With the permission of writer DeWayne Bartels I reprint a story he wrote and published recently. His story reads as follows:
Joshua Henry was in pursuit of adventure when he left home Jan. 7. The four-year-old found it, but now where he expected. Joshua and his father Todd left their home near Dunlap that warm Saturday headed to Peoria Heights Tower Park. Joshua wanted to ride the elevator to the top of the tower for a view. With the elevator closed, Todd headed to Grandview Drive to let the boy have a look around. It was there in the first turnabout on Grandview Drive the pair found their key to adventure.
A trail waits. The pair was completely unaware of the Pimiteoui Trail until they saw the sign near it. Quickly realizing it led into the woods they were looking over from Grandview Drive the pair headed in “Joshua saw the trail and said, ‘Lets follow it,” Todd said. The pair found themselves heading down a valley populated with tall bare trees and many fallen ones. They had to step carefully because the ground was muddy on the steep downward slope. On the valley floor they walked on a carpet of leaves.
The sun was at their back casting strange shadows in the incredibly quiet confines. Bluffs arose on both sides of them. It was all new to both but it evoked good memories for Todd. “When I was a kid I was in the woods all the time,” Todd said. I grew up in Mt. Zion. Il. My friends and I were in the woods as kids until the street lights came on.”
As they crossed a wooden bridge over a dry creek bed Joshua looked up into the trees that dwarfed him. Joshua was looking for something. “I’m looking for woodpeckers,” he said. His eyes widened, full of wonder, as he described having seen a Downy Woodpecker earlier. “He was pecking,” Joshua said, nodding his head, “He had red and white on him.” Todd smiled as his boy talked quickly about how much he liked the trail. “It’s beautiful here.” Todd said. “We’ll definitely be back.”
Mission accomplished. Mike Miller, chief naturalist for the PPD, chuckled as he heard the story about the Henry’s. Their story is typical. A lot of people go to Grandview to look at the view but they don’t get out of their car to look around, so they miss the trail,” Miller said. “Many of the people, who do find it, find it by accident. We find that when people do discover it though they’re frequent visitors.” Miller said the 1 ¼ mile trail one way is a favorite of his. It is Part of the Forest Park Nature Center trail network, but it’s entrance from Grandview Drive or across the street from the nature center if not nearly as well known as the trails behind the nature center. And even for those who are familiar with the trail hiking it in January is uncommon. But, Jan. 7, with temperatures jumping into the 50’s, beckoned people to the trail. “The nice thing about the (Pimiteoui) trail is that there is enough room for people to spread out and seldom cross path’s,” Miller said. “People get the idea it’s their private retreat because there is such solitude there, that’s good. That means people are taking ownership of the trail.” On warm winter days the trail is a treat, Miller said. The demeanor of the trail and its surroundings are different, much more stark in winter. On the ascent to the summit of the trail with less tall prairie grass, huge boulders left by a glacier that retreated from this area 10,000 years ago are visible. If one keeps a sharp eye there is even a boulder to be seen protruding from the bottom of a large tree that grew over the boulder.
The crowning aspect of the trail, according to Miller is the summit of the trail that rises between the two valleys. In the winter with the sun lower in the southern sky at the summit one can look into the valley to the south and find it well-lit, inviting looking. But, a turn of the head looking into the northern valley with less sunlight reveals a foreboding atmosphere.
Miller said one of the “neat” things about the trail is that it offers one a look at several different native habitats dating back eons. He also likes the fact that this section of Mother Nature’s handiwork is not static. “There’s a dramatic difference in the trail in summer and winter. The more you expose yourself to the trail the more you notice the differences even between a cloudy and a sunny day,” Miller said. “This place is different every day.”
But one thing is the same as it was ages ago- the prairie found at the trail’s summit. When the trail was opened in the early 80’s the architects of the trail had little to go on in terms of restoring the area to its original state. However, Miller said some clues emerged by listening to the woods. They found trades of native prairie grasses on the south slope of the summit. Those plants could only grow with a lot of sunlight. The young trees that were growing there were cleared out and the plants came back. Then a few years ago a postcard, dating back to the 1900’s showing the area from Grandview Drive showed the area as a prairie. “Those species of plants are there now are hard to find in wooded area’s,” Miller said. The plants and the trail, Miller added, provides a trip back in time.
“It’s a walk through all the different habitats that have existed there for a long time,” Miller said. “When you look at those plants on the summit you’re looking at our sequoias. Those things date back to the Paleo-Indians who hunted mammoths here 10,000 years ago…We are extremely lucky to have this.”
Because of this article I finally found and walked the Pimiteoui Trail. It was early summer and the walk was made in pure solitude and quietness. I suggest if you are older like myself, you might walk halfway and then walk back. Drive around to the other side and repeat as it is a 2 ½ mile round trip. Next time I’ll walk it on a pleasant winter day.
DeWayne, great article and the Peoria Park District and the community is fortunate to have Mike Miller, a true naturalist.