July 2009 Issue
Choose Your Getaway
Butler County offers outdoor recreation for all ages.
Forested hills, an abundance of water and lush valleys for agriculture attracted early pioneers to the area that is now Butler County, Ohio. Although the industrious settlers in the Great Miami River Valley built mills, stores and businesses — and the canals and railroads to service them — the natural beauty of the area remains. Even as Butler County developed, land was set aside for recreation and parks and, in recent years, wetland nature preserves have been acquired that residents and visitors alike can enjoy.
“We are lucky to have a large chunk of land like the VOA (Voice of America Park) in the southeastern part of the county,” says Bonny Seegmueller, naturalist with MetroParks of Butler County. “It gives us a place to offer open spaces and outdoor activities to the increasing suburban population there.”
The park near I-75 in West Chester is surrounded by commercial properties and housing developments, but this green oasis offers a new lodge with a snack bar, meeting rooms and a fish and bait shop. You can fish, rent paddleboats, let your dog socialize at Wiggly Field Dog Park, walk the nature trails or attend a concert at the amphitheater.
Individuals can challenge their personal skill and daring at Wake Nation, a new venture in Joyce Park at the edge of Fairfield and Hamilton. One of only six cable wakeboarding facilities in the country, Wake Nation offers boatless water-skiing, wakeboarding and wakeskating on a 12-acre, man-made lake with its own three-acre island.
Accessed from River Road, Joyce Park is definitely a sports mecca, with soccer fields, an 8,000-square-foot, all-concrete skate park (open to BMX bikers on Tuesdays and Thursdays), a driving range and more. It is at the southern end of a wide asphalt biking and hiking path that runs for miles along the top of a levee through shady arches of trees, and into sunlit views of the Great Miami River and downtown Hamilton at the northern end near the Fitton Center for Creative Arts.
Middletown’s largest and most active recreation space is Smith Park, with soccer fields, an extensive skate park and a fishing lake.
“One of the best reasons to fish at Smith Pond is that no license is needed,” says Abby Ison, recreation administrator. “Families can bring all the kids [and] see if they have the patience for fishing.” Visitors are also drawn to the shaded hiking and biking path along a section of the old Miami-Erie Canal and the Canal Museum in a replica lock tender’s house near the Titus Road entrance.
Even some active parks have their quiet places, such as the area set aside in Joyce Park as a bird sanctuary. Other green spaces, such as the MetroParks’ Governor Bebb Preserve, have been developed and maintained as quieter spaces.
“Only 12 spots are available in the camping area at Governor Bebb. Potable water is available near the ranger’s house,” says Seegmueller. “It’s very primitive, but people like camping by the creek, hearing the babbling of the water at night and hiking the trails during the day.”
Historic log cabins from around the county have been assembled in a shaded grove, placed to resemble an 1812 village. There is also a covered bridge that has been preserved, and nature programs here often address the human impact on the area’s natural history.
A cool way to spend a hot summer day is to go “creeking” at Governor Bebb or Indian Creek to search for fossils. “Butler County has some of the best geological formations in the world because of the Cincinnati Arch [geological formation] and its exposed fossil remains,” says Seegmueller. “Miami University does a lot of studies at our Indian Creek area because of the ‘Cincinnati hash,’ a mix of fossils that can be found there. And, because the creek is so very clean, it’s a good place to look for frogs and salamanders.”
If you have a horse, you can head to the public horse trails in Sebald Park. The Butler County Chapter of the Ohio Horseman’s Council scouted the area and led the volunteers who recently cleared the extended eight and a half miles of horse trails that wind through varied terrain with an overlook area and breathtaking scenery.
For those on foot, the MetroParks have plenty of opportunities to get back to nature on quiet trails that wind through forests and across meadows. Rentschler Forest Park and Preserve has a 1.3-mile pond loop trail or shorter sections on the canal path trail that edge the Great Miami River, with remnants of the old Miami-Erie Canal that linked Lake Erie and the Ohio River in the early 19th century.
“The return of beaver, fox and mink indicate that we still have wild places in the county,” says Seegmueller. “They are showing up mostly in our western preserves, but have even been sighted in areas surrounded by industry, such as Gilmore Ponds.” Visitors can spend time in the bird blind at Gilmore Ponds, then, on the hike back, encounter a group of Canadian Geese and their many fuzzy goslings just a few feet away, paddling about in the abandoned canal.
Art in the Parks
Butler County is also home to Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum, a unique local property with a national reputation. According to Atlantic Monthly magazine, “The 265 acres here, in the midst of rolling hills, are surely the most beautiful natural setting for any art park in the country.”
The continually evolving collection includes more than 50 large works, many by internationally know sculptors, such as Jon Isherwood. The property has an extensive series of roadways for drive-by viewing and three hiking trails that wind through the forested areas between the sculptures, each strategically placed for maximum visual impact.
Art, culture and history enhance the natural beauty of the many parks in Butler County. Throughout the summer, community festivals and concerts enliven the city parks in Fairfield, Hamilton, Middletown and the MetroParks’ Joyce Park. There are historic places to explore, such as the MetroParks’ Chisholm Historic Farmstead or the 1812 village at Governor Bebb Preserve. Nature lovers also enjoy bird watching, “creeking” or a leisurely day of fishing.