Heart of Pine: Payne Creek

Do you find yourself pining for a short, scenic hike, not too far from Huntsville, with an educational component and some cool natural features?  Well, I opine that you can’t do much better than the Payne Creek Demonstration Area in the Bankhead National Forest.  This outdoor classroom has two short trails that won’t leave you supine afterwards. Though you won’t see a porcupine, or a pineapple, or have to make your way across alpine terrain, you will see examples of a cool forestry project to restore shortleaf pines to their historic habitat, a really striking rock shelter, and if you time things well, a waterfall too.

I promise you won’t find such terrible puns at the Payne Creek Demonstration Area.  Opened in 2010, this lesser-known site in the Bankhead National Forest is a forestry project in progress, with one trail on a ridgetop with signage explaining the methods by which the US Forest Service is restoring the balance between shortleaf pines and loblolly pines in the Bankhead.  A second trail descends into Payne Creek Canyon, where Payne Creek meanders southward past undercut bluffs to flow into the Sipsey River.  The trails offer different experiences, so we hiked them both.

One of the biggest challenges for this hike was to find the trailhead.  Though the Bankhead National Forest is encouraging people to visit the site, especially to ease some of the overuse of Caney Creek Falls, it’s not actually mapped or signposted very well.  But, the good news is that it’s simple to find.  Access is via a pullout on the east side of Alabama Highway 33, one of the main north-south routes in the Bankhead.  If you are approaching from the north on Highway 33, the pullout will be on your left about 6.8 miles south of the Cranal Road/Highway 33 intersection.  If you pass a Bankhead National Forest sign or cross the Sipsey River, you’ve gone too far.  There’s ample shoulder parking for 5-6 vehicles, and as you look to the north you’ll see an old gravel road blocked by bollards, with a sign identifying the demonstration area.

Though the trails aren’t specifically signposted or blazed, the route is obvious – just take the gravel road past the sign.  You’ll pass one of the stars of the show on your left: pinus echinata, the shortleaf pine.  A few yards afterwards, there’s a picnic table and the first of several informative signs describing the effort that is underway here.  I don’t want to steal their thunder, so I’ll summarize.  The shortleaf pine is one of several southern yellow pines native to this area.  After the widespread logging in this area (before its days as a national forest), the Civilian Conservation Corps was tasked in the 1930s to rebuild the forest.  The optimal solution at the time was to plant loblolly pines.  It was a reasonable choice, as they were another southern yellow pine native to the area, and they are relatively fast-growing trees.  Though the project was successful, it changed the balance of the species in the area, as historically the forest was a more homogeneous mix of shortleaf and loblolly pines (with hardwoods too, such as red and white oak and American beech).  The current effort is an attempt to return the forest to a more natural state.

We continued along the road to another sign, which said simply “Midstory removal.”   This is one of the four techniques used to rebalance the mix of trees in this area.  That’s the general theme in this teaching forest — for each technique used, there’s another sign with more information in front of a plot where the Forest Service has used the technique.  In this case, midstory removal is the removal of younger trees, by digging or chainsaw, to enhance the development of other trees (shortleaf pines, in this case).

Just a scant 300 feet from the start of the trail, we had arrived at a trail split.  The gravel road continued to the left, with a wooden arrow affixed to a signpost pointing in that direction.   However, a trail branched off to the right, with a large welcome sign describing Payne Creek Canyon.  We decided to postpone our forestry education for a little while, and took the right fork to descend into the canyon.

I’m not sure this trail has a formal name, but let’s call it the Payne Creek Canyon trail.  It’s a lovely trail — about five feet wide, well-engineered, sloping gently downhill.  Periodically, signs identify some of the noteworthy trees along the way:  bigleaf magnolia, American beech, white oak, red oak, mountain laurel, hornbeam, just to name a few.  The trail was carpeted with the huge (over a foot long) bigleaf magnolia leaves and bronze beech leaves.

Not far from the trail’s beginning, a small creek formed along the right side, flowing along merrily as we descended.  We soon crossed the creek on a metal bridge, and just yards later crossed again twice on the same type of bridge.  Finally, after a fourth bridge crossing, the creek dropped over a ledge and disappeared, and the trail stopped its descent at about .35 miles from the trailhead and continued along a bluffline to the left.  Oddly, the last bridge left us on the wrong side of the creek, but the creek crossing was easy and shallow, well away from the edge.  Warning signs advised, “Watch out — steep bluff.”

