I wanted to share about my visit to one of our state’s gorgeous old growth forests. This term is used to describe forests dominated by trees older than 150 years old. There’s more to it than that definition, but this gives the general idea. The Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest, part of the Hoosier National Forest, contains 88 acres and is located south of Paoli.
The site has been left virtually undisturbed since before it was purchased by Joseph Cox in 1816. After being protected by the Cox family for 124 years, when a descendent died in 1940, the land was put up for sale. It was saved from being cut by a timber company by a community effort and the U.S. Forest Service purchasing the land from the company. Later, in 1944, the tract was designated as a Research Natural Area by the Forest Service. Along with a 165-acre buffer, the area is managed to protect its unique qualities.
There is a rock wall commemorating the Pioneer Mothers Forest at the bottom of the hill where a day-use picnic area once stood. The Forest Service credits preservation of the mature woodlot to the Cox family.The USFS continues to manage the parcel for research and recreation purposes. Studies of the forest tract have uncovered a Native American village with archeological remains dating back to 1380 AD. A 1.3-mile hiking trail is open to the public and runs between Ind. 37 and U.S. 50.
I recently made my way down to this special place. I found the parking lot of my destination just off the highway.
I immediately found a memorial rock with a plaque noting the designation of the site as a National Registered Natural Landmark back in 1974. The trailhead was clearly visible from the parking lot, so off I went to explore yet another beautiful piece of the Indiana forest. It was a damp day and chilly but I had on my layers to stay warm.
I soon found myself walking down a steep hill and deeper into the old forest. I could see many big trees throughout the woods on both sides of the trail. There were white oaks, black walnuts, hickory trees and others.
I passed by a nice view of Lick Creek along the northern boundary of the forest during my exploration. It added to the beauty of the forest.
What did they find?Hundreds of artifacts unearthed in Spring Mill State Park
I found myself feeling very thankful for this 88 acres full of old trees. Some of them are said to be over 200 years old.
To walk a trail through a woods that look like what pioneer Indiana looked like over 200 years ago, well it doesn’t get much better than that. To some, it might just look like a stand of trees, but to me, it is living history. It is Indiana’s history, part of our heritage, our roots.
It might seem like a long way to go for such a short hike, but I think it’s worth the drive. It was a good hike and a very good day.
Note: The site was closed for a bit this past year due to tornado damage and opened back up last fall. Expect to see some of the damage when you visit. Even so, it’s a rare site.To get to this place, take Ind. 37 south towards Bedford. Continue on Ind. 37 to Paoli. Stay on Ind. 37 for 2 miles. The Pioneer Mothers Forest and trailhead will be on your right. You will see a big sign. A quote for your week: “It’s not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” — Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist, essayist, poet, travel writer, 1850-1894Until the next trail,Susan