A visit to my hometown last summer had me doing a lot of reflecting on my childhood. Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” and nothing seemed more true than my most recent trip to Turkey Run State Park. Now of course, Turkey Run isn’t my home, but it is one of those vivid and rosy memories I have from my childhood.
I distinctly remember one particular trip when I was in about third grade. I can see my 9-year-old self in neon pink spandex shorts and a ti dye shirt with a duck on the front. How did my mom let me leave the house like that?
On that trip everything had a newness about it. The two hour drive seemed to take about twenty minutes. The shops were full of trinkets I was dying to buy. The steep trails were mountains to conquer.
Fast forward twenty five years. That shining memory has lost a little of its gleam.
As I drove the two hours from Lowell to Turkey Run, my eye picked up on the subtle changes. Barns that once stood out brilliant red against the corn rows were now peeling and sun bleached. The waving rows of corn now have giant alien windmills dotted among them. The canoe outfitters that once were the signal we had arrived now had crumbling signs and rusty gates with Keep Out slapped on the front.
Maybe it’s just that I’m becoming more cynical, but the decaying barns, decrepit roads, and abandoned stores make me feel like something is broken. The shininess of my childhood memories were being tarnished by the reality I saw before me.
The one constant in all of this though were the hiking trails. It’s the one reason I still wish to return.
After paying my seven dollar entrance fee, I pointed the car towards the nature center without even thinking. Parked, I grabbed my small backpack filled with water, a granola bar, and a few extra band-aids and headed for the suspension bridge, the apex of all the good trails.
I had decided I wanted to hit all the highlights which had me hiking a little more than five miles. I started my hike on trail three, a moderate one. I knew the trails that I wanted to hit would have me hiking through creeks, so I was prepared with my Teva sandals. A short jaunt took me to Wedge Rock which, as children, my cousins and I called Wedgie Rock. From there it was into the Punch Bowl.
At the Punch Bowl I had the horror of seeing a painted turtle tumble over the waterfall and bounce off the ravine floor with a sickening thud. Thankfully that shell did its job, and the stunned turtle quickly recovered. I watched for awhile making sure that he was okay before moving on with my hike.
From the Punch Bowl it was up through the top half of Rocky Hollow before climbing down the slippery ladders into the Ice Box which, living up to its name, was noticeably cooler than the air at the top of the ladders.
As I descended the ladders, I was reminded of hiking this trail with my family and remembered my mom obsessively worrying about each of our abilities to get down those ladders without mass casualties. Hiking alone, I remembered her cautionary tales and firmly planted each foot before moving on.
Next, I wound my way to Boulder Canyon where some rock scrambling was involved. My approach had me coming down into the canyon. I picked my way over slick boulders with shaky legs. Reaching the bottom, I took a break and enjoyed the solitude I was finding on this hike.
Five miles passed rather quickly, and before I knew it, I was back on the suspension bridge, eyes gazing down at Sugar Creek, as I crossed back to where I had started.
Hiking the trails brought back some of that childhood magic that I have always associated with Turkey Run. Being among the oak trees and limestone cliffs helped shine up those memories that had tarnished as I drove to the park. And while there is some truth that one can never go home again, it’s nice to know that even though things change, nature has a way of remaining the way it was once remembered.