The trail continued along the bluffline for around 500 feet before reaching a not-so-obvious turn.  A couple of small trees lie across the more obvious route, and a slightly worn footbed bends downhill to the right.  After a short and slippery descent to the right, another of the tree ID signs came into view and we knew we were on the trail.  In fact, we were at the bottom of Payne Creek Canyon, and Payne Creek itself was flowing ahead of us.  The footbed continued to the right, but we made a beeline for the creek, which wound southward to our right in front of a bluff.  After a quick look upstream and downstream, we continued along the footbed to the south.

We could hear the sound of falling water as we neared the bottom of the canyon, and about 200 feet later we emerged from the trees by a massive rock shelter, with a small waterfall fed by our disappearing creek on the trail above.

The rockhouse was a large one, though not as massive as the Kinlock shelter, with a small sandy beach at one side of the overhang.  You can easily travel behind the waterfall, which I did in search of a good location to photograph the waterfall.  The light was awkward, necessitating a barefoot crossing of Payne Creek, and the interposing foliage and an unsightly fallen pine right next to the waterfall made for some necessary contortions to get any kind of decent photos.  We joked about how we usually save our Bankhead creek crossings for February, so this was a comparatively balmy stroll through foot-deep water.  The waterfall was kind of bashful, so please take my word that it’s much better experienced in person.

After enjoying a quick lunch, listening to the waterfall and soaking in the atmosphere, we retraced our steps uphill back to the gravel road, where we turned right to resume our forestry education.  On one side of the road, a plot demonstrated the commercial thinning technique, in which mature trees were harvested, thus clearing the way for young pines to thrive.  Just a few feet later, on the other side of the road, the shortleaf pine planting technique was on display, with little pines peeking out among the died-off deciduous understory plants.  Finally, the road ended at an area in which the fourth technique, a prescribed burn, had been used for planting site preparation and restoring the biological community.  All in all, the gravel road had continued for about .15 miles after splitting with the Payne Creek Canyon trail, so the walk back to the car was a quick one.

All told, our GPS track says we covered 2.2 miles in our ramblings.  Some of that was a little off-trail exploring down in the canyon.  I think this mileage might be a little suspect, as the distance from the Payne Creek Canyon trailhead down to the rock shelter is only about .7 miles, and the length of the gravel road section is only about .25 miles.  I think the rock overhang may have done some odd things to the GPS track in that area, and the actual distance is probably closer to 1.9 miles.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable little hike on a crisp fall day.  What we learned about the shortleaf pine reforestation project increased our appreciation for the U.S. Forest Service and their efforts to be good stewards of the people’s lands.  The trip down into the canyon was in many ways a typical Bankhead hike, with bluffs and creeks and waterfalls and rock shelters galore, along with a generous smattering of ferns and wildflowers (not in bloom at the time).   This seems like it would be a good four-season hike.  I guess you could call it evergreen.

 

 

Different Perspectives: Red Mountain

Often when Chet and I are hiking, we spend part of the time on the trail coming up with a “hook” for the blog post we’re going to write. On our last hike, his proposed title was “Where the H%$# is Mine Number 10,” to which I responded that my proposed title would be “Hiking with Mr. Grumpy Pants.” I thought it was hilarious, but it goes to show you how the same trail on the same day can look totally different to two different people.

We’d set out on a beautiful Sunday morning for an hour and a half drive down to Red Mountain Park in Birmingham. We’ve been here before but only explored about half the trails and have been meaning to come back. For those of you who haven’t read our previous post, this 1500 acre park opened in 2012 on land formerly owned by US Steel and the site of active iron ore mining up until the last mine closed in 1971. Besides lots of cool old mining-related sites, the park also features ziplines, ropes courses, a 6 acre off-leash dog park, and a sensory trail designed for those with limited vision.  This time, we thought we’d start at the other entrance and explore some of the trails on the southwestern end of the park.

Though there isn’t much signage to get you to the park, Google Maps did a fine job getting us right to the parking lot on Venice Road. Driving down the access road before getting to the parking lot proper we passed a massive crumbling structure on our right, but it had no sign that I noticed so I figured I’d check it out later. The parking lot was spacious and well maintained.  We parked, checked out the kiosk (which just had a copy of the map we’d already printed out from the website), and then started off down the BMRR North Trail.  We passed a single port-a-potty just as we started. There are no other restroom facilities at this parking lot.

It was a gorgeous mild fall day. The sky was blue. The trees had a bit of color. We spotted nandina, mulleins, and various asters in bloom. The trail was wide, graveled, and level. Boy Scouts had built exercise stations along the path, just in case just walking was too lame I guess. I even liked the signage, which was a mix of informative and almost decorative.

