Full Circle Tour
This 6-hour excursion circles the City of Bloomington via the backroads, with stops at nine separate natural areas. Destinations include:
- Lower Cascades Park
- Griffy Lake Nature Preserve
- Morgan-Monroe State Forest
- Leonard Springs Nature Park
- Cedar Bluffs Nature Preserve
- Lake Monroe: Dam
- Hoosier National Forest: Hickory Ridge Fire Tower
- North Fork Wildlife Refuge
- Campbell Preserve
Lower Cascades Park, the City of Bloomington’s oldest, dates to 1921, when city officials, concerned about a nearby stone quarry’s expansion plans, voted to turn that “beautiful narrow strip of land” out on the “North Pike” into a park to prevent “further destruction of the beauty of the scenery.”
After the 1929 stock market crash and Great Depression left hoards of Southern Indiana coal and limestone workers unemployed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and its “make-work” projects enabled continued development at Cascades Park in the 1930s. The New Deal funded labor costs for public construction projects like retaining walls along Cascades Creek for erosion control, shelterhouses, bridges, drinking fountains and massive limestone picnic tables.
Today, Lower Cascades Park covers 68 acres and, in addition to the historic limestone features, has a playground, hiking trails and softball fields.
Dedicated in 1991, the 1,179-acre Griffy Lake Nature Preserve conserves the forested ridges and ravines that surround Griffy Lake, just north of the Bloomington city limits.
A City of Bloomington property, Griffy is known for its teeming plant and animal life. The preserve is home to 19 mammal species, nearly 160 birds and more than 20 reptiles and amphibians. The verdant hills and valleys drain into the 109-acre Griffy Lake and a 14-acre emergent marsh.
A popular destination for hiking, fishing, boating, wildlife observation and other outdoor recreational activities, Griffy Lake Nature Preserve features picnic tables, boat rentals and four moderately difficult hiking trails that wind through the hills around the lake.
The 24,000-acre Morgan-Monroe State Forest is owned and managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry. The forest is characterized by steep, forested ridges and valleys that, in the early 20th century, had been logged and abandoned by the original settlers, who found its rocky soil unsuitable for agriculture after the trees were gone.
Like all state forests, Morgan-Monroe is managed for “multiple use,” meaning the forest must provide for a variety of public uses, from resource extraction – primarily logging – to “amenities” for the public, including hiking, birdwatching, fishing and camping. In addition, Morgan-Monroe offers an historic rental cabin, three lakes and picnicking.
The 95-acre Leonard Springs Nature Park is located just southwest of Bloomington and is a former reservoir that provided drinking water for city residents. Fed by the Leonard Spring and Shirley Spring, which develop from a number of outlets in two large spring alcoves, the preserve features caves, waterfalls and a wetland.
The city purchased the property between 1914 and 1917 to construct the reservoir. But by 1943, Bloomingtonians received their water from other sources, and the lake was drained. The property sat unused for decades, slowly evolving back to its original wetland condition.
In 1998, Bloomington Parks and Recreation purchased the property from Bloomington Utilities Service Board and created the Leonard Springs Nature Park a year later.
The park is open to the public and includes a rugged, mile-long loop trail.
The Cedar Bluffs Nature Preserve is a 23-acre haven in Southwest Monroe County that features a 75-foot high limestone bluff overlooking the Clear Creek watershed.
Named for the gnarled red cedar trees that cling to its cliffs, the preserve is owned by The Nature Conservancy, a private, nonprofit group that buys and protects rare and endangered ecosystems like the “limestone bluffs and dry, mesic upland forest” at Cedar Bluffs.
The preserve, the organization says, “provides a stunning display of species adaptation and survival in a harsh environment. At its eastern end, the bluff narrows and drops off into a rock-walled valley cut by a small tributary stream of Clear Creek. This canyon protects a lavish spring wildflower display and exhibits remarkable rock formations.”
Cedar Bluffs is open to the public from dawn to dusk. Visitors are asked to stay on marked trails.
Lake Monroe is Indiana’s largest lake, with 10,750 acres of water and a watershed of 23,952 acres. Monroe is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Reservoirs. The lake spans portions of Brown and Monroe counties, with its watershed extending into Bartholomew, Jackson and Lawrence.
Monroe was built between 1960 and 1965, when the Corps of Engineers built the Lake Monroe Dam on the Salt Creek to control downstream flooding and provide drinking water and recreational opportunities.
A 1996 study by the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs found that forest covered 90 percent of the Monroe’s watershed, including 78,000 acres in the Hoosier National Forest and 40,000 acres in Yellowwood State Forest.
With eight State Recreation Areas, including Moore's Creek, Fairfax, Allen's Creek and Paynetown, and one federal, Hardin Ridge Recreation Area, Monroe offers visitors just about any sort of water-related outdoor activities possible – boating, waterskiing, fishing, swimming, camping, hiking, caonoeing, picnicking and hunting, as well as nature centers, playgrounds and a full-amenity resort.
The Hickory Ridge Fire Tower, located six miles into the Hoosier National Forest on the edge of the Charles Deam Wilderness Area, is one of the few such structures left in the state and offers a spectacular view of the forest in four counties.
At 202,000 acres, the Hoosier is Indiana’s largest public land mass, stretching, in four broken chunks, from Lake Monroe to the Ohio River. Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Hoosier is managed for multiple uses, from logging to backpacking.
The 13,000-acre Deam is the only federally protected wilderness in Indiana that is permanently off limits to logging and other extractive uses, such as oil and gas production.
The North Fork Wildlife Refuge is located in the shallow, northeastern part of the lake. Eagles, hawks, herons, ducks, geese, grebes, loons, pelicans, gulls, terns and other waterfowl frequent and fly over the preserve.
Lake Monroe is bisected by the Ind. 446 Causeway, with the eastern portion reserved for wildlife and nonmotorized human activity. Motor boats are allowed, but they are limited to idle speed only.
The Campbell Preserve east of Bloomington is one of several natural areas owned and managed by the nonprofit Sycamore Land Trust (SLT). Its 27 acres include a wooded ravine that runs the length of the property.
The preserve was donated to the SLT in 2001 by Bob and Laura Campbell. It is open to the public, but there are no trails. A logging road heads south into the state forest from the parking area.