Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Cincinnati Nature Center

You probably have heard Susan and I mention the
Cincinnati Nature Center before. It is one of my two favorite nature preserves in Clermont County. I have been a member here for 20 years, and I love to visit in all seasons. The property is well over 1000 acres, and its 18+ miles of trails take you through fields and forests, past ponds and along streams, with enough hills thrown in for a challenge (and a few muscle aches!) Some of the paths are handicap-accessible, while others include limestone steps or steep wooden staircases. There are bird blinds and boardwalks and even an old log cabin. You can spend an hour here or all day. As often as I have visited, I truly I have not seen it all.

As I enter the driveway into CNC, I feel a change come over me. I slow down, turn off the radio and the A/C and open my windows. I take my first deep breath of the day while I watch for the pair of Pileated Woodpeckers who live near the entrance, or listen for the Red-shouldered Hawks who breed nearby. In spring, this drive is lined with hundreds, if not thousands, of daffodils, a legacy that dates back to the original owner, Carl Krippendorf. As a young child suffering from Typhus, Carl was brought to this area when the family doctor advised a "country cure." He fell in love with nature, and in 1898 purchased 97 acres of land to prevent it from being turned into a tobacco field.

Later, he built a home for himself and his wife, Mary in the place they called "Lob's Wood," where they lived for 64 years. This oak allee' was the original drive, while the new road bends to the right. The grassy lane is lined with ancient oak trees, many of which are decaying or storm damaged. CNC groundsmen leave these and other old snags for the use of woodpeckers and secondary cavity nesters. Except for what falls across a path or in the road, any fallen tree is left in place, to provide cover for small forest creatures, to serve as a nurse log, or otherwise fulfill its role in nature's cycle until it rots away and rejoins the earth.

The first building you see is the Welcome Center, staffed by volunteers. It is designed like a birdhouse, from the round window "entry hole" right down to the perch placed below it. You can see one of the volunteers through the window. I owe Evelyn a big “Thank You!” for her help last Wednesday. I had arrived at 8:30am to do my weekly field survey (a CNC project I am participating in) and couldn’t believe I had forgotten my binoculars. Although the naturalist will lend you binoculars if you need them, the main Nature Center building doesn’t open until 9am, and I was resigned to doing most of my birding by ear. Evelyn sees me every week when I come to do my study, and when I asked her if she had any spare binoculars in her booth, she graciously lent me her own personal pair. That’s a nice lady! Thanks, Evelyn, and I’m sorry you didn’t let me take a better picture.

The many trails at CNC are indicated with a series of markers, from three different eras. The originals were blocks of limestone, painted with cryptic symbols. Some I can decipher, like the pair of antlers used to show Whitetail Trace. Others, not so much. At one time, I’m sure someone knew that this symbol meant “Lookout Trail,” but I don’t see how.

When I first began hiking the trails, the markers I used were these low posts, with a number for each major intersection on the trail. It was a little tricky at first, and I used to stand at each intersection with a map and a compass, turning the map in my hands as I tried to figure the way to or from the parking lot. After a while, I knew the trails, and only used the markers to refresh my memory.

The newest trail markers are much clearer, with a trail icon that is also on the map, arrows showing the main route and any alternatives, and always, the way back to the parking lot for the directionally challenged. These 21st century markers are made of recycled plastics, are very user-friendly, and probably cut down on lost hikers, but I miss the old way of doing things. I like standing at an intersection and seeing all three styles of markers – the new, the old, and the familiar. It connects me to the past – mine and Carl’s - as well as to the future.

One of the best things about the trails at CNC is all the many benches scattered about. Some are in places where you want to sit and admire the view, while others are strategically placed at points on the hills where you don’t think you can go any farther. The old maps had the benches marked with an * and I miss that feature on the revised maps. When my leg muscles begin to burn, I like to pull out my old CNC map and see just how far it is to the next bench. You can see some of my favorite trails highlighted on this section of my old CNC map. Can anyone say “anal-retentive?”

Lookout Trail, where my survey plot is, was named for the scenic overlooks along the Little Miami River valley. The view is overgrown now, as is the valley below, overgrown with industry and commercial development that is, so perhaps it is just as well that we can’t see it.

The bench at this spot seems a bit neglected. I wonder if it is lonely and misses the visitors who used to sit on it and look out over the river. I sit for a while to rest and eat my snack and keep the bench company.

The boardwalk bench is a good place to sit and feed the fish and turtles, to watch the ducks and geese, or to glimpse birds like a Belted Kingfisher patrolling the shoreline or the Prothonotary Warblers who nest across the lake.

Many of the benches are donated in memory or honor of someone and are marked with a small plaque. This one, on the boardwalk bench, says it all:


Mary Ann said...

OK, my third time trying this, I feel like a moron! Those funky letters for verification are sometimes hard to catch. Well, for me anyway!

Anyhoo - this is great! I never knew the history of this beautiful spot. I'll have to visit more often.

I've been reading your blog everyday and truly enjoying it. What will you come up with next?!

Thanks ~

Mary Ann

Susan Gets Native said...

A very nice tribute to a very awesome place. Thank goodness we have it!

What do you bird walk, we go to the CNC? You can show me all the places I never have the energy to see? (Or the strength in my arms to carry the girls)

Jayne said...

What a magical place. Thanks for sharing your trip there. Love the "sunrise/sunset" on the plaque! :c)

NatureWoman said...

Wow, no wonder you and Susan love this place Katdoc! I would love it, too.

KGMom said...

I agree with Jayne--the plaque with Sunrise/Sunset is so wonderful
What a way to remember someone.
We visited Manhattan last weekend, & I saw a number of benches on the Upper West Side with similar plaques, memorializing someone who loved that spot.
Isn't it great to have a spot somewhere on earth that is a favorite place.

KatDoc said...

Jayne and KGMom: I have always been fascinated by the sign on this bench. I love the "sunrise/sunset" reference, but I also wonder about Ellen Kobman. Who was she? What was she like? Notice the dates: She died three months shy of her 52nd birthday - why?

I like to sit on her bench and imagine she is sitting next to me, enjoying *her* favorite place.


nina said...

We've been members of CNC for the last several years, too.
At first it seemed unnecessary to "join" a nature center, when I live in such a pretty, resourceful area. But, sponsoring an organizatin that does so many wonderful things--children's programs, artists, authors,...summer camp, walking trails, the nature shop,...I'm sure they're an outreach to many who wouldn't appreciate nature, if it not for their existence.
And that's worth my money.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog, we love Rowe Woods, thats why we moved next to it many years ago. It is a great place for photography is one of many places I have posted pictures.

Our family likes to walk the trails just about everyday and enjoy the wildlife and relaxing walks on the trails, the Lotus Garden is my wife's favorite place.

I will bookmark this blog to see how you continue to enjoy CNC.

Dennis Camp