The BMRR North trail is a wide and level trail, running along or perhaps sometimes even on top of the location of one of the Birmingham Mineral Railroad (BMRR) lines. This railroad was a subsidiary of the L&N Railroad and the first 2.71 mile segment south from Grace’s Gap opened in June 1884. By the early 1900s the BMRR network had grown to 156 miles in and around Birmingham and was instrumental to making the city a primary industrial area for the southeastern US.

We soon came to an open area where rails still ran through the grass towards the foundations of a large building. The building itself seemed to also have rails embedded in its raised platform. Spikes, rusty coils, and metal plates hid among the mosses and tree roots on the top. No signs helped us figure out what it used to be, but I thought it was fun to imagine the possibilities. It was at this point that I remembered the TravelStory app I loaded on my phone last time we were here. This is an app that supports self-paced audio tours of various locations. Red Mountain Park has worked with the developers to provide short informative stories at various locations throughout the park. It uses location services to recognize where you are and starts up the audio when you get to the right spot. It also has a handy map complete with a moving blue dot (we call her “Dotty”) so that you can see where you are in relation to the next story. There wasn’t a story for the big foundation, but I could see on the map that there was a story setup just down the trail, so we headed on that way, passing yet another unmarked giant old ruin on the way.

The Travel Story was about Ervin Batain, a community member who cleared a trail from his backyard in a former mining employee house to the site of Mine #11 up the mountain. His goal was to provide both access to nature in the middle of the city as well as to preserve and honor Birmingham’s past.

18ervin_batain_sign

The next landmark was the trail junction where we planned to leave the BMRR. According to our paper map, the Redding Trail peeled off to the right and took us up to the top of the ridge, then we could  either take Skyhy Ridge Walk or stay on the Redding Trail to get to our next destination, the Ishkooda Overlook.  The ground truth was a bit different. Instead of the Redding Trail, the signage and the posted map on a nearby kiosk  indicated that it was actually the Smythe Trail that took us up the hill. Whatever it was called, it certainly looked like the right way to go, so we headed on uphill, passing a fenced off mine complete with “Wile E. Coyote” quality danger signs along the way.  We came to another intersection, which clearly marked SkyHy heading off to the left, but totally ignored the trail going right. Was it the piece of SkyHy that we wanted? A dead end? We couldn’t be sure, so we decided to just stick with the Smythe or Redding or whatever it was really called – we’d just continue straight.

After a short climb uphill and a big turn to right, we saw the sign pointing to Ishkooda Overlook, so we headed that way. It was a nice spot at the top of a gasline cut, which provided views down into the valley below as well as a lovely picnic bench for our lunch. A bit of scouting convinced me that had we turned right at that SkyHy junction, we’d have ended up at the Ishkooda Overlook as well. We retraced our steps back to  Redding/Smythe in order to get to our next planned stop – the Haskell Hideaway.

27ishkooda_overlook

At a couple of locations in the park, the planners have built “tree houses” at scenic overlooks. In our previous visit, we discovered that their idea of a tree house is a large tree with a small platform built around it. The selected tree was growing down-slope so that access to it was nearer the top of the tree via a short wooden bridge.  It was a little underwhelming, honestly, but we wanted to see if this one was any better. This one had a fairly long swinging rope bridge out to a platform around a tree with views down into the valley. I thought it was cooler than the previous one. Mr. Grumpy Pants, though, was not impressed.

30haskell_hideaway

Looking at the map our next major highlight was the Redding Hoist House, which could be reached either by staying on the Redding or by peeling off on the Songo.  We opted to stay on Redding because our map had some black dots  along that way marked as “Tower Buildings.”  We were thinking that if some of the earlier big ruins didn’t merit a dot on the map, these must be some pretty impressive towers!  However, the joke was on us as it turns out they meant cell phone towers. The “trail” here was mostly gravel road, I’m assuming to serve as maintenance access to those blasted towers. I’m guessing the Songo was the more scenic choice. I think both of us qualified as Grumpy Pants for at least a little bit here, though just past the last tower there was a nice hexagonal structure with bench swings hung around it and a beautiful view out into a valley.

