In December 2023, the Indian Creek Nature Center land team and volunteers completed the Věčný Woodland Trail on a property at the corner of Otis Road and 44th St SE (map here). The property includes the David Novak Prairie, which was seeded in the fall of 2022. The young prairie is expected to be fully mature in the summer of 2025 or 2026. An accessible parking lot will allow visitors direct access to the new trails in early 2024. In the meantime, there is parking along Otis Road (Please don’t block any entrances). Many community members have supported the protection and restoration of this property. The new Věčný Woodland Trail loops through secluded hills and forest. In early November 2023 ICNC Marketing Manager Eric Hart walked the soon-to-be completed trail. This is his experience.
Walking the Věčný Woodland Trail
As I begin the loop around the prairie that connects to the Věčný Woodland Trail I see humble signs of budding life preparing to rise into a full, healthy prairie. On this cool yet sunny autumn afternoon, mullein stems reach high to the sunshine as a variety of grasses and flowers grow stronger under the soil.
A gentle breeze bends the few tall grasses in the prairie and dances through the crisp, dry leaves that have still refused fall’s advance. The crunch under my boots reminds me of the changing seasons with each step.
A few trees still bright with oranges and reds catch my eye as I start up a small incline. Halfway up I’m met by a boulder proudly declaring “Věčný Woods.” It looks across the young prairie to its companion rock, which answers “David Novak Prairie.”
I turn past the rock and into the woods. My steps shorten as I climb the hill. Bird calls in the distance give me an excuse to pause as my ears try to identify the call. Searching for the birds draws my eyes upward and I am wonderfully surprised at how tall the trees are. How long have these trees been left undisturbed? And how long will they be left in peace?
Crossing over the peak of the hill I can see a few rolling hills amidst the trees. In the nearest valley below lay piles of downed trees. The valley has likely been their resting place since August 2020.
Over the next hill, I see a plastic bag sitting among the leaves. A pang of sadness hits me. I remember how invasive the polluting nature of our convenience culture is and how places like this not only need protecting, but ongoing care. As I continue along the trail to pick up the plastic bag I realize I’m not alone. A hurried rustle of leaves draws my attention. An 8-point white-tailed deer leaps downed logs, dashes away and quickly returns me to my solitude.
Again I pause. This time looking up at the sky. The treetops sway in harmony with the wind. I walk down a picturesque fall forest trail, watching leaves calmly tumble down to the path at my feet. After a few hundred feet another surprising crunch of leaves pulls me back to the present. This time I see a doe atop a ridge. I wonder if there’s a family living in these secluded woods.
The trail rises up a new hill and I’m greeted with piles of cut logs along each side of the trail. Clearly, much work was done to create this beautiful path that allows me to enjoy the peace and serenity in this place. And the work will continue to pay dividends, as these log piles are sure to become homes for small critters sheltering through the winter. At my feet I notice walnuts, maple leaves and a grasshopper resting on the top of my hiking boot. After a moment it hops away. The chirps of the birds I heard earlier return. Their name still eludes me.
Tap, tap, tapping of a woodpecker draws my eyes up to a towering tree that has lost its top. Mushrooms grow from a neighboring tree just a bit too high to be easily harvested. Here, at the highest point in the trail, I can see a few distant houses. This is the closest I get to another human.
A new world awaits me as I venture down the hill. The evenly spread, tall trees dissolve into thick brush surrounding the trail. The higher and thicker brush blocks the wind, but also much of the sunlight. The trail appears darker, stiller and contained at first but then life begins to reveal itself. A lone cricket chirps from under the brush. An owl soars overhead. A field of snakeroot persists with its bright white, even in the late fall. The remains of an abandoned spider web lies between a cut log and a post marking the new trail.
After winding through the otherworldly trail deep in the woods, I begin to loop back. The brush shifts back into an open forest. The trail widens and flattens. The wind and sunlight return. My new deer friends make one more appearance in the distance. A calm settles over me as I reach the end of the loop.
Here, I find it easy to be still. To pay attention to my breath. To be aware of nature and all its living parts. At times, I feel a part of it instead of outside of it looking in. Perhaps this is enough. Giving people places to find this peace may be enough to warrant defending our wetlands, prairies and woodlands.