New hikes await in Fort Wayne and Allen County for the 2018 Allen County Trailblazers program

Prairie grass can tower over your head at Arrowhead Prairie, one of the hikes for the 2018 Allen County Trailblazers program. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
People who complete 10 of the 14 Allen County Trailblazers hikes are eligible to receive the program's 2018 medallion. (Courtesy of Allen County Trailblazers program)
You never know what plants and wildlife you may see while out on an Allen County Trailblazers hike. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
You can explore a variety of habitats and seasons by participating in Allen County Trailblazers hikes now through Dec. 31 at various local parks and nature preserves, such as this trail in fall foliage last year at Fox Island County Park. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

Time to hit the trails: The Allen County Trailblazers community hiking program is open for another season of fun and adventures.

The program encourages people to get out and enjoy the outdoors by hiking trails in parks and nature preserves throughout Fort Wayne, New Haven and Allen County.

People who complete 10 of the 14 listed trails by Dec. 31 qualify for a 2018 Allen County Trailblazers medallion, which you can attach to a hiking stick.

You can find out more about the program and join in a kickoff guided hike at during an event from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Metea County Park, 8401 Union Chapel Road. The event and hike are free.

This year’s list of trails includes three new areas:

Blue Cast Springs, 21412 Bluecast Road near Woodburn:

1-mile easy hike

The 88-acre ACRES Land Trust nature preserve protects more than 3,000 feet of Maumee River bank, as well as ravines and an upland forest, it said on the ACRES website.

The preserve also is the site of a natural spring whose water once was thought to be good for your health, the website said. Bluffs stand 30 feet over the river and may have been used by Native Americans to monitor canoe traffic on the river.

Franke Park, 3400 block of Sherman Boulevard:

3.2-mile hike of moderate difficulty

Hikers will explore a portion of the West Loop of trails in the park, including the Goshen, Christmas, No Return and Riverside trails.

Pufferbelly Trail, starting from Smith Field, 902 W. Ludwig Road:

Your choice: 3 miles roundtrip to Wallen Road and back, or 4 miles roundtrip to Till Road and back, all moderate difficulty.

HOW TO GET STARTED

Get started by downloading the Trailblazers registration form here.

Use it to keep track of the dates you complete each of your hikes, and then turn in the form at one of the participating conservation organizations by Jan. 31 to receive your medallion. Each person needs his or her own registration form.

Organizations participating in the Allen County Trailblazers program are ACRES Land Trust, Allen County Parks and Recreation Department, Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department, Fort Wayne Trails, Little River Wetlands Project, and New Haven-Adams Township Parks and Recreation Department.

DOGS CAN JOIN YOU ON MOST TRAILS

New this year, you also can take your dog on all but three trails, as long as you keep it on a leash and pick up and carry out any poop, said Bob Dispenza, park and education manager for Metea County Park.

Dogs are prohibited on trails at three nature preserves — Little River Wetlands Project’s Eagle Marsh and Arrowhead Prairie and New Haven-Adams Township Parks’ Deetz Nature Preserve.

The Allen County Parks department previously didn’t allow dogs on its trails because park officials believed the Indiana Division of Nature Preserves didn’t want any dogs on its preserves, which border some county parks, Dispenza said. Local parks staff thought people with dogs may cross accidentally into the state nature preserves, he said, but staff now have learned people are allowed to bring dogs on trails at state nature preserves.

People also are encouraged to clean off their shoes or hiking boots before entering a park or nature preserve and to clean them off when leaving, Dispenza said. Doing so reduces the chance of spreading invasive plant seeds or starts.

LEARN MORE

• For more about the Allen County Trailblazers program, click here.

• For a list of 2018 trails, click here.

• For more about the organizations involved in sponsoring the program, visit with them at the Allen County Trailblazers program kickoff event 1-3 p.m. Sunday at Metea County Park, 8401 Union Chapel Road. The event includes a guided hike.

LIGHTNING BEETLE FEST

You can learn more about Indiana’s new state insect, the lightning bug, at the Lightning Beetle Fest at 9 p.m. Sunday at Metea County Park, 8401 Union Chapel Road. Bob Dispenza, park and education manager at Metea, will discuss what types of lightning beetles live here and how to attract and identify them. The group then will go out in the park to observe the bugs in action.

Cost is $2 per person. To register or ask for more information, email metea@allencountyparks.org or call 449-8619.

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