We sat and enjoyed the swings for a few minutes before heading on to the landmark that Chet had been most looking forward to, the Redding Hoist House. Nestled in the valley just below the swings, this hoist house was built in 1917 by Woodward Iron Company in response to a competitor buying land on the north side of the mountain that actually cut railroad access to its existing Songo Mine. Woodward dug a shaft mine nearly 400 feet straight down to intersect with the Songo slope mine, then built the hoist house to hold the equipment used to haul up men and ore from the Songo to this location, where they had access to rail lines on the south side of the mountain. Unlike anything else we saw in the park, this historical building was mostly intact, though it has been fenced off for safety. It was also unusual in that it was built in a decorative Spanish Revival style that is unique among industrial buildings in the Birmingham area. We listened to the TravelStory about the site, which also contains the ruins of a mine just opposite, then headed on down a connector trail to get to the BMRR South Trail.

Another broad and level gravel road, this trail wound gently through forest and meadows, past an outdoor classroom and then, a little farther on,  past a bench thoughtfully placed overlooking a meadow. There were no other mine ruins or other features on this stretch. Our map indicated that we should walk to the end of the BMRR South, then look for some sort of trail that would take us back up the ridge towards Mine #10. We arrived at the end of BMRR South, but it was pretty unclear where we should go from there. Straight ahead was a sign indicating “No entry – service road only.” A kiosk was on the right, but from the kiosk there was no clear path or indication of where to go. We ended up following a running couple who confidently ran through a meadow and up a powerline cut. This was the steepest part of the hike, and it didn’t help that we weren’t entirely sure this was the right thing to do. I think it was though. When the gravel path up the powerline cut leveled out, we intersected with a road which had signs indicating that the Wenonah Connector trail was the one splitting off and heading uphill on our left. The signs were 1) facing the other way as if they were there for people coming from the other direction and 2) looked to be hand lettered sharpie on wood. It did sort of feel not as well-thought-out or “official” as other parts of the park. Hopefully, they just haven’t gotten that far yet.

52bmrr_south_footbed

We followed the sharpie sign and started up the Wenonah Connector Trail, but at the next curve in the trail it looked like the main trail continued left and another gravel path went straight ahead to what was marked as an overlook. We kept to the main trail, but the little dot on our TravelStory app indicated Mine # 10 was someplace off to our right. We tried to do a seat-of-the-pants adjustment and took a connector trail (well, grass clearing) uphill. We ended up first at a pair of giant Adirondack chairs with a nice view, then took a gravel road up to a very nice overlook at the head of a valley. We never found Mine #10. I think we should have taken the trail straight ahead back at that last intersection. The “Mr. Grumpy Pants” discussion made its appearance right around here, by the way. We gave up on Mine #10 and decided to just finish our loop back to the car.

Wenonah Connector is a pleasant trail, with only a couple of interesting old mining walls or foundations on it. It winds up and over the mountain, taking us back over to the north side and along a trail that ran above the parking lot and that mysterious large structure. We learned from our final TravelStory that this was the hoist house for the Northside Mining camp.

65wenonah_compressor_hoist_house

Soon we were intersecting again with BMRR North, so we turned left and retraced our steps back to the car. All in all, we’d hiked 5.25 miles according to our GPS track.  From my perspective, we’d had a nice day out, learned a lot about Birmingham history, had fun on a swinging bridge, saw some nice scenery, sat in some giant Adirondack chairs, and generally had a great time. Chet’s perspective was slightly less enthusiastic than mine. He thought the quality of the infrastructure in the park on the southwest end was much less than the more developed northern end, still thought the “tree houses” were kind of lame, and was disgruntled about the cell phone towers and the missing #10 mine. However,  even “Mr. Grumpy Pants” admits to enjoying the day – the historic ruins are more impressive on this end of the park, and the Redding hoist house was the best part of the day. It’s all in your perspective. Get out there and find yours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Target-rich Environment: Hidden Lake

We’ve often headed north of the state line to check out hikes in Tennessee, but we’re getting to the point that we’ve visited most of the ones within a two-hour drive of Huntsville.   To go farther afield would mean longer car rides there and back, which cuts into the time we’d have for hiking, so you have to consider the driving to hiking ratio.  However, it occurred to me that if we took a weekend trip and stayed close to hiking destinations, we could get in a couple of hikes in new (to us) locations without spending all our time in a car, so I booked us an Airbnb and we hit the road on a Friday afternoon.

When it comes to hiking, Tennessee is a target-rich environment.  On this trip, we decided to visit two state parks just west of Nashville: Harpeth River and Montgomery Bell.  Our base of operations was The Sanctuary, an Airbnb with an apartment, separate gazebo, and separate games/media room, all linked by decks on a hillside in Kingston Springs, TN.  We highly recommend it!  After settling in on Friday evening, we set out for our first hike on a cold Saturday morning, just a scant 15 minutes away.

