written by: Kelley V Phillips, Outreach Coordinator
Summer is synonymous with vacations, adventures, overnight camps and backyard BBQs. With many families choosing to postpone trips and cancel parties, a new dilemma has arisen: how do you stay close to home and distance from others, all while cultivating a sense of adventure?
Instead of braving crowds at popular destinations, one solution is to visit lesser known outdoor recreation spots like nature preserves. By design, infrastructure for humans at nature preserves is understated. They provide a different experience for visitors than larger parks. Like the wildlife that call nature preserves home, visitors can find remote trails, secluded overlooks and intimate ecological experiences.
Here are four day trips (or one road trip) to stay near, but feel far.
Watch Wildlife at Mike Kiley Forest Preserve
Colorful wildlife abound at Mike Kiley Forest Preserve near the Mississinewa River just south of Albany, IN. Visitors can joyfully meander through the tall grassland watching red winged blackbirds flit from stalk to stalk. The butterfly weed is in bloom right now. Its rich orange color attracts a rainbow of winged pollinators. Bring your camera to capture the speckled crimson, indigo, gold, and midnight colored patterns on butterfly wings.
Picnic by the water at McVey Memorial Forest
North of Farmland, IN, McVey Memorial Forest is unique in that you can visit a hardwood forest, prairie and wetland all in one place. It features four trails that wind next to and over Bush Creek as it curls through the nature preserve. The three different parking areas allow visitors to spread out. The trailhead on Highway 1 even has a picnic shelter overlooking a quiet pond. Last year, an endangered Cerulean Warbler was spotted in the tree canopy. Bring binoculars!
Contemplate at Cope Environmental Center
West of Richmond, IN, Cope Environmental Center is a jewel of biodiversity. On three miles of trails, visitors will crest forested bluffs and cross creeks and ravines over wooden bridges. Though the building is currently closed, there is seating outdoors where you can appreciate its striking contemporary design. Cope’s website provides materials for a self-guided contemplative hike that weaves under a soaring canopy.
Travel back in time at Stout Memorial Woodland
Sounds of the city disappear in Stout Memorial Woodland. Beneath towering oak and beech trees, visitors can feel like they traveled back in time to when Indiana was a vast forest full of nothing but wildlife. North of New Castle, IN, this nature preserve is ideal for the adventurer looking to rest on a log, listen to the thrumming of pileated woodpeckers and catch glimpses of bright orange orioles. Bring a good book or nature journal to take full advantage of this secluded space.
Each one of these nature preserves is open daily from sunrise to sunset. If you only have one day to go exploring, then this list makes a great half-day road trip. In total, it is a 2.5 hour loop with 4 stops and 9 miles of trail.
As always, please use responsible recreation practices. Keep a minimum of 6ft from other trail-goers, announce yourself to others before passing, pick up after yourself and stay home if you feel sick. Prepare for the outdoors by bringing sunscreen, bug spray and enough water to stay hydrated all day.
Before you go, check out the full guide of Kiley, McVey, Stout and other Red-tail nature preserves with trail maps, driving directions, and parking details.
Red-tail Land Conservancy wishes you a safe and joyful summer nature staycation!
Kelley V Phillips is the Outreach Coordinator for Red-tail Land Conservancy. Her work in community engagement inspires excitement and wonder in nature through education and tangible experiences.