Mossy Point Nature Preserve: Tough to find but worth the trouble
If you're looking for late winter adventure that is utterly off the beaten path, we've got a great destination: Mossy Point Nature Preserve.
This public nature preserve is owned by the Central Indiana Land Trust and offers wonderful scenery, a wealth of biodiversity and profound solitude all wrapped with a dash of history. That is, if you can find the place.
The 191-acre nature preserve is located in Parke County along Sugar Creek, west of Turkey Run State Park. Dedicated in 2005, Mossy Point is part of a larger chunk of undeveloped forest land that will eventually become the Sugar Creek Conservation Area. This project, part of the Indiana Healthy Rivers Initiative, will ultimately protect 43,000 acres along Sugar Creek and the Wabash River.
The lynchpin in this effort and namesake of the preserve is Mossy Point, a rocky hemlock-covered bluff overlooking Sugar Creek. The preserve also contains Coke Oven Hollow, the former site of various business concerns including a smelting operation, flatboat builder, coal mine, clay mine and pottery factory. From 1841 until the early 1900's, the area was buzzing with pioneer industry though today the mature forest hides most of the scars of man.
The area is covered by an unbroken canopy of upland and floodplain forest featuring American beech, white ash, sugar maple, tulip tree, white oak and eastern hemlock. The understory has many unique plants such as evergreen partridgeberry and ginseng while bird life is also abundant. Bald eagles are commonly seen roosting in massive creek-side sycamore trees.
One of the reasons for all this solitude is the challenge of finding the preserve. Before our visit, it took a bit of internet sleuthing to find usable directions. Adding up the clues, I zoomed into the area using Google Earth mapping software and after a few calculations, locked the coordinates of the parking area into my GPS receiver. We then hit the road.
Pilots are often told to "trust your navigation instruments," but I didn’t in spite of the GPS arrow pointing squarely down what appeared to be a private driveway. It was not until turning around a mile down the road and re-reading the directions that I realized that the driveway was indeed the gateway to the preserve.
The next obstacle that gave pause was a closed gate further down the lane. Fortunately, there was a sign indicating a parking area ahead so we opened the unlocked gate and drove onward, closing the gate behind us. Driving another quarter mile, we pulled onto the two parking spaces that were remnants of a former gravel road. In spite of the large wooden sign marking the property, even this arrangement was a bit confusing as there is a small private cabin adjacent to the parking spaces.
After a quick check of a printed information sheet from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, we realized the cabin was a hunting lodge that sat on approximately one acre of private ground entirely within the preserve. Satisfied that we had indeed arrived, we grabbed our walking sticks and headed into the woods.
Knowing that Sugar Creek is the northern boundary of the property, we walked that direction on the old road that continued from the parking area. The roadbed followed a steep ridge top, first to the north then tended westward, while slowly losing elevation. As there were no leaves on the trees or undergrowth, it was fairly easy to follow the path though it had not been maintained or marked.
Eventually, the road was blocked by a huge beech tree that had fallen, taking several other trees with it. Across the bottomlands and through the bare forest, I could make out the clear, greenish waters of Sugar Creek so we scampered around, over and through the debris and down the side of the hill.
It was obvious Sugar Creek has recently filled the bottomlands with floodwaters and the going was muddy. We easily skipped across several small creeks until there was a minor mishap. Jumping across the last tiny stream in our path, I discovered a washtub-sized hole full of quicksand in the creek bed that instantly immersed my brand-new hiking boot and left leg in a gooey mixture of sand and mud.
I shrugged it off because, after all, it was a beautiful day to be outdoors, we had finally reached our destination and ultimately, the slime-encrusted leg of my cargo pants gave the rather jaunty air of having done some serious hiking.
Reaching a broad sandbar along Sugar Creek, we took a break for water and dried fruit while sitting on a massive downed tree. The scene was utterly wild, with no sign of man or his intrusions except for a few pieces of trash that had arrived on the earlier floodwaters. The only sounds were the quiet white noise of the creek and the keening of a red-tailed hawk soaring above the hemlock-clad bluffs. In the nearly-pristine setting it was easy to imagine yourself seeing Sugar Creek as did the buckskin-clad pioneer ascending from the Wabash River.
If you crave adventure, solitude and natural beauty, a visit to Mossy Point is more than worth the not-inconsequential effort.
A visit to Mossy Point Nature Preserve isn’t the best choice for the inexperienced hiker, especially those without map and compass skills. As the area has no designated trails and is part of a much larger forested area, the rough topography makes it easy to become disoriented.
Hikers should carry navigation equipment, ample clothing for the weather, water and sturdy boots. Cell phone coverage is spotty in low-lying areas.