Key At-A-Glance Information
Length: 3.6 miles
Scenery: Prairie, forest, and ponds
Exposure: Open in prairie areas, shaded in woods
Trail Surface: Soil
Hiking Time: 2-3 hours
Driving Distance: 15 minutes south from Connersville, Indiana
Maps: USGS Alpine; property maps available at kiosk on site
Wheelchair Accessible: No
Facilities: Toilet, water, and picnic shelters
For More Information: (765) 827-0908 or www.indianaaudubon.org/MaryGray
Special Comments: Great destination for birding enthusiasts, plus the public is welcome to attend several of the nature programs offered throughout the year.
In memory of their daughter Mary, Alice Greene Gray and Congressman Finley H. Gray donated 600 acres of land to establish the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary. Since the initial series of donations in the 1940s, the sanctuary has grown to more than 700 acres of rolling forests, as well as spacious meadows and prairies. In addition to the multitude of small wooded streams, several ponds dot the landscape.
The diversity of habitats leads to a long list of wildlife living in the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary. When I visited during the winter, I interrupted a pair of coyotes hunting in the open prairie, startled several deer, and listened to the sounds of nuthatches, brown creepers, and many different woodpeckers. The sanctuary is even livelier in spring and summer, when nesting songbirds return to the area. Pileated woodpeckers, dark-eyed juncos, and white-eyed vireos, as well as cerulean and prairie warblers, orchard orioles, and summer tanagers are regularly spotted.
Park in the lot near the kiosk at the end of the entrance road. The kiosk has property maps, Indiana Audubon Society information, and checklists for birds and mammals.
Walk around the kiosk to the entrance road and turn to the southwest (so that your back is to the buildings). The entrance becomes a limited-access service road. Stay on the service road past the fallen-in brick building until you reach the open prairie. Take the 7 trail to the right and head along the edge of the prairie and the woods. Several bluebird boxes line the edge of the trail to the right. Approximately 0.1 mile into the hike, trails 7 and 2 connect. Take the 2 trail into the woods and over a small footbridge.
At the next trail junction, remain on 2, which heads left and downhill
The creek winds through the forest valley. Pass the bridge to Woodland Trail/4th Pond/9 and remain on 2. The low-lying areas are filled with wide, tall American beech trees, cottonwoods, and sugar maples. Along the left side of the trail at 0.5 miles is a hollowed-out beech.
Forty yards beyond this is a fallen beech tree that has been cut to allow access along the path—count the number of growth rings to determine the tree’s age. Along this stretch of the trail is a massive American beech tree.
Cross the metal footbridge at 0.6 miles. The trail climbs steadily uphill for 0.25 miles. During this section, red and white oak, beech, sugar maple, and tulip trees, plus a good variety of saplings and understory plants, combine to create a textbook example of a secondary forest.
After 0.7 miles, the woods open into a meadow dotted with a few large trees. Remain on 2 through the open meadow area. Purple ironweed, goldenrod, thistles, and grasses attract butterflies and birds.
At 0.8 miles, a small pavilion sits atop one of the high points of the hike. Here you can take a break and enjoy the view. The junction of 2 and 8A is located at the pavilion. Remain on 2 as it heads back downhill and past the junction of 10.
As you continue on 2, the trail leads to the bottom of the hill and back into the woods. Red and white oak, beech, sugar maple, and tulip trees line the edges of the trail through this secondary growth forest.
The trail narrows to the size of a deer path as it meanders back and forth until it reaches a steep path to a footbridge at 1 mile. Along this section of the hike, the trail crosses several more footbridges. Be careful of your step, especially if you’re hiking in wet weather or during the fall season, when leaves can make footbridges and steep slopes treacherous.
When trails 2 and 1 intersect 80 yards ahead, take the 1 trail to the left and cross the bridge over the creek. In 0.1 mile, 1 will intersect with a trail labeled CG; stay on 1.
Over the next 0.5 miles, the trail crisscrosses creeks and wooded hillsides lined with black cherry, white and red oak, shagbark hickory, tulip, and beech trees. Remain on 1 to the entrance road.
Look 20 feet across the road and follow the signs for Cardinal Loop Trail 4 to the left. In 0.25 miles is the junction of the 4 and 5 trails. Follow 5 to your left. You’ll pass through an area with several downed trees.
One-half mile into trail 5 is a steep hill to a footbridge. When the trail joins Woodpecker Trail 3, follow Woodpecker Trail 3 to the left along the edge of the creek.
The trail leads up and down hills into an open forest and over several footbridges crisscrossing the creek. Woodpecker Trail 3 runs along the ridgelines, lending excellent views of the surrounding ravines. Eventually it heads back downhill and to a bridge, where it connects with 6 and 7. Take 6 to the right, cross the bridge, and continue on the trail heading back toward the creek and into the woods.
Follow the trail to the left. Three-tenths of a mile after entering the woods again, the trail leads to an open area near the ponds. Remain on trail 6 and head to the right. The trail then opens to a grassy field with picnic areas. Turn left to return to the parking area.
GPS Trailhead Coordinates
While you are in the area, make time to hike the Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve 7 miles northwest of Connersville. In Connersville, you can find restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations. The Whitewater Valley Railroad hosts several themed events throughout the year.