Because we had evening plans in downtown Nashville, we opted to take the shorter of our two hikes on Saturday.  Our destination was the Hidden Lake site of Harpeth River State Park.  First, a word of explanation.  Tennessee has kind of a knack for spotting parcels with historic, scenic, or ecological significance and seizing the opportunity to acquire them for their citizenry.  These parcels aren’t always contiguous, but the State has kind of a “buy first, organize later” strategy.  As a result, some of their state parks are strung out over multiple sites (South Cumberland and Cumberland Trail, to name a couple), and Harpeth River is another such example, with nine separate sites, all linked by the eponymous river.

The Hidden Lake site is a particularly interesting one.  For many years, portions of the 93-acre site were farmed, and some sites were used as quarries from 1895-1910 (online accounts vary, with one source saying the quarries operated through World War I).  But sources agree that in 1931 new owners cemented the base of the largest quarry to form a swimming pool, trucked in sand for a beach, and built a lodge on the northern edge of the quarry where folks danced to big band music on a terrazo floor overlooking the water below.  It was the cool place to be for Nashvillians in 1931, and remained a popular site throughout the decade.  It had a golf course, pony rides, a terrifying-looking water slide, a water wheel, and other amusements.  Interesting trivia: at one point it was managed by Jack Price Jones, a Nashville actor who became a Broadway star (his understudy in his first big show was James Cagney) and later returned to Nashville to become a promoter.  Accounts vary as to whether the loss of the lodge to fire in the 1940s or the start of WWII caused the demise of the “pleasure resort,” but after the attraction closed the site was used for farming and pastures.  A development was planned in the 1980s, but far-thinking citizens lobbied successfully to have the state purchase the site in 1993.

Hidden Lake today has been reclaimed by nature, but there are tantalizing glimpses of its former glory.  The site has 2.4 miles of developed trails, so we decided we’d hike them all!  We parked in the large gravel lot off McCrory Lane, and checked out the kiosk which has a trail map, some historical background information on the resort, and the usual park rules and information.  There are no facilities at the site, except for a portajohn and a water fountain.

Our route began with the Bluebird Trail, a .45 mile loop that begins in the vicinity of the parking lot.  I’m being a little vague because the trail isn’t formally marked, though it’s easy to spot as it’s a wide mowed path.  We followed the path northward from the kiosk, paralleling the parking lot, passing some bluebird houses set on posts in the field.  At the north end of the parking lot, signs mark the beginning of a trail, though it’s not specifically named.

It was a cold morning!  We spotted frost heaves on several plants as we continued north with a fencerow and unmowed pasture between us and McCrory Lane.  Leathery honey locust pods on the footpath prompted us to look for the distinctively thorny trees.  At about .2 miles, the trail turned west away from the road and followed a treeline with bush honeysuckle festooned with bright red berries.  At .25 miles, the Bluebird Trail intersected with the Ridge Loop Trail.  This junction was prominently signposted, though this is as good a time as any to mention that no trail in this tract was blazed or marked in any way, other than with a large metal sign at (some) intersections.  In my experence, this is atypical of Tennessee State Parks.

We knew we’d close the loop on the Bluebird Trail later, so we headed northeast on the Ridge Loop trail.   The trail entered sparse woodlands, with a dry creekbed skirting the left side of the trail.  In around .1 mile, the trail crossed the dry creekbed on a paved bridge and then turned into a hackberry-lined boulevard to the northwest.  We had noticed earlier that some trees had information plaques, and the one for the hackberry had information on the origin of the tree’s name, which was news to us.

At about .2 miles from the Bluebird-Ridge Loop intersection, a trail led to the north.  Though there was no signage at the trailhead, we gathered from the trail map that this was the Railroad Spur Trail, which runs .15 miles until it dead ends at, well, a railroad.  It was a largely level, wide trail, obviously built on the former spur, which originally ran from Fuller’s Siding to the quarry.  We walked to its end, then backtracked to the Ridge Loop trail.

Just past the intersection of the Railroad Spur/Ridge Loop trails, a sign marks the intersection of the Ridge Loop and Hidden Lake trails.  We continued on the Ridge Loop trail, which climbed gradually along a rocky footbed for about .1 mile before passing an abandoned house and shed.  The house was relatively large, built of concrete-faced cinder blocks.  One online source suggests this was the home of John Terrett, who owned the property in the 1920s.  Just past the house, a wooden shed sags under the weight of time.

