Anyone who has hiked with children knows it can be both trying and wonderful, often on the same trail. Children add to the sense of awe in the woods, while also revealing its possibilities and dangers. My family – my wife and our three children, age 10 and under – routinely take on these risks, visiting nearby parks, marshes and, on this day, preserves. Our hikes are generally short, lasting only as long as little legs, capricious appetites and unyielding nap schedules allow, but they are good and they are worthwhile.
Bicentennial Woods on Shoaff Road in Huntertown is an ACRES Land Trust preserve was acquired in 1994 – the same year Fort Wayne celebrated its bicentennial – after its green swatch of old growth was discovered via aerial photos amidst a sea of khaki-brown cornfields. On this day, about 15 carloads of hikers spread along the 2.6 miles of trails that run through 79 acres of woodland and field.
First carved by glaciers, Bicentennial is now cut by Willow Creek. Its south bank is a bluff that stretches a half mile or so, while the north bank is flat and wooded. There is only one place to cross the creek, a bridge built in 2018 by Graham Seiler for his Eagle Scout project. Steel piers, girders, parapets and wooden planks provide a path across the creek. We stop at its midsection, looking west and then east as the creek runs. The water flows clear and quick, its bed straight and stone-bottomed. Other hikers wait to cross so we keep moving.
We follow the creek on the lower trail, which is steep in places, and hold our oldest son’s hand, because he is at high risk for falls. This doesn’t please him. We make it about a quarter-mile and realize this isn’t going to work, so we take a trail that cuts to the south and climbs up the bluff. There are stairs leading up, which were repaired by a construction class I took at Ivy Tech several years ago. The stairs would now benefit from a return visit.
On the bluff, the trail widens and spring woodland flowers – wild blue phlox and geranium – spread below the dense canopy. The view is clear and there is a veil of light from an opening to the south.
We pass a massive oak with its trunk split four-feet above the ground, rising from there as if two trees. It climbs 80, maybe 100 feet – perhaps it’s one of the bicentennial trees.
Winding back toward the creek, we descend another set of stairs, passing a couple taking their dog for a walk (dogs are allowed if on a leash) and cross Seiler’s bridge once more. It takes the coaxing of a race to get our youngest to run the last few hundred feet, but back at the parking lot, we pile muddy shoes in the back of the van. Soon we’re traveling, driving beside Cedar Creek, its waters rushing by with a week’s worth of rain. I hold my wife’s hand while the kids, shoeless and red-faced, yell for lunch. Yet another wonderful, awe-inspiring hike in the books.