Habitrek Trail Map
The HabiTrek Trail is an easy hike well suited to children. It is marked by red blazes. Although it is an easy hike for most, it is not accessible by strollers or wheelchairs. The HabiTrek Trail itself is 0.5 miles, and connects with the Prairie Trail (0.21 miles) to form an easy 0.71 mile loop. The trail is open from dawn to dusk and may be accessed via the Salato Center during normal operating hours, or via the picnic areas. Hikers should never hike alone, should wear good hiking shoes or boots, and should always carry water to drink. Cell phone signals may be picked up on hilltops, but will be lost in the "hollows". Allow a minimum of 30 minutes to complete the hike.
The following description is written with parents and teachers in mind. An outdoor classroom, located near the beginning of the trail and constructed by employees of E.ON US, is available for instruction free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Following the red blazes, the trail takes you into a wooded area with several large oak trees interspersed among a successional forest of ash, oak, hickory, cedar, and maple. In the spring the forest floor is home to numerous species of native wildflowers such as Mayapple, purple larkspur, blue phlox, and trillium. Coral berry, dogwood, and redbud make up the majority of the shrubs. The remains of an old rock wall provide excellent habitat for small mammals and reptiles, while both standing and fallen deadwood "snags" host a diversity of insect life and fungal growth, as well as nesting space for cavity-dwelling animals such as chipmunks, owls, and woodpeckers. These may be used to teach children about the "FBI" (Fungus, Bacteria, and Insects) which decompose dead organic matter, converting it into useable energy at the bottom of the food chain. Look along the tops of fallen trees for the feeding areas of squirrels or the droppings of raccoons. Who's been here...?
You will pass the entrance to the 2.41 mile Pea Ridge Loop Trail on your left. Keep following the red blazes and the trail will head down a hill and across an "ephemeral stream". These streams only hold water during periods of heavy rainfall or after a snowmelt and provide temporary egg-laying habitat for insects and amphibians, as well as a good place for a drink for a thirsty animal.
Just after the stream crossing you will see a large oak tree on your right. This unusual tree is the result of 5 sprouts that survived after the original tree fell many years ago. Look closely near the roots and you can see the remains of the original, which became engulfed as the shoots grew larger.
As the trail goes back up a small slope, look for a large fallen sycamore on your left. Close inspection will reveal several cavities created by woodpeckers, and at the root may be found the entrance to a small den used by different animals from year to year. The "sharing" of dens is common among several mammals in Kentucky, including raccoons, opossums, fox, chipmunks, groundhogs, and coyotes.
At the top of the hill you will enter a cedar thicket, then descend briefly to a side trail to a small sinkhole. Grasses and Wildflowers overhanging the edge of the sinkhole provide hidden nesting space for phoebes, wrens, and sparrows. Some may be nesting now. Can you identify them? At the base of the sinkhole is a small opening through which you can see water running after a heavy rain. Encourage students to look around them at the flat "bottom" they're standing in. After a heavy rain, most of the water soaks right down into the ground, through cracks in the limestone, and eventually ends up in our water table. Along with it, it takes silt and environmental pollutants. Only a small amount of water that falls in these woods evaporates or is consumed by animals. As you leave the sinkhole, look for several depressions on the left and right of the trail. These are new sinkholes in the making!
Just past the sinkhole the trail will veer right to become the Prairie Trail, which is marked by yellow blazes. The Prairie Trail first cuts through a small section of hardwood forest. Look to your right for a dead cherry tree full of woodpecker holes. Woodpeckers sense the movements of insects under the bark and dead wood of snags and use their hard, sharp beaks to hammer away a hole to get to them. On the left is a limestone, or karst outcropping which can be used to reinforce the lesson of the sinkhole. Point out the fracturing of the stone, which allows water to travel directly to the water table without filtering, and remind the students that what is on the ground eventually ends up in our water. This area is also a sinkhole in formation.
Just past the karst outcrop, the trail opens onto the prairie itself. Signs placed here explain that the prairie is part of a grassland restoration project which improves the habitat for wildlife. Year round this is an excellent wildlife viewing area. Look for cottontail rabbits, ground-nesting birds, insects, and reptiles. It's also a hunting ground for hawks and other raptors. Look above for these high-flying predators. During the summer the prairie is alive with wildflowers which attract insects and hummingbirds, as well as people! As a part of the management of the prairie, we will be buring it in the fall every 3-years to control invasive species and encourage germination of some desireable ones. Call to find out whether the next burn will impact your visit.
The Prairie Trail re-connects with HabiTrek at the E.ON Outdoor Classroom. Turn left on HabiTrek and follow the red blazes to return to the picnic area.