The Ridge Loop trail continues uphill, forking to form the loop.  We chose to hike the loop counterclockwise, so we climbed through woods to the top of the ridge.  At one point, a connector trail (named as the Ridge Loop Cut on some versions of the trail map) climbed over the knob to the southwest, but we stuck with the main trail as it topped the knob, with glimpses of Hidden Lake below us to the left.  The northern edge of the quarry has a couple of rock overlooks, both obscured at the time of our visit, and a bench that would probably give a fine view of the lake in the winter.  The trail continues past the bench, and as we found out later it circles the north and west sides of the lake to join up with the Hidden Lake Trail.  We stuck with the official trail and backtracked to the bench and continued the loop to the southeast, passing an old set of stone steps that presumably descended into the lake.  They looked a bit dicey, so we decided not to test that theory (which is probably correct — there were stairs from the north side of the quarry during the resort days).

Another outstanding feature of this trail is visible about .1 mile from the bench, heading south toward the top of the knob: a partially buried tanker car on the side of the trail.  I didn’t find anything online about its history, but I surmise it was used as an oil storage tank.  It’s in rather good shape, looking somewhat like a submarine, and its hatch is open so you can peer down at (sadly) the garbage folks have tossed in.  There’s no ladder, so it would be a very bad idea to try to climb down into the tank.

The Ridge Loop trail continues to the top of the knob, passing the other end of the connector trail before climbing the last few feet to the summit.  This is where you’ll find the real gem of this hike — the remains of the terrazo floor from the lodge.  It’s in surprisingly good shape.  We lingered there for lunch, listening for the far-away strands of Glenn Miller and Count Basie.

The Ridge Loop Trail descends relatively steeply down the east side of the knob, at one point offering a nice view of the Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.  Another fun fact was provided by one of the tree ID plaques: apparently some people refer to persimmons as “pawdads.”

37cemetery_view

We closed the loop portion of the Ridge Loop Trail and returned to the junction with the Hidden Lake Trail.  This trail looks like it follows the route of the railroad spur (and probably a later road), proceeding in a largely flat route to the shore of Hidden Lake.  There’s one point of interest on the way, however.  On the right (north) side of the trail, at one point two sheared off metal posts flank a trail that climbs a small shelf.  It’s worth the tiny bit of clambering, because a small lake lies beyond, with a couple of benches for taking in the view.  Apparently in resort days this lake (a smaller former quarry) was stocked.  It’s an absolute beauty spot now.

The Hidden Lake trail is only .25 miles long, reaching the shallow southeastern shore of Hidden Lake.  The lake is so named because it nestles between bluffs that mask it from the Harpeth River, only about 200 feet away.  It’s still a stunning sight.

We climbed the unofficial trail that runs along the bluffs to the southwest of the lake, where Ruth found an excellent basking rock and I found some towering rock formations.  Afterwards, we backtracked along the Hidden Lake Trail and took a social trail down to the Harpeth River.  There wasn’t easy river access here, and views weren’t particularly good, so we quickly returned to the Hidden Lake/Ridge Loop intersection, then continued on down Ridge Loop to rejoin the mowed pastureland Bluebird Trail.

We didn’t stick with the Bluebird Trail for long, as the Lower Field Loop Trail branches off pretty quickly (again, no trail markings or sign to mark the intersection, but it’s obvious from the trail map).  Lower Field Loop is exactly what it sounds like — a loop around a field.  We hiked this one counter-clockwise as well, with the Harpeth River visible to our right (west).  We reached an actual trailhead marker, then continued across a gravel loop road to reach a set of stairs giving access to the river itself.  You can’t launch a motorboat here (it’s not a boat ramp), but you can easily launch a canoe or kayak from this location.

Just to be completists, we hiked the other half of the Lower Field Loop Trail northwest to its junction with the Bluebird Trail, then walked the last little stretch of Bluebird back to the kiosk.  We had covered all the trails, traveling 3.2 miles according to our GPS track.

This was a fun little hike, with many points of interest that would make it a great walk for taking the kids.  Though there’s a little bit of elevation change, it’s not very challenging.  You’ll need to pay attention around the top of the quarry, as there are no guard rails to prevent a fall into the lake, but the trail around the lake appears to be in good shape.  You can tailor your hike to cover shorter distances, with several little mini-destinations: Hidden Lake, the Harpeth River, the old buildings, the tanker car, the dance floor…like I said, it’s a target-rich environment!