The Land Between the Lakes area is home to a vast array of flora and fauna, and the many hiking trails that weave in and out of the forests and lakeshores are great places to view wildlife up close. John Pollpeter, lead naturalist at the Woodlands Nature Station, speaks with Tracy Ross about the hiking trails available for exploring across its 170,000 acres.
"We've been very fortunate this fall in that we've had a lot of weekends that had some really good weather," Pollpeter begins. "We had a lot of people coming out and taking advantage of the trails that we have here. One of our trails just reopened again this year after having some work done in it, so that's been exciting."
The newly reopened trail (and one of Pollpeter's favorites) is the Hematite trail. "It's about a 2.2-mile trail," Pollpeter explains, "so it's really good for families. It goes around the lake of Hematite, which was a WPA project in the 1930s -- part of the Natural Wildlife Refuge that was here at Land Between the Lakes and Kentucky Woodlands. It's a shallow lake, about 80 acres, and the trail kind of circumvents it."
"It goes through some old-growth forests, or the closest thing we have to old-growth forests here at Land Between the Lakes," he continues. "Old-growth means that it's never been cut before or has not been cut in a long time. The area around Hematite was part of an iron industry from about 1840 to 1912, so that area has been logged, but everythnig that you see growing in and around the Hematite Lake area has grown basically from 1900. There are 120-year-old trees that are around that trail; some of them are quite large."
The Hematite trail also passes through a beaver marsh, which is the area of the trail that was recently renovated. "There's about a quarter of a mile boardwalk that's always fun for kids to go through. It's also one of the best places to view wildlife in the Land Between the Lakes because a lot of wildlife are attracted to water. You might see beavers back there, if you're real lucky, maybe an otter. Definitely some waterfowl...pelicans...bald eagles. It's very popular with a lot of different wildlife in the area," Pollpeter says.
"If you want something a little bit longer, right next to Hematite is Honker Lake trail, which is about 4.5-5 miles long. It goes completely around Honker Lake, which is another lake that was built for wildlife refuge. Currently, from November 1st to March 13th, it is a wildlife refuge. You can hike around it, and you can bank fish off of it. It's a great place to see lots of wildlife."
"We lowered the lake level, which encourages the waterfowl," Pollpeter continues. "That then encourages the predators of waterfowl like eagles, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes to come in and fish or hunt there. People have a really good opportunity to see the wildlife that you're going to find here at Land Between the Lakes. Also, Honker Trail is pretty good because it has a good diversity of trees. You get a lot of good fall colors, even this time [of year] when we're over the peak."
While the water views are abundant on Land Between the Lakes' trails, forest-view trails are also available. "One of the trails that's become quite popular, especially with a diversity of recreationalists, is the Central Hardwoods Trail, which is about 25 miles away from Murray. It's on 68-80. You can get it right off the bridge," Pollpeter explains. "It's a hike-in, hike-out kind of thing. It's popular with bikers, runners, and hikers. It has a few water views, but the main thing is you get a good view of the forest."
"On every point of Land Between the Lakes, North and South, there are some good trails that are fun to explore. Another good set is the Canal Loop Trail, which is on the North end, so maybe Paducah [or] Grand Rivers listeners might enjoy that. That has about 11 different miles of loop trails, good water views, and some great views of Kentucky Lake over almost a cliff face."
"Then on the South end is the Fort Henry trails, which has a really unique, diverse habitat of creek bottoms with high hilltops with beautiful views of valleys. It almost makes you feel like you're in the mountains," Pollpeter says.
For those planning their next hiking trip to Land Between the Lakes, Pollpeter suggests bringing some water and to "not be deceived by winter sun. You should probably wear some sunscreen if you think you're going to be out there for a while." Additionally, "make sure you have your keys secured for your car. We've had a number of instances where people lose their keys out on the trail. Try to plan a little bit ahead, but have a good time out here in Land Between the Lakes," he concludes.
For more information on the Land Between the Lakes national recreation area, visit their website.