bikingThe Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail spans the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
October is one of my favorite months. Suffocating humidity and around-the-clock air conditioning have given way to days demanding long-sleeve shirts and sweaters coupled with sleeping-with-the-windows-open nights. The woods, meanwhile, shimmer in a kaleidoscope of eye-popping foliage.
With an innate, mysterious knowledge that winter is coming, bass, trout, bluegill, catfish, crappie and their finned cousins are feeding with a vigor that can border on vengeance.
There is no better time to be on the water.
Kentucky’s deer herd—more than 1 million animals and a model of successful whitetail management—is healthy, heavy-bodied and restless. Poised on the cusp of the rut, bucks are posturing for does and battling each other.
Archery and crossbow deer season is open. An October weekend is dedicated to a whitetail muzzleloader hunt. Another is reserved for young hunters. The modern gun deer season is only weeks away.
Although squirrel season has been open since mid-August, it finally feels like squirrel season. The first wave of migrating teal has come and gone, foreshadowing the waterfowl migrations that begin to appear with the arrival of Thanksgiving.
There is no better time to be in the woods.
Hikers, backpackers, campers and bicyclists have emerged, re-energized, from their humidity-soaked summer doldrums and returned to the woods and trails.
Football season is hitting its stride. The best teams in baseball are shucking off weaker playoff opponents and moving toward the World Series.
What’s not to love about October?
When I was a youngster in the flatlands of Missouri, October weekends often meant a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon squirrel hunt. I’d sometimes go alone but would usually call one of my pals and, assuming chores were finished (or could be safely ignored), we’d grab a rifle—usually a hand-me-down or older brother’s scoped .22 Remington affixed with a homemade sling—straddle a bicycle and head toward the woods, which were at the edge of town. Occasionally, the trips would result in wild game for the larder.
Age and other interests eventually stopped my friends and me from peddling our way into the squirrel woods. But I haven’t stopped biking. I still sometimes grab a fishing pack stuffed with rod, reel, leaders, flies, tools and waders and use my bike to reach an out-of-the way stream or otherwise difficult-to-reach stretch of water. And I’ve learned that a landowner who might be hesitant to let a stranger in a vehicle loose on his or her property will often say yes to a fisherman traveling by bike. But most of my biking today is for pleasure and exercise.
That’s what most riders I encountered on the Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail apparently were doing, although the 10.8-mile path affords ample access to both the squirrel woods and fishing waters.
The Central Hardwoods Scenic Trail, which opened a couple of years ago, spans the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, roughly paralleling U.S. Highway 68/80 from Kentucky Lake to Lake Barkley.
Trail designers had dual use in mind when they laid out this path, which stretches from the Fenton Access near the Kentucky Lake Eggner’s Ferry Bridge to the Henry R. Lawrence Memorial Bridge spanning Lake Barkley. The trail is open only to bikers and hikers, not horses or motorized traffic. Plans are underway to replace the ancient 1930s steel bridges that cross the two reservoirs. Construction has begun on the Kentucky Lake bridge. Both will include a hiking/biking lane.
From the Fenton trailhead, the Hardwoods Trail rolls and zigzags through the timber south of the highway. This section of the trail is built of compacted stone but is really not suitable for road bikes. Mountain bikers and hikers, however, can easily negotiate the occasional washout or break in the trail bed. About a mile east of Golden Pond Visitor Center, the trail exits the woods and parallels the highway, crossing the Devil’s Elbow arm of Lake Barkley. This section of the trail is paved and likely gets the most bicycle traffic.
The Central Hardwoods is not a loop trail, so users will need to backtrack or arrange a shuttle, although backtracking is hardly a boring ride. The scenery is spectacular.
There are seven trailheads on the trail, breaking the trek into easily manageable sections of 2.1, 2.1, 2.1, 1.9, 1.9 and 0.7 miles.
A couple of trailheads, like the Sunset access, reflect the historical tapestry of the LBL.
Brothers Conley and Lew Wallace, fresh from their service in the 41st Infantry Division during the Pacific campaign of World War II, returned home and opened the Sunset Inn in 1947. They took the name from the shoulder patch sunset insignia on their infantry uniform. The inn is long gone, but the name remains.