Charlestown State Park Trails
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City Parks Trails - Charlestown
If rugged to moderate hiking is your strong point, the trails at Charlestown State park should be of interest. This park has over twelve miles of pathways, and is one of the newer additions to Indiana ’s state park system. It opened in 1996, and has seen the gradual addition of trails, picnic shelters, boat launch, and other park facilities since that time.
Much of the park’s ground was part of the U. S. Army’s 15,000-acre Indiana Armory Ammunition Plant from 1940 to 1995. Its use as a state park came about via the federal lands to parks program, an ongoing project within the National Park Service to facilitate transfer of “surplus federal land to state and local governments,” in order to ensure public access and to protect these properties.
Charlestown State Park also includes Fourteenmile Creek and a lengthy bank along the Ohio River where the popular fishing stream empties into it. The state Department of Natural Resources reports that Fourteenmile Creek is “one of the oldest unglaciated stream valleys in Indiana .”
Because this park is situated on and among bluffs and cliffs along the river, all but some 2.6 miles of its trails are rated rugged. Trails 2 and 5 are both moderate hikes. Number 2 is just under 1½ miles; it starts out near the shelters as level, broad, mowed grass and dips into the woods. Trail number 5 is a 1.2 mile straight line and then oval path near the campgrounds.
Trail 3 descends two miles to the lower levels of the park and follows the west bank of Fourteenmile Creek just above where it joins with the Ohio River . This trail is currently closed, however, due to construction and placement of a pedestrian bridge across the creek to a section of rocky terrain called the Devil’s Backbone.
Historically, the late 1800s saw this section used for retreats and picnics. In 1923, the property became Rose Island Amusement Park , with several rides, hotel, swimming pool, and other attractions. It was a popular destination from Madison , Indiana , just upriver, and from Louisville , Kentucky as well. The spot is not actually an island, but a hard-to-reach part of the Indiana shoreline. It’s the east and north bank of the creek, which forms a peninsula-like land mass around which the creek winds to its entry with the river. The resort there was destroyed by a 500-year flood of the river in 1937.
The trail and bridge will hopefully be completed and reopened by summer, 2011. Not only hiking, but fishing, too, are popular activities along this stretch of park waterway.
Nearest to the park’s main entrance on State Road 62 is Trail 1, a 2.4 mile rugged hike that parallels the creek somewhat, but is further upstream from the river.
Trail 4 begins up above the river, where Number 3 sets out, and is 2.9 miles of the rugged hillsides bordering the creek. Number 6 trail is reached near the river, across from the boat launch area, where the lay of the land is flatter. However, it winds back into the valley wall, making for a rugged 2.3 mile hike.
As you decide where to start, keep in mind that all of the paths are loops, with one or two lead-in tracks. These Ohio River and creek terrain trails offer good places for bird and wildflower viewing, or for studying floodplain and higher forest types. Bald eagles may sometimes be seen here. There are also postcard snapshots of the river and creek system. In addition, Devonian rock outcrops and fossils can be studied. Devonian Age deposits were laid down over 400 million years ago, and that time period is sometimes referred to as the Age of Fishes. Falls of the Ohio State Park , just southwest of here, also contains extensive Devonian Age layers, and is especially known for its exposed coral formations, reminding visitors of the marine environment that this area once was. For those who may want to take part in group hikes, the park offers an event schedule. It includes trail walks, rock hound hike sessions, fishing, and other activities.
Charlestown State Park not only contains interesting trails to give you a workout, but you also should not hike up and down its hillsides without apprising yourself about a centuries-old legend that continues to persist concerning this area. The legend is the case of the Welsh Prince Madoc. Some researchers claim that Madoc came to America in the late 1100s (the date can vary), landed in the Gulf of Mexico region, and then made his way north to the Ohio River Valley—not without confrontation between his people and Native Americans. An old stone foundation can be found in the park, facing the river, that some believe to have been built by Madoc and his clan. Suffice to say, archaeologists are often unconvinced of Madoc’s presence or exploits here, so the debate continues.
Visitors to this Ohio River location should also note that, besides the state park facility, Charlestown has Greenway Park. There is an elaborate Christmas lights show, Founders Day activities in June each year and other events.
Coal Barge on the Ohio River, oil on paper / J. Conrad, artist.