It's always surprising (but kind of gratifying since it's restful to have places to yourself) just how underutilized Lucas County's public lands are --- and there are thousands of acres to range across. While ranging, I rarely run across more than one or two other human critters --- often no one at all. Including weekends. Odd.
Consider the options --- Thirteen miles of Cinder Path commence in Chariton and can be accessed in shorter segments between here and Humeston at many crossings. Then there's Red Haw State Park, a mile east of town; Pin Oak Marsh, a mile south; and undeveloped areas of the Chariton River Greenbelt, accessible among other places via a gap in the Chariton Cemetery fence.
Range a little father and thousands of acres of Stephens State Forest are freely accessible in southwest and northeast Lucas County. Then there's Williamson Pond, the "sloughs" --- Brown and Colyn; many public access gateways to the greenbelt; the areas (and trails) at Ellis and Morris lakes; and other spots I've forgotten.
So where the heck is everybody?
Even wheelchair users can enjoy Pin Oak Marsh, where a paved trail commences at the Lodge, then winds southeast to an observation deck over the water. It's among the easiest walks in the county, always accompanied by birdsong (the red-wings are a little territorial at the moment, however).
Since I've been roaming the prairie (sort of) recently, I went down to Pin Oak Sunday evening to see what I could see there without straying far from the trail.
I was gratified to find a small colony of Rattlesnake Master down by the observation deck, and buttonbush with its feet in the water just north of the deck. But waded into the grass just off the path to take a photo (top) of Blue Vervain (Verbena bastata), just coming into bloom now.
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) also are showing up brightly now.
And it was great to see --- not far beyond the first bench and to the right alongside the path --- an expanding colony of Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya) spiking up and nearly ready to bloom.
Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) also is blooming low to the ground.
Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is putting on the most dramatic show at the marsh right now, but be a little careful around this one. Every bit of it is poison --- the root, especially deadly (as "Hemlock" might suggest).
My friend Linda O'Connell tells me, by the way, that Highway 65 is now open between Derby and Humeston and that the balance of the stretch to Lucas (barring some flagging action while shoulders are finished) might open this week. That's great news and also means that the big Liatris (Blazing Star) show right along the highway midway between Derby and Lucas should be easily accessible.