Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Roads less traveled: Olmitz Hill & beyond

This was going to be entitled "Woodland Hike," or something like that --- until we had so much trouble getting up Olmitz Hill on Facebook yesterday. That's a view above looking down Olmitz Hill to the North Cedar Creek crossing at its base. The road forks beyond the bridge. Turn right and you'll be driving through the site of the coal mining ghost town of Olmitz in the Cedar Creek valley; turn left, and you'll pass the site of the main shaft of the Olmitz mine. Neither is evident these days, although there is a small monument to the village at a curve in the right-forking road some distance to the east.

Olmitz Hill is called that because of its proximity to the ghost village and the former mine --- I was a little surprised that more people didn't know that. It is legendary in the neighborhood because of its steepness. Back in the old days --- when Henry Ford favored gravity feed --- if you approached Olmitz Hill from the north in your Model-T it was entirely possible that its engine would sputter and die half way up, you'd end up coasting backwards down the hill, turning around and backing up and over.

I've cobbled together this map to show the general locations of the aforementioned --- as well as the site of one of my favorite October timber hikes, where I was headed in the first place.

As you can see in the photos below, taken from about three-quarters of the way up, Olmitz Hill is indeed --- for Iowa --- steep. Not quite in the switch-back category, but getting there.

In order to get to Olmitz Hill, and the woodland hike site, from Chariton, just drive east out of town on on County Road H32, also known as the Squirrel Road or the Road to Nowhere, about seven miles. I would under some circumstances say, turn north (left) then at the Dickerville corner, but that would just confuse the issue since Dickerville School is long gone. I believe the road you want to turn left on (the first road headed north west of Bethel Church and Cemetery) is now called 300th Trail.

Just follow its twists and turns and you'll come to this nest of signs at the southern edge of the Cedar Creek Unit of Stephens State Forest --- here, the DNR has installed most of its signage arsenal.

The next mile or so, driving through woodland until you reach the bottom of Olmitz Hill, is one of the loveliest short fall drives in the county. About midway along, watch for this turn-off to the west (left). It is not marked in any way, other than this sign posted by Lucas County to let you know that the supervisors are no longer responsbile in any way for what happens to you if you drive down it.

But there's nothing to fear, other than a couple of ruts. The gravel surface continues to a well-maintained turn-around parking area in the edge of the woods and a rather decisive looking barricade. Once upon a time, the road rambled on, descended a hill and crossed Cedar Creek. The bridge is gone now, but you can still hike the roadbed. Sometimes, state forest crews blade the surface --- but not recently. 

I wouldn't advise taking this walk right now --- there are too many horse-sized mosquitoes. But after a hard frost or two and when more of the leaves turn, it's a lovely and placid place. I'll go back in mid-October.

If you'd like to see what the area looks like during late October, follow this link.

And if you're interested in reading more about Olmitz, go here.


Anonymous said...

"County Road H32, also known as the Squirrel Road or the Road to Nowhere"

Lots of rumors about why that road was built. Any insights?

Frank D. Myers said...

Not exactly, but there was considerable optimism in rural areas into the 1980s that sufficient funding would be available to pave more of the state's designated Farm-to-Market road system (used to pave the "road to nowhere" and other projects). I've heard, but not investigated, that long-range planning called for a paved H-32 that would continue north and south at the "T" where paving now ends, connecting with Highway 34 to the south; north and westerly with a paved H-20 and Williamson; and north and east to the Monroe County line. Funding priorities shifted and that didn't happen.