Submitted by: Donna Lind
Location: 450 West 100 North, Valparaiso, IN 46385 Dog Friendly: Yes Parking: Yes Cost: $10 entry fee or $49.00 a year membership for one adult – there are also family, senior and children membership rates Restrooms: Yes Trail Length: 5.74 miles of hiking trails
If I’m not hiking in the dunes, my second choice are the trails found at Taltree Arboretum and Gardens. An arboretum, according to dictionary.com, is a plot of land on which many different trees or shrubs are grown for study or display. Taltree is that and so much more.
On this particular sunny July afternoon, I started my visit with a quick stop at the railway garden to see the garden-sizereplica trains. If you have young children along – or if you are simply young at heart – visiting the railway garden is a must. The garden is entered through the Visitor’s Center Train Depot and admission is free. There are usually three to four trains running at once, and it’s fascinating to watch them travel through miniature landscapes that represent what we might see traveling the rails across our country: mountains, valleys, towns, farmland, quarries and shipping ports. You may even get a glimpse of Thomas the Tank Engine!
After a quick circle around the railway garden, I made my way across the parking lot to the trailhead for the longest trail of the arboretum, the Bluebird Trail. This trail begins with a straight entryway into the prairie toward a sprawling oak tree and then turning toward the woods. One reason these trails are so special is because they lead through a landscape designed with our area’s natural beauty and ecology in mind. The Bluebird trail is bordered by cool, thick forest to the left and wide-open prairie to the right.
About a half hour into my hike, I stopped at Ed’s Oasis – the plaque on the small arbor here reads, “In memory of Edgar Peglow; a man who always enjoyed Nature’s beauty.” Directly across from the arbor is another of my favorite things about Taltree – a mighty oak tree with branches that seem to stretch out for miles, offering cool shade to rest in the mid-day heat, get a drink of water from my pack and listen to the sounds of the prairie.
The prairie is another of my favorite things about Taltree. It is beautiful in any season, but during the mid-summer months, I think the prairie is at its best. Grasses taller than me (yes, I’m only five feet tall but that’s pretty tall for grass) sway in the breeze. On this day the prairie was expectant the bursting of wildflowers into full bloom. I could already see the first of Coneflower, Black Eyed Susan, Liatris, Milkweed, Daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace. In another week, the entireprairie would be a sea of color. The whole place is teeming with life; bees buzz from flower to flower, birds swoop and dive over the grass and I was severely scolded by a red-winged blackbird as I passed by.
Several other trails intersect with the Bluebird trail and lead back into the forest where the shade is cool and the forest floor is covered in Virginia Creeper, moss and ferns. I passed by the Pheasant trail on this trip, which is a 1.11 mile loop but I did take both the Cardinal trail and the Goldfinch trail which make small .63 mile loops into the woods and lead back outonto the Bluebird trail.
The Goldfinch trail re-enters the main trail again at the southern end of the wetlands, edged by papery birch trees and guarded by deep-throated bullfrogs who, when startled by my footsteps, also startled me by splashing back into the murky water. The trail leads to “Window on the Wetland,” a long, curving arbor where visitors can sit on benches and take in the peaceful pond in front and the prairie behind.
After a quick stop, and another drink of water, I followed the trail along the edge of the wetlands to the Owl Trail, which leads into Oak Island. Here different species of oak trees from all over the world have been planted and are studied. My last stop was the Heron Trail, the smallest trail at .28 mile, but also called the Fairy Trail, where tiny little fairy houses, made from tree stumps are tucked into the undergrowth. The Heron trail traces the far shore of Heron Pond and pours out onto a grassy lawn, the rose garden and the path to the pavilion. On the other side of the rose garden, I picked up the Bluebird Trail once again which led me along the outer edge of the prairie and back to where I started.
In one afternoon hike, I experienced woodlands, prairie, wetlands, gardens and a little bit of fantasy. With the exception of a low flying plane, the only sounds I heard were the birds, the breeze, the hum of insects, the croaking of frogs and the swish of my boots in the grass.