Massac Memo: Walking in the woods

By Clyde Wills

Since my retirement several years ago, I have been trying to walk as much as possible.  It may not be the best possible exercise, and maybe I should be doing something more strenuous, but walking is something I enjoy.

We are lucky here in Metropolis because there are good places to walk.  There are safe streets and sidewalks, the city’s walking trail at 21st and Metropolis streets, and the wonderful hiking and biking trail through Fort Massac State Park.

I have walked the trail through Fort Massac many, many times, in all kinds of weather.  It has very easy access, but it can put you in the woods very quickly.

I have grown a little bored with the trail even though I nearly always see and hear lots of birds, squirrels and deer.  Occasionally I see turkeys and other critters.  One day, while standing on one of the bridges, I observed two muskrats swimming and playing in the water below.  They were undoubtedly muskrat Susie and muskrat Sam, from the old Captain and Tennille song, Muskrat Love.

To try something new, I began just walking out through the park finding my own trails.  One creek was a barrier because of its depth and its steep banks.  Although there was little water flowing in the creek, the gravel bottom is about 10 feet wide.  And, the banks are almost straight up and down eight or 10 feet tall.  I did find where trees had fallen across the creek, but I think my log-walking days are behind me, especially when I’m out alone.

The most interesting thing about the creek was upstream near U.S. 45 there is a small waterfall.  I did not think there were any waterfalls in Fort Massac.  But even though it is only about three feet tall, and not on a rock ledge, I think it still qualifies as a waterfall.

Searching for bigger and prettier waterfalls, I went on a hike with the Shawnee Forest Trail Society in the Bell Smith Springs area.

The big rains we have had in the past month have every possible waterfall flowing very well.  The only problem is, the trails are very slick and muddy and crossing even small creeks is almost guaranteed to get your feet wet.

From the Bell Smith Springs parking lot we went down the steps and turned right following what I think is Bay Creek.  About where Hunting Creek flows in is the place where a person named Belle Smith carved  her name in the rock back in the 1800s.

Further up the creek there are massive stone outcropping 50 to 100 feet wide on each side of the creek.  There is also one particular rock named Eagle Rock because it does look like an eagle’s head coming out of a cliff.  We ran out of time and did not get to go see the natural bridge that is further down the creek.

On another recent Saturday I went with 40 or 50 other people on the Illinois Ozarks tour featuring waterfalls and wildflowers.

This series of tours is a new version of ones Col. L.O. Trigg, a southern Illinois newspaper editor, started back in the 1930s.  For many years Col. Trigg led groups to see the amazing rock outcropping and other sites in the beautiful southern Illinois woods.

This year’s spring tour focused on a wildlife area called Bulge Hole, north of Vienna.  It was a long slippery hike to reach the hole, but it gave us great views of three waterfalls in that area.

I was there to see the waterfalls and rock formations, but several of the hikers were experts in wildflowers.  They spent their time photographing wildflowers and discussing exactly what kind they had found.  We had a naturalist with us from the Shawnee National Forest office who could identify just about anything in the woods.

There was a little problem shortly after we left Bulge Hole.  The rural road came to a valley which was full of water.  The school bus had to turn around and the tour was quickly rerouted.

Our next stop was Camp Ondesonk, a place I have heard about for the last 40 years but had never seen in person.  The camp was not crowded with kids as it will be this summer, but there were some families using the cabins.

Off we went on another muddy slippery hike to find another really nice waterfall.  It was amazing how loud the sounds were of the water rushing over the falls and through the cascade below.

We then hiked around the lake and sighted something I did not know even existed in southernmost Illinois.  It is a huge cascade of water, I think over 100 feet wide, falling down over many small waterfalls.  Seeing it was certainly worth the trip.

The Trigg Tours are held every spring and fall, and visit different sites in Hardin, Pope and Johnson counties.

Wanting to take advantage of the recent opportunities to see waterfalls, I have also been striking out on my own.  New Columbia Bluff is one place in Massac County where there are waterfalls following big rains, but they are not all easy to access.

One falls is just beside the road going up the bluff to New Columbia, but a person has to do some climbing to get a good view of it.  There is another, larger falls 500 feet or so into the woods.  Of course, the bigger waterfall is near the top of the bluff and some hard climbing is required to get a good view of it.

My legs have some serious bruises from slipping and falling on the rocks as I tried to get up to the falls.

If only the waterfalls were beautiful when the ground was nice and dry.  

For pictures of the hikes, go to Clyde Wills on FaceBook.