, wildlife viewing, birding, fishing, lake beach and softball and volleyball areas. Choke Canyon is a great destination for those interested in boating, fishing, and seeing the nature of South Texas.

Both Calliham and South Shore have a wide variety of wildlife that inhabits dense thickets of mesquite and black bush. Choke Canyon is the site of the westernmost common occurrence of the American alligator. Rio Grande turkey, white-tailed deer, javelina, coyote, opossum, fox squirrel, raccoon and various skunks are among the most common animals.The following fish are in the reservoir: largemouth bass, white bass, striped bass, white crappie, bluegill, longear sunfish, green sunfish, flathead, channel and blue catfish, carp, freshwater drum and gar.

As part of a joint project of the Bureau of Reclamation and the American Birding Association, Choke Canyon Reservoir has been recognized as a place of special importance for birds and birdwatchers. Large numbers and varieties of birds are attracted to the water and to the adjacent upland habitats. Also, many typically Mexican species of birds approach the northern limits of their range here, making this one of Texas’ finest places to watch birds.

( Ex. Green Jay)

The park is immaculate and very well maintained. The staff was nice and extremely helpful. If you want a lake with swimming activities, this park is not for you. If you want a nice relaxing site  with nature and wildlife and limited people this is definitely worth the drive.

by Khrista Watson

I woke up before sun-up on the Saturday of April 11th and drove the hour and forty minute drive from my home base in Evansville to O’Bannon Woods State Park near Corydon Indiana to watch the 12th annual Hellbender Hustle and Woodrat Walk 5K.

Some of you may be wondering, “What exactly is a hellbender?” (My boyfriend thought it was a new character from the Last Airbender series) Well, hellbenders are large aquatic salamanders. They are the largest salamander in North America and can live up to 30 years. And they are also a federally listed endangered species. Here is a model of a hellbender, since sightings of live hellbenders are so rare, there weren’t’t any live ones in attendance this day.

The hellbenders have long been in trouble, do to habit degradation and loss mostly. Twelve years ago the Nature Conservancy of Indiana put on the first Hellbender Hustle 5K to raise awareness and support for the salamander. The race has since been handed over to the State Parks department and is still hosted annually at O’Bannon Woods State Park.

At 9:00 local time, the group of racers gathered at the starting line for a shot-gun start (fired by site Naturalist Jarrett Manek). The crowd was diverse. The youngest registered racer was four years old, the oldest over seventy, and there were plenty all ages in between. Families came to race together as well as groups of friends, and even racers that have been in attendance since the first race.

(A family of racers, Mom and Dad were participants, the kiddos brought cow bells to cheer the racers through the finish line.)

I did not myself race, but moseyed back down to near the finish line to hang out with some of the nature center’s residents. Mainly to oxen that are part of the farmstead and working hay press that is on the property.

Okay. So when I said there weren’t’t any live hellbenders in attendance, I sort of lied. Herbie was there.

(Herbie the Hellbender and I posing for a picture together)

Herbie is a member of Purdue Extension Services and the Purdue Student Chapter of Environmental Education. Purdue staff and students were on hand to spread the word about hellbender conservation and provide crafts and activities for the racers as they finished. For more information on their work you can check out helpthehellbender.org.

(The Purdue group also brought with them a larval salamander. Heehee.)

The Hoosier Herpetological Society was also there with some real (sorry Herbie) amphibians including both local salamanders and and Mexican axolotl that closely resembles our native hellbenders.

After the race Purdue was hosting a Feast like a Hellbender lunch including Cajun and Creole foods made with the hellbenders favorite snack – crayfish. Unfortunately, the smell of cooked crayfish does weird things to my stomach so I didn’t stick around to partake in the feast.