I am so ready to kick off a great hiking year, I decided to start early with a quartet of solo hikes yesterday. But to ring in the New Year today, I tagged my hiking buddy and headed out west of town to Wooster Memorial Park.
(For those of you not from Wooster, let me clarify. This park with its primitive trails used to be called Spangler Park, after the man who started it with his land donations. It has since grown beyond his gift of 133 acres to more than 300 acres, and several years ago it was renamed Wooster Memorial Park. I first knew it as Spangler, though, and I use the old name as a shorthand reference. You’ll come across it again, I promise.)
In previous visits to Spangler, I had only hiked the two original trails (Spangler and Trillium) and only recently hiked the short Hartman Trail. But the park now has 10 named trails, ranging from 0.2 miles to 2.2 miles and from easy to difficult, and I intend to check them all off my list this year.
Since trails yesterday were a mix of mud, snow, and ice, I thought it would be wiser for us to stick to the shorter, easier trails. We parked at the education area and started by hiking the Education Trail through the woods. When it emerged at the edge of a meadow, we followed the Old Field Trail across to pick up the Sassafras Trail.
This third trail led us into a slightly less dramatic version of the usual terrain at Spangler: steep climbs to ridges that overlook Rathburn Run and the intermittent streams that feed into it. Just before the trail descended a second time, it dead-ended at the Outer Trail, the longest and most difficult trail in the park.
Instead of backtracking, we followed the Outer Trail back to where it started at the Spangler Trail, passing a previously hidden pond along the way. (The things you discover on a winter hike!) This trail, in turn, led us back to the second branch of the Old Field Trail and then back to the Education Trail.
(Confused? Yes, it was a roundabout hike, and I had to consult a map often. You can find the map on the park web site.)
To finish the Education Trail, we walked along the meadow before rejoining the Spangler Trail on my favorite stretch, a narrow ridge lined with tall hemlocks overlooking Rathburn Run. Trees here seem to cling almost to air, so tenaciously do they stay rooted on the cliff edges. This isn’t a section to dash through; it’s a stretch of trail to savor, with gorgeous and breathtaking views everywhere.
To my surprise, as we rounded a turn, we found a hemlock fully decorated for Christmas. What a delight!
Our final stretch took us back into the valley. Normally we have to climb a long, steep hill to return to the park entrance, and I don’t mind telling you it exhausts me every time. I found a dashed-line path on the map that looked like it might be a shortcut, so I suggested we take that instead. My hiking buddy may never trust my map skills again: after we crossed a footbridge, the trail became little more than a goat path barely hanging on the edge of a cliff.
It was narrow. Steep. Icy. Twisty. We went slowly, deliberately choosing our steps and still slipping on occasion. And then one of my hiking poles collapsed on me. It was, shall we say, not one of my smarter decisions.
However, we made it safely to the top and finished our hike by following the remaining leg of the Education Trail back through a more level area of woodland and back to the car. Our hike covered about 2.5 miles total, some of it very easy and some considerably more challenging. When I got home, I was astonished to find just how much of a workout the hike had been, given how damp my shirt was and how much my muscles ached.
But that’s how you know it was a great hike, right? And it was definitely a great way to start 2017 and my ambitious list of hiking goals!