Signs of spring on the Hoosier National's Fork Ridge, Tate’s Hollow

Thankfully, Saturday afternoon’s short hike on the Hoosier National Forest’s Fork Ridge Trail was far less dramatic than our first trek last November, when sandhill cranes serenaded from above and a friend had to be transported via helicopter to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. This weekend’s exploration was part of an afternoon adventure to rural Jackson County, via Brown County, in pursuit of backwoods spring renewal.

The Fork Ridge walk constituted the second Hoosier National outing during a 10-day spring break from teaching duties. The first, a scouting drive to the national forest’s southernmost point – Tate’s Hollow just north of the Ohio River in backcountry Perry County – a week earlier was more eventful, albeit not tragic.

Both excursions produced substantial reassurance that spring has at last sidled north into Southern Indiana. A patch of crocuses alongside Perry’s aptly named High Water Road, which bisects the Hoosier south of German Ridge Recreation Area, offered reticent glimpses of their spring whites. On Fork Ridge, the greenbriar sprouts leaf.

Enjoying Fork Ridge, before it's cut and burned

Fork Ridge Trail winds a roller-coaster mile through some of the Hoosier’s more remote and magnificent terrains, a classic example of the state’s Brown County Hills natural section. The southern stretch follows a narrow ridgetop above the South Fork Salt Creek. Five miles to the north lies Nebo Ridge and Browning Mountain. A couple miles to the northeast looms Bald Knobs, at 960 feet the 204,000-acre Hoosier’s highest elevation.

Last November’s trek was the annual Sierra Club Hike with Mike, a four-year tradition in which Hoosier National Supervisor Mike Chaveas hikes with forest preservationists. Previous walk-and-talks have traversed the Pate Hollow Trail in Monroe County, Nebo Ridge Trail in Brown County and Lick Creek Trail in Orange County.

Fork Ridge was chosen this year because Chaveas has plans to log 4,000 acres in the area, some by clearcutting plots of up to 10 acres. The trail, along with some 20 miles of the nearby Hickory Ridge Horse Trail, will be closed or otherwise affected by the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project.

While the Forest Service says the Houston [pronounced how-stun] South project is in its early planning stages, agency statements and documents indicate it’s at least three years in the making. A final decision is expected this summer.

The Salt Creek South Fork feeds Monroe Lake, the sole drinking water source for some 120,000 citizens in Bloomington, Monroe County and parts of Brown and Lawrence Counties.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton, the Bloomington City Council, Monroe County Commissioners and Monroe County Council have all expressed concerns. So have the Friends of Lake Monroe, Indiana Forest Alliance, Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, Hoosier Environmental Council and other grassroots groups. 

Bogged down in Tate’s Hollow

On March 11, landscape photographer Gary Morrison and I drove south on High Water from German Ridge to the Ohio River at Tobinsport, before bearing northeast along the river a few miles and crossing the Hoosier’s far southern border.

Pre-trip inquiries sent to a contact at the Forest Service’s Tell City office produced no useful guidance. Little is known about the area, I learned. Tobinsport Road, which bisects the forest block to the east between High Water and the Ohio, may or may not be closed.

Tobinsport Road remains a mystery. Its northern intersection with High Water is marked with Private Property signs, even though Forest Service maps clearly say it’s public land. And we didn’t get far enough in to know if the mile of road is closed.

A short distance past the last driveway, we encountered ruts so deep that Gary’s SUV trembled all the way to Mitchell, where a second, more focused high-pressure car wash dispersed mud caked on the wheels’ insides and facilitated a smooth ride the last 25 miles home to Bloomington.

Hoosier National Forest Photographs: Fork Ridge Trail.


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