Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 2 miles
Configuration: Modified figure 8
Scenery: Olk-growth forests, succession, welands
Exposure: Mostly shaded
Traffic: Generally very light except during spring
Trail Surface: Dirt
Hiking Time: 1-1.5 hours
Season: Year-round, but best in spring, fall, and winter
Access: Dawn to dusk
Maps: USGS Connersville; trail-marker guides available at trailside sign-in stations.
For More Information: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Nature Preserves, (317) 232-4052
Special Comments: Everything in Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve is protected. Spring is best for birdwatchers and wildflower enthusiasts. Winter is great for solitude seekers.
This small nature preserve is about one hour from Cincinnati and 7 miles northwest of Connersville in Fayette County, Indiana. Nestled into rural farmland near the small town of Bentonville, Indiana, the Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve is a wonderful trail far off the beaten path, which means it has light traffic and very little ambient noise. In fact, at times it is so peaceful and calm that you can hear your own heart beating. The terrain is easy to traverse, making it a great winter hiking destination.
In all fairness, I am slightly biased as I grew up in this area and enjoyed hiking in the “Weaver Woods” with my mother and brother when I was young. But after you experience the sheer beauty of the woods and the perfect stillness, I bet you’ll be a bit biased too.
The preserve was a gift to the people of Indiana from Laz and Edith Weaver, who donated their 108-acre historic property as well as Philip Shrader’s 1830 home located on the site. They donated the property
to The Nature Conservancy, which then transferred it to the State of Indiana.
For the botanist, Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve is a delightful slice of history. The preserve hosts a 28-acre old-growth forest, an incredible diversity of wildflowers, a successional forest, and a seep spring. For the nature nut, the mixture of habitats brings a delightful array of songbirds and woodpeckers as well as white-tailed deer, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, and raccoons.
Spring is the best time for wildflower and songbird enthusiasts, and the winter months are best for wildlife watchers who enjoy seeing animal tracks in the snow as well as hearing the occasional snort and stomp of a deer.
To begin the hike, turn off North County Road 450 West and into the parking area directly off the road. The gravel lane leads to a private residence. The parking area for this hike is between the gravel lane and the signage for Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve.
Take note of the rules and regulations sign and be sure to closely follow the Leave No Trace principles.
Look beyond the rules and regulations sign to the wood line to the south for a bright yellow trail marker. Enter the woods at this main trailhead. The earthen trail is wide enough for two people.
Big Woods Trail and the connector path to the Succession Trail are at 0.2 miles. Sign in at the Big Woods station and grab a copy of the self-guided tour (under the board for the sign-in sheets) to interpret the natural information. at numbered posts along the trail. To begin the Big Woods hike, proceed to the right to the Big Woods trailhead.
Except for one steep hill, the trail path is wide and winds gently through the woods. The self-guided tour is a nice addition to understanding the history and nature of the area. Please refer to it for supplemental information about the nature preserve.
While you’re likely to see or hear woodpeckers in the old-growth forest, several other residents such as screech, barred, and greathorned owls may go unnoticed. The sugar maple and American beech forest is common in the Greater Cincinnati area, but the sheer age of trees in the Big Woods makes this a unique hike. A great example of a beech tree is at trail marker 2; notice how the bark is gray and smooth. Look around: a fierce competition rages between the beech and sugar maple saplings as they fight for survival under the dense canopy of the older trees.
Oak species in the Shrader-Weaver Woods include bur, swamp white, white, red, and chinquapin. Near trail marker 6, the forest changes and now is dominated by tulip poplar trees.
Walk toward the footbridge and note the enormous bur oak at marker 7. This massive tree and several others along the trail are roughly 200 years old. The path winds uphill for a short while and passes a few black cherry trees. A black cherry tree’s bark is very dark and looks as if someone glued burned potato chips to the bark.
Take a journey back in time 0.2 miles into the Big Woods Trail. A fallen tree, cut to allow trail access, provides a slice of history when you stop to count the number of rings. Each ring represents one year of growth. Years with good growing conditions are wider than years when the tree was under stress. The
trail heads up a slight hill, with the edges of adjacent farm fields visible as the trail curves through the old woods.
The path soon passes through a forest of American beech, sugar maple, black walnut, green and white ash, black cherry, tulip, and red elm trees of various ages. After 0.4 miles, the trail bends sharply and heads down a steep hill to a footbridge over a gulley area littered with glacial boulders.
At marker 20, you’ll see an excellent example of American hornbeam, also known as blue-beech or ironwood. Pawpaws, dogwoods, spicebush, and a multitude of saplings also complement the diverse understory. When the trail joins with the connector, turn right and enjoy the walk under the cathedral-like canopy of the large oak, tulip, and maple trees.
Sign in at the station and grab a tour guide to the Succession Trail. The clearly marked trailhead is to the right of the sign-in station. This area is going through succession from an agricultural field (1970) to the early succession or pioneer species you see today. The most common are boxelder, black cherry, red elm, and tulip trees, as well as hackberry and sugar maple.
About 150 yards into Succession Trail, the path climbs uphill, goes downhill, and then flattens out into a slightly older stand of trees. Head uphill to an incredible bur oak tree at marker 3, about 0.4 miles into Succession Trail. At over 5 feet in diameter and with an expansive branching pattern, the tree is about 200 years old, experts surmise.
Note the patchy bark of the white oaks throughout the area. The ground area to the right is a seep spring. Sycamores, white oaks, hackberries, American hornbeams, poison ivy, skunk cabbages, marsh marigolds, and jewelweeds thrive in the wet woods.
Cross the nice boardwalk deck that was built by David Sawyers and Troop 136 as an Eagle Service Project in 1989. The trail climbs uphill past a thicket of multiflora rose and invasive species such as bush honeysuckle. Head downhill to the junction point, turn right, and take the main trail back to your vehicle.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
If you’re itching for more hiking, head to the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary 7 miles south of Connersville, off IN 121. In Connersville you can find restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations. The Whitewater Valley Railroad hosts several themed events throughout the year. And, in honor of my grandparents, Francis and Margaret Keller, stop in Kunkel’s and grab a strawberry milkshake—just watch out for that ice-cream headache.