CLARK COUNTY — The fall hiking season has finally arrived. For many, fall is a favorite time for hitting the trails, with autumn colors, cooler weather and better views of the landscape with leaves falling off the trees.
There are many great places to hike in the fall in and around the Urbana and Champaign County area including Kiser Lake, Davey Woods, Buck Creek State Park, Indian Lake, Clifton Gorge and John Bryan State Park.
But, if you’re looking for a new place to hike that’s off the beaten path and probably not on your footpath radar then you might want to check out the John F. Gallagher Fen State Nature Preserve located east of Springfield.
This hidden gem will knock your hiking socks right off. It’s just a short drive to this Springfield area near Buck Creek State Park, just off of Old Columbus Road. If fact, if you’ve ever driven on Old Columbus Road near Buck Creek State Park, you have probably driven right past it many times and never knew it was there — as I have done. The entrance is just a little unmarked gravel parking lot, which actually adds to its intrigue. Once you arrive and park, you will discover many surprises and unique features at this hidden gem.
Gallagher Fen is a 213-acre state nature preserve. The northern section of the preserve is a mature oak/hickory woods. There are many scenic views of Sinking Creek with a large boardwalk that traverses around the fen.
The main trail is an out-and-back 20-minute hike that actually leads to two short 15-minute loop hikes each. One loop goes to a scenic overlook and ridge trail and the other loop goes to a 19th century graveyard. From there the trail continues toward a winding boardwalk loop that goes around the fen. There are nearly 50 steep steps down to the fen via the boardwalk.
This hiking area has multiple routes and options for hiking. Your overall hike could range from about 2-3 miles depending which trails you choose. The trail map looks a little like an upside down bow.
The preserve is considered a hot spot for birding. Experienced hikers, birding enthusiasts and photographers Kristi Krumlauf from Springfield (who now lives in Columbus) and Jen Allen of Lancaster were spotting birds the day I hiked this trail recently. “I really love this preserve. It incorporates multiple elements such as plants, birds, history and diverse habitat,” said Allen.
“The wild flowers are beautiful here and I can’t wait to hike the boardwalk trail to get a closer look at the fen,” said Krumlauf as she was trying to focus in on an Ohio warbler with her high-powered binoculars. This was her first visit to the preserve.
John F. Gallagher Fen State Nature Preserve is one of the best examples of a prairie fen community in the state. At least 26 state-listed species have been reported from this preserve.
Gallagher Fen is on Old Columbus Road. The entrance is an unmarked parking area on the south side of the Old Columbus Road. There is actually an address sign there for “4709.” Once you park and start down the trail you will come upon a sign for Gallagher Fen and an informational kiosk.
Sure, this place is a little tough to find but it’s certainly worth the hunt.
Ron Brohm is a regular contributor to this newspaper. Brohm focuses on outdoor nature areas accessible to the public.