Jackson Creek Trail at Yellowwood State Forest
A 1.5 mile foot trail developed by the Youth Conservation Corps and the Indiana DNR Division of Forestry.
Welcome to the Jackson Creek Trail, a self-guided 1.5 mile hiking trail in Yellowwood State Forest. This trail takes you through a variety of habitat types, including marsh, pine forests and central hardwood forest. There are 23 stations marked along the trail, each featuring a particular plant or plant association or a geological characteristic. Some of the stations show examples of human's direct involvement with the forest, including some of the many ways in which we derive benefits from the forest. A short list of these benefits includes watershed protection, air purification, wildlife habitat, recreation areas and over 6000 useful items made from wood. We hope that as you hike the trail you will be able to appreciate some of these benefits.
The forest you will be walking through is a part of the Central Hardwood Forest and was settled by European immigrants and their descendants in the early 1800s. Much of the forest you will see was occupied by homesteaders and cleared for farming. Most of the ground was unsuitable for farming and was abandoned in the early 1900s. Although vacated many years ago, it is still possible to find evidence of the farms and dwellings that dotted the area. The locations of old home sites are often indicated by the remaining shade trees and ornamental plants and sometimes a house foundation or a well. The land was acquired by the public in the 1930s, the cleared areas have either been planted to pine trees or allowed to reforest naturally.
Please remember that the trail is for hiking only; camping or use of horses, bicycles or motorized vehicles is prohibited. Please do not pick, dig or carry out any plants, as our aim is to keep Jackson Creek Trail in its natural state.
Trees and Sites on the Identification Trail
1. Scotch and Virginia Pine. This stand of Scotch and Virginia Pine was planted in 1960 to reforest this once farmed field. Pine trees of various types have been planted extensively throughout the forest to stop the erosion of abandoned farm fields. The understory in this pine grove has been colonized by native and exotic trees, shrubs and vines.
2. Exotic Plants. Many plants growing in our area are referred to as exotic because they are not native to this region. Some are considered to be 'invasive' exotics because of their ability to displace native plants. Many were planted intentionally for their beneficial qualities only to become problems because their aggressive nature allows them to successfully compete with native plants and animals. As you walk the trail you will see several examples of invasive exotics. Some of these include Japanese Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive and the marsh plant, Purple Loosestrife.
3. Marsh. This marsh provides habitat components for many kinds of wildlife, including muskrat, bullfrogs, painted water turtles, wood ducks, bass, bluegill, snakes and a host of wading birds. The marsh was created in 1939 when Jackson Creek was dammed to form Yellowwood Lake. It is likely that as you walk the trail you will spot one of the most common marsh residents, the Redwinged Blackbird. Some common marsh plants include cattails, American Lotus, Black Willow and the exotic Purple Loosestrife.
4. Plant Succession. The area to the west of the station marker is an abandoned field that was not planted to pines. Before it returns to its native cover of hardwoods, it will go through a series of plant cover stages. Each stage is a plant community that creates conditions that favor a different succeeding community. Typically, the first plants to start at a site, like an abandoned farm field, are plants that require full sunlight to thrive. These are known as shade intolerant plants and usually create shade, favoring plants that are shade tolerant. One of the first trees to colonize an abandoned field in our region is Eastern Red Cedar, like the one behind the marker. In the absence of further disturbance, this site will eventually succeed to shade-tolerant hardwoods. You will see many examples of plant succession along the Jackson Creek Trail.
5. Bald Cypress. Unfamiliar to many people in this region, the Bald Cypress tree is one of the few 'deciduous' conifers; that is, it is an evergreen that loses its leaves in the fall. This stand of cypress was planted in this moist bottomland; however, it can also grow in shallow water. Cypress are native to southwestern Indiana, but have been planted widely throughout the state. The conical projections rising from the roots of the trees are called 'cypress knees'. The function of the knees is not known for certain, but popular theories include support of the tree and oxygen exchange.
6. Jackson Creek. This is the creek that was dammed to form Yellowwood Lake. Its cool, clear waters are the product of a forested watershed. Forests provide clean water by intercepting and slowing rainfall, thereby reducing erosion. Rainfall moves slowly though forest floor duff to replenish groundwater supplies. Over 90% of the Yellowwood Lake watershed is forested.
7. Eastern White Pine. One of the native pine trees, the White Pine is often called the monarch of eastern forests. Its flourishes from Ontario and Quebec south to the Appalachian mountains and has been planted extensively throughout Indiana. The age of these pines can be determined by counting the branch 'whorls'. The whorls are indicated by circles of branch stubs on the trunk and as layers of branches in the crown. for trees this size you should all for two or tree whorls that you can't see at the bottom and top. These trees are about 30 years old.
8. Pine Forest Floor. Looking around you will see many of the ways in which the pine forest has impacted this former farm field. The needle cast and fallen logs support a variety of fungal and animal life. The dense year-round shade creates cooler, moist conditions than those found under deciduous hardwood cover. The shade will also favor shade-tolerant tree species, which in the absence of further disturbance, will succeed these pine trees.
9. Streambank Erosion. In the age-old process of moving upland to the sea, streams continuously move soil, rocks and most other things that get in their way, dowstream to other locations. Here you can see that the stream is cutting away the bank, depositing the soil and rocks into the stream; thus, they will be carried downstream. This cutting action can undermine streamside trees, usually causing them to fall into the stream. On the opposite bank you can see deposits that were dropped here from further upstream and eventually will continue their trip downstream.
