The Ash Creek Forest or Richland County Community Forest is Richland County’s largest park at 354-acres. It is located two miles south of Richland Center on State Highway 80. Ash Creek, a Class One brook trout stream, runs through the middle of this recreational property. There is also a “spring” on the property where we saw bright green water cress growing. We have done some hiking in the summertime but we wanted to explore the forest in the wintertime to see a different view.
What a delightful place to snowshoe on public land. There are four miles of primitive hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Do consider the current hunting seasons as the Community Forest allows public hunting in season. If you want to know more about the Forest and it’s beginnings, you can watch this video by Richland Center Tourism: https://youtu.be/0hmp30SrrvU
If you are wanting to snowshoe this great preserve-I suggest a couple of different areas to park. The first place is really easy to find-2 miles south of Richland Center on Highway 80. You will see the parking area on your right and a red sign that says, “Richland County Community Forest.” There is plenty of room to park. This parking lot gives you the best access to the Black trail on the map.
The Black trail is the easiest to follow and is full of beautiful scenery. You enter the park surrounded by trees right from the start. The path is wide and great for snowshoeing in pairs. It is obvious where the trail is going, even when you don’t see any markings. You enter the meadow area after a few minutes and snowshoe along the meandering Ash Creek. Meadows can really be pretty when the dried wildflowers like Queen’s Anne Lace catch the snowfall. When I evaluate a snowshoe trail-I am looking for varied scenery. I love shrubbery that stands out against the snow. When the plants vary in height, it gives a lot of variety to the scene. You will see lot’s of birds thru out this great park.
The trail takes you up into the forest areas full of hardwood trees and you see patches of conifers along the way. In my opinion, each type of forest allows you to truly enjoy the scenery. Conifers catch the snow differently than hardwoods and make the landscape magical, especially after a fresh snow. The brambles are minimal along the black trail which is important because berry briars and brambles can get caught in your snowshoes and cause trips and accidents.
As you go farther back into the forest, the trails appear to be obvious but it is a little confusing exactly which trail you are on. The trees are marked with spray paint and you really have to look to find the markings. At one point you cross an earthen dam area which cool to see.
There is a Boy Scout project coming up soon to mark the trails better. We crossed over to the Green trail for awhile. My advice when it comes to snowshoeing-if you get lost, just go for about 1 mile or so (30″) and then turned around and follow your tracks back out. An average snowshoer can do about 2 miles an hour and burn around 500 calories. We always use the free account, “MapMyFitness” and use the snowshoe setting under “winter sports” and it gives you a nice map and statistics post trail. Surprisingly, the elevation gain on the black/green trail was actually 290 feet! It is a slow, gradual climb and so it is not as noticeable.
Then on Friday, I went on the Red Trail and parked at the top portion of the Ash Creek Forest. This parking area is a little tricky to find and you want to have good tires and 4 wheel drive. You will be driving up Paul’s Hill Road and it is a curvy climb up the hill. The physical address you want to use for the parking lot directions is: 27124 Hillview Drive, Richland Center. It is on a sharp corner and there really wasn’t a place to park because the ditch line was full of snow. I just parked off the road a bit. This trail is a treat but it is much more remote. I wouldn’t do Paul’s Hill Road right after a snowfall as it can be slippery!
I was completely alone on this trail which is nice but it does feel a bit more remote. In hindsight, I know it is likely very safe but I wouldn’t send a single women out there alone! I did have cell service thru out the whole trail. This is “outback” and remote for Richland County so make sure you have a small pack with water, small first aid kit, snack bar, headlamp, and charged cell phone for safety. Remember, your cell phone battery will drain quickly in cold temperatures.
The Red trail was tree covered and gorgeous as well. It begins as you snowshoe past a small pond/collection dam at the top of the hill along a grove of conifers. You head down the hill quite quickly along a ravine on your left-hand side into the hardwood forest. Our Driftless area is famous for these ravines that are basically sink holes in the valley. They are classic Driftless topography and Karst geology. The afternoon sun was very nice as it settled into the valleys.
As you come to the bottom of the hill there are many obvious paths to go on but they are not really marked well. I did many out and back trails along the Ash Creek again and saw the upper end of the Black trail I was on the day before. I also found the other parking lot with the physical address of: 27509 Mutch Lane, Richland Center. This parking lot is a lot bigger than the corner up on Hillview Drive and it is paved. This is where I will likely park next time if I do the upper part of the Ash Creek Forest trails.
As you do the Red or Yellow trail on this upper end of the park-keep in mind, what goes downhill must go uphill again! My MapMyFitness said my gain was 226 feet. It felt a lot more than that! I had to stop many times on the way back up. The red and yellow trails are clear of brambles/logs but do keep in mind, you are fairly remote. This area of the park will be so wonderful once we get the trails marked better! If you are a local, go check out these great trails. If you are new to our area-you will still find the Black & Green trails very nice. I have included a pdf map of the whole community forest-there are other trails to see and do and I will report on them if I get back to them this year. If you have any comments or advice-please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add notes to this report.
I find the weather forecast quite frustrating anymore! We were supposed to get 3-5 inches of snow last night and we are lucky if we got an inch. Our snow is still present but it is icy and hardpacked. I rate our snow currently poor-fair. What a difference a fresh coat of powder makes! We have a few opportunities for light snow this week and next weekend there is a forecast for more heavy snow. I sure hope so! Follow these reports as I continue to make my way around all the public trails in Richland County!