Hiking is a wonderful way to get outdoor exercise and explore the natural offerings in our region. Allen County is home to numerous parks and preserves with plenty of trails that are ideal for hiking, so lace up the boots and trek out to see all the beauty that awaits you in nature.
According to Jeff Baxter, Superintendent of Allen County Parks and Recreation, there are several benefits to outdoor recreation areas. “They make our communities more livable, improve the economy through tourism and civic improvement, preserve and restore open space, and provide opportunities for physical activity to improve fitness and mental health,” he says.
There are approximately 15 miles of hiking trails within the Allen County Parks system. Fox Island, Metea and Payton Parks are all open to the public and have great trails. Although some can be more rugged than others, 85 percent of them are family-friendly for hiking and walking, says Baxter. He also advises people interested in exploring the parks to pick up a trail map, “especially with Fox Island since it is a large park with over 600 acres—it’s nice to know where you are,” he says.
ACRES Land Trust Executive Director Jason Kissel also touts the benefits of outdoor recreation. “Recent research tells us that walking in natural areas has wellness benefits, and we know from experience and feedback that it just feels good!” he says. “Natural areas are alive with sights, sounds, weather, lighting—it’s constantly changing, offering immersive sensory experiences. We’re a part of the natural world, and yet we’re simultaneously so good at creating built environments that we forget our connection to this place. Hiking in natural areas has long offered respite and rejuvenation from our hectic, technology-filled lives.”
One would think that with all of the benefits of walking outdoors, more people would be out enjoying the trails, but there never seems to be an overabundance of hikers in the parks or preserves. “I think the average Fort Wayne resident or visitor isn’t aware of all the hiking opportunities available to them – and that’s a shame, since there are spectacular trails along rivers, meadows, streams, ravines, forests, wetlands and lakes – all waiting to be explored,” says Kissel. “People are often surprised by the landscapes they discover right here.”
ACRES owns 24 preserves in Allen County, totaling 1200 acres. Within those properties, there are 16 miles of trails with diverse terrain that are open for free to the public from dawn to dusk every day. “If you want a quiet, flat walk in the woods, Herman F. Hammer Wald Nature Preserve near Grabill fits the need,” says Kissel. “If you’re exploring with toddlers or young children who need to run up and down some hills, the preserves along Cedar Creek are great. Fogwell Forest south of Fort Wayne offers a beautiful example of a forested preserve with rich, healthy, biodiverse under, middle and over-stories. The trees there are giants!”
If you opt for hiking in a county park like Metea or Fox Island, note there is a $2 entry fee per person, though children under six are free. Those planning to use the trails often might want to purchase an annual pass. Another hiking opportunity to consider is the Allen County Trailblazers program, which has been very well received. “This program is a cooperative effort of Allen County Parks, Fort Wayne Parks, New Haven Parks, ACRES, Little River Wetlands Project and Fort Wayne Trails,” says Baxter. “It is open to all ages and consists of registering and receiving a form listing 15 different trails (all easy to moderate hiking) at different parks and preserves. It runs September 1 through November 30th each year.”
Hiking is a great way to explore the local trails while getting some exercise. “Just go do it!” says Kissel. “Hiking is walking – nothing more. Too often people think they need specific gear, but this simply isn’t true for 99 percent of hikes. Throw on your tennis shoes, put some insect repellent in your back pocket and take off. People just feel better after a walk in the woods.”
For more information on local parks and preserves, visit acreslandtrust.org and allencountyparks.org