10. Central Hardwood Forest. The hillside in front of you is an example of the Central Hardwood Forest which embraces the central portion of eastern United States. Oaks are the dominate species and they grow in association with hickory, ash, elm, yellow poplar, maple, gum, walnut and others. A significant feature of the hardwood forest is that the trees are 'deciduous', losing their leaves in autumn. Species visible from here include Red, Black and White Oaks, Bitternut and Shagbark Hickories, Ohio Buckeye, Sugar Maple, White ash, Sycamore, Yellow Poplar, Black Walnut, American Beech and Black Cherry.
11. Den Tree. The hollow beech tree uphill from the marker is a good example of a den tree. The tree's ability to live for a long time as a hollow tree makes it one of the most common den trees. The forest supports many types of wildlife that would use a den tree, including squirrels, raccoons and a variety of birds.
12. Grapevine. You can see several examples of the vines of this common forest plant in trees downhill from the marker and elsewhere along the trail. Vigorous grapevine can sometimes grow to the tops of trees, compete with them for sunlight and in some cases kill the tree. In a managed forest you will often find that vines are removed from high value trees.
13. Yellow Poplar. Indian's state tree gets its name because of its similarity to some trees in the poplar family. However, this stately tree, also commonly known as a Tulip tree, is actually a member of the Magnolia family. It is one of the fastest growing tree in the Central Hardwood region and is a very popular hardwood for a variety of uses. Many log cabins in this area have been constructed of Yellow Poplar. Yellow poplar requires full sunlight to thrive and often sprouts from seed in large numbers following a forest disturbance that allows full sunlight to reach the forest floor. The Yellow Poplar trees here tell us that this site was once much more open to sunlight than it is now.
14. White ash. Chances are the wooden baseball bat or tennis racket you have used was made from the wood of this tree. The light, very strong wood of the ash tree is ideal for sporting goods and tool handles. Like the Yellow Poplar, Ash thrives in full sunlight. Ash seedlings can survive in the shaded understory until a disturbance like harvesting or windthrow lets enough light into the forest floor for the tree to grow taller. It achieves its best growth potential on north and east facing slopes which are cooler and wetter than south or west facing slopes.
15. Sassafras. Probably the most famous "medicinal tree" in the Central Hardwood Forest. The bark and roots are the source of tea and oil of sassafras. The oil is used to perfume soaps and flavor medicines. Sassafras is one of the first trees to sprout after a forest disturbance and often competes with other early sprouts like Yellow Poplar and ash. These Sassafras are infected with Nectria canker which produces 'target-shaped' wounds on the trunk and can kill entire stands of trees. It has killed some of the Sassafras trees in this group.
16. Forest Road. The path you are now on is a forest road that has a long history and many uses. It was a country road that provided a travel route for the homesteaders and their descendants who lived in these hills until around the 1930s. It now serves as a hiking trail and a forest access road for a variety of uses, including fire control, timber removal and road and trail maintenance.
17. Intermittent Stream. This little stream bed is dry much of the year, but in the spring or after a summer storm it bustles with activity. It carries the runoff from the hills above to Jackson Creek. In the spring it helps support many types of forest life including amphibians, aquatic insects, crustaceans and many birds and mammals. In the dry summer months animals will travel further downstream to reach water.
18. Christmas Fern. What is a walk in the woods without seeing a fern? The Christmas Fern is so named because, unlike most ferns, it retains its summer green color throughout the Winter and so has been used for holiday greenery. Ferns are different than most of the other plants in the forest in that they do not produce flowers or seeds. They reproduce by means of spores which can often be seen as the small brown dots o the undersides of leaves. There are about 100 types of ferns in our area. As you walk the trail you are likely to see Maidenhair, Grape and New York Ferns.
19. Multiflora Rose. The dominant plant under this Walnut tree is Multiflora Rose, an invasive exotic. Multiflora Rose was widely planted in this region in the 1950s for natural fence rows. Since then its aggressive nature has allowed it to spread to many areas. It is useful to wildlife for cover, but is considered a pest in agricultural areas.
20. Streambed and Local Geology. This streambed is a good location to stop and study local geology. In the stream you will find evidence of the geological history of Brown County. Most of the rocks you will see are 'Borden Group' siltstone which is the underlying bedrock in most of Brown County. It dates back to over 320 million years ago when a shallow inland sea covered most of southern Indiana. Look for crinoids, small, stem-like stones that are the fossil remains of a creature that inhabited these seas. Though the stem appears to be plant like, it was an animal related to sea urchins and starfish. You may also find some geodes, roundish, irregular, knobby stones. The origin of geodes is unknown but they are thought to have derived in from fossils.
21. Black Walnut. Indiana's most prized tree species and a common bottomland species on Yellowwood State Forest. The beautiful wood of this tree is favored for furniture, veneers and decorative uses. The nuts are favored by squirrels and humans alike for their excellent flavor. In the foreground is a Black Walnut plantation which was planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. This particular stand was planted by stomping the seeds into the ground.
22. Bottomland Plants. This bottomland supports varieties of plants, both woody and herbaceous, that are very different from those found on the hillsides along the trail. The array of herb herbaceous, species is quite large and includes Green Dragon, Jacob's Ladder, wingstem, Bottlebrush Grass, Jewel Weed and stinging Nettles.
23. White Oak. The last stop o the trail is this grandfather of the forest, a White Oak tree. It is estimated that this tree is over 200 years old. at 50 inches in diameter, it is hard to find a larger tree nearby. This tree probably provided shade for the farming inhabitants here over a 100 years ago.
We hope you enjoy your hike at Yellowwood State Forest!