Indian Creek Greenway: Not Just a Fair Weather Friend

What a drag!  Fall colors popping, moderate temperatures, a weekend with a few unscheduled hours — and rain, rain, rain.  A rainy Saturday afternoon and evening left trails in the area saturated, and more rain was virtually a certainty for Sunday.  So there I sat, glumly considering topics for a non-hiking blog post.  14greenway_signThough it wasn’t raining early Sunday afternoon, the radar showed more precipitation creeping up from the south, and even if we tried to get in a quick hike around Huntsville, we’d be slogging through the mud and contributing to erosion of the trails.  And then Ruth had a great idea — how about a jaunt on Indian Creek Greenway?  It’s really close to our house, and we haven’t checked out the parking area constructed at its south end as part of the widening of Old Madison Pike between Madison and Huntsville.  And best of all, it’s paved!

So we decided to risk getting rained on, and snapped Casey the Hound on a leash and drove to the parking lot.  02newbridge_OMPIt’s quite an improvement over the old unpaved lot that used to be on the west side of Indian Creek.  The old lot flooded frequently, didn’t accommodate many cars, and developed some bone-jarring potholes.  The new lot is paved, can hold around 40 cars, and is on the east side of the creek, which means you have to cross the creek on the new bridge on Old Madison Pike.  There’s a pedestrian corridor, with a concrete barrier between you and the motorized commuters, with an ironwork fence to keep you from going for a swim in the creek.

04lichen_signThe greenway, like all the local ones, is paved and level, winding through a wide corridor.  There’s a line on the pavement to separate the walkers (in the narrow lane) and the bikers (in the broader lane), but most people treat this as a suggestion.  The only rule is common sense — don’t run into people!  There are some other rules, but the lichens have overruled them on this end of the greenway.

06horsesThe path winds gently along, with horses behind an electric fence on the west side about half a mile from the trailhead, and mock oranges occasionally to be found on the ground or in trees to the east.  We’ve walked this greenway on several occasions, and each time I think there are more horses.  We saw at least four on this trip.  Sadly, we’ve noticed a couple of parcels that back up to the west side of the greenway are for sale and seem destined to be developed.  I hope we don’t trade the horses for a bunch of engineers in khaki shorts and polo shirts barbecuing in their back yards.  There goes the “neigh”-borhood.

12indian_creek_firstbridgeIndian Creek is often visible to the east, with occasional open areas off the side to allow a good look.  Despite the recent rain, the creek was relatively low.  During very rainy periods, most of this end of the greenway is underwater.  At around 1.25 miles the creek bends to the west and the greenway crosses it on a wide bridge, with nice views on either side.  Now the creek runs along the west side for the rest of the way.

At around 1.7 miles you come to the unofficial midpoint of the greenway as it exists today — the Farrow Road overpass.  13farrow_bridgeThere are sidewalks leading up to Farrow, but there’s no parking area here.  The sidewalks are for the benefit of folks who live in the Creekwood neighborhood or for anyone out for a stroll in Research Park.  Ruth and I have spent many minutes on the bridge over Indian Creek, stuck in Research Park traffic while Old Madison Pike was under construction for 18 months.  It’s much nicer to be on the path underneath the bridge.  That is one quibble I have about the new bridge on Old Madison Pike, though — you can’t see the creek at all when driving over the bridge.  To be fair, it’s a safety improvement, as over the years I’ve looked off the old bridge more than once to see a car upside down in the creek.

Only a quarter of a mile past Farrow, the greenway forks.  18creekwood_playgroundThe left fork takes you to Creekwood Park, a neighborhood park with two large (four table) and six single-table picnic shelters, restrooms, a large parking lot, a large playground, and a dog play area.  If you stick to the right, the greenway continues north for another 1.2 miles.  Casey has been an only dog for quite a few years, so we thought he’d enjoy spending some time in canine company, so we went to the left.  16indian_creek_second_bridgeThe path crosses the creek on another bridge here, and if you look to the west you’ll see a tree on the bank with a rope hanging from it.  Something to keep in mind for the summertime, perhaps.  Legal disclaimers:  Woodlands and Waters has no idea about the depth of the water under the rope swing.  Use at your own risk.  Pesticides have been detected in the Indian Creek watershed, but we don’t have the scientific chops to tell you if they pose a health risk or not.

Creekwood Park is a really nice facility, and is usually crazy busy.  On a misty day with rain looming, there weren’t many people out, but there were three people and two dogs in the play area.  21running_caseyThere are actually two separate areas — one for dogs under 25 pounds and one for the big dawgs.  There are benches and a couple of small shaded pavilions in each area.  Casey played with Murphy and Korra, though he kept coming back to check on us.  I’m usually not a fan of out-of-focus photos, but this one is almost a great one, so I’m making an exception and posting it.

It's my favorite kind of golf hole -- a dogleg!
It’s my favorite kind of golf hole — a dogleg!

After giving Casey his canine time, we headed back toward the split and turned left to complete the northern end of the greenway.  This section of the path has easy access to several of the disc golf holes in the area of Creekwood Park.  This 18-hole course looks like it would be a lot of fun to play, though Indian Creek would be a water hazard on a couple of holes.  17little_free_libraryWe also passed an unregistered Little Free Library, right next to a convenient bench.  This being the Rocket City, you could relax on the bench and peruse the ASP.NET 2.0 Cookbook or Introduction to Wide Area Networks. There might possibly have been a bodice-ripper in there too.

23north_end_greenwayThe northern end of the greenway is a little different in character, with a housing development going in on the east side, but the creek continues along the west side.  24virginia_creeper_fallcolorWe startled a blue heron along this stretch, but he was too quick for the camera.  Look to one side and you’ll see houses and construction equipment.  Look to the other and you’ll see that’s it’s definitely fall in northern Alabama — the virginia creeper is even changing colors.

After 4.2 miles, we arrived at the current northern terminus of the greenway.  25north_terminusThere are plans to continue the greenway north to pass under Highway 72 and connect up with greenways at Providence.  There is also a proposal to extend the greenway to the south, near or through the Madison Academy campus, almost all the way to Highway 20.

As we neared the northern end of the greenway, the mistiness was beginning to transition to drizzle, so we packed away the camera and started the return trip to Old Madison Pike.  Along the way, the drizzle changed over to a light rain, and it looked like we might get a good soaking.  Casey was in low-tail mode by then but he soldiered on, and we got back to the car while we were just damp.  It wasn’t the most scenic or challenging hike, but we had made good use of three hours, getting in a 6.75 mile hike and a visit to the dog park.   Though we turned this into a moderate distance hike, the parking lots on either end make it possible to put together a shorter easy-peasy hike if you only cover a portion of the greenway.

Greenways have their pros and cons, but as Ruth pointed out that is often a matter of perspective.  For instance, if it’s solitude you crave, greenways suck.  We saw around 50 different people using the greenway on our three-hour visit, which is a record in our experience of the Indian Creek greenway — a record low, that is.  On a nice spring weekend day, I’d expect to see 150-200 people during a typical visit.  But on the other hand, what a great sight to see our neighbors out and about, walking, running, biking, pushing strollers, playing with dogs, playing in the park — proving that not only do we want our communal outdoor spaces, we actually use them.  Greenways aren’t very challenging hiking and can be kind of monotonous.  But, this makes them accessible to everyone.  And, best of all, you can use them in the rain, and I can’t think of a drawback to that — if you like walking in the rain!

Here’s our GPS track for this hike.

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