Another beautiful early Fall weekend in Kentucky and of course we just had to hit the trails. This time we selected an old favorite, once again we hadn't visited in some time. July had proven to be a very wet month, mainly around the Fourth of July weekend with Land Between the Lakes receiving a whopping 17 inches. As you can imagine the area had a lot of damage, from culverts and roads being washed out to flooding at The 1850's Homeplace. The US Forestry Service faced a ton of work and still does. Once we checked the alerts page for Land Between the Lakes and noted Hematite Lake Trail was not listed, we took this as repairs had been made and all was fine.
We woke up before dawn, sucked down a cup of coffee, loaded our gear, and of course Kennedy. The drive only took us around 30 minutes and we wheeled toward the Woodland Nature Station. Donald, my husband, had decided to drive his truck, giving me a rest from behind the wheel. The temps were cool but not too cool, just right for hiking. Leaving the Trace and turning onto Mulberry Flat Road we knew to keep our eyes peeled for the Fallow Deer herd. As luck would have it, we spied them at the trail head of the Center Iron Furnace Trail. Five of them milled about feeding off the wet grass, one I noted to be mainly white in color and watching for just a few minutes two fawns began to suckle from her. Magical was the only way to describe the scene and I felt privileged to witness it.
After taking a moment to take in the scene of the Fallow Deer we turned and headed past the remains of the Center Iron Furnace and into the Hematite Lake Recreation Area. We parked the truck near the creek that connects Hematite Lake to Honker Lake. As we headed down the remaining gravel lot we noted a sign on the vault toilet stating the boardwalk was damaged and that you may need to turn around on the trail. We figured we'd take it as it comes, as we usually do and headed across the spillway on the concrete stepping stones.
Walking across the mowed grass of the levy wall with the breeze blowing up off the lake felt amazing. We had a little startle from some Turkey Vultures roosting in the bottom lands between the levy and the road before we finally made our way into the woods on the far side of Hematite Lake.
The trail is packed dirt beyond this point, and follows the lake shore along gently rolling hills. The views were stunning from this side of the little lake, the leaves just starting to turn on some of trees with their reflections visible on the lakes surface.
We made our way past the area of the old observation deck, now gone, removed from lack of maintenance and not replaced. It was disappointing but expected. I have a difficult time understanding the US Forestry Services approach towards managing Land Between the Lakes. Little gems like Hematite Lake, close to the Nature Station, were left to fall into disrepair long before the monumental rainfall of July, while the Forestry Service spent time and money working to develop new areas. I suppose money is granted to them but with terms on how it must be spent. I would probably end up with a headache trying to figure it out.
As we turned to follow the trail along the backside of Hematite Lake the area becomes bottom land. Several dry creek beds fed into the lake, snaking their way down the hills and providing an avenue for run off during rains. Small wooden bridges carried us over these creek beds and we found the trail snaking around downed trees. Toppled over from ground saturation and winds, their massive root balls now exposed and turned up.
Finally we came upon the boardwalk that carriers hikers over swampy, muddy terrain. Late Summer and early Fall had been quite dry here in West Kentucky so despite the level of disrepair along the boardwalk we decided to press on, seeing just how far one could traverse. The boardwalk was uneven, warped in places and in other places missing all together. These spots where the boardwalk was missing had logs scattered in them providing path above the muddy ground. Thankfully the larger bridges that carry hikers over the bigger streams that still held water were intact and in fair shape.
We did find the boardwalk that juts out onto a small peninsula as a small observation area was in worse shape than we wanted to attempt to walk on so we turned back onto the main trail again.
The trail turns slightly, sticking to the shore of the lake and here we found the boardwalk and bridge to be in shoddy shape. Traversing the bridge was questionable at best, the main support beam under the foot boards clearly rotting. We stuck to the sides, walking several feet apart to disperse the weight. Further up more sections of boardwalk were missing, one having more logs to cross upon and another required a bit of a jump to cross which I had to make carrying Kennedy as he refused to get his paws wet and muddy.
Kennedy struggled on some sections, trying to pay attention to what was in the woods and along the shore instead of wear he was putting his little paws. His legs would slip down through the planks on the sections with wide spacing. I carried him for several feet and he was quite content as I did. Finally reaching a section with closer spaced planks, I set him back down and we continued on.
After reaching the end of the boardwalk the trail turns away from the shore a bit and uphill into the forest. Here we found the forest open and not overgrown, allowing for a clear line of site through it.
Rock outcroppings appeared along the edges of the trail and there were now larger stones in the path to trip you up if you weren't careful. The lake still visible peering through the mostly green leaves.
We made our way along until the trail turned downhill again, back toward the lake shore. Here the trail was relatively flat and even ground again, making for a easy section but again it turned uphill and into the forest once more. As we descended the hillside a small observation area sat just off trail, overlooking the lake. It was overgrown with high bushes and tree branches blocking most of the view.
Back on flat ground we could hear a vehicle on the road off in the distance and knew we were closing in on the end of the trail. I was glad to see the gravel for the drive and parking lot again. I wasn't near as spent as I had been after previous trails but I had housework to catch up on before returning to work the next day. My Keen's hadn't hurt my feet this time either, seeming to have finally be broken in properly after a few miles.
It was nice to take a hike that seemed more like a stroll in the cool breeze of early Fall and I still hold out hope the Forestry Service will find the funds or time to repair the trail at Hematite Lake which with current detours in place is 2.4 miles long according to Map My Hike.
Remember don't let your initial impressions stop you, if we had we wouldn't have hiked the entire trail. By taking all the factors into consideration; weighing the level of risk, noting weather conditions and being alert to issues we were able to safely traverse the entire trail without problems.