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Springtime at Clifty
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Saturday, March 30, 2013 5:00 AM
Water cascades down a small cliff and pools below along the Hoffman Falls creek.
Fossils like this one can be seen on many of the rocks along the creek bed at the bottom of the Hoffman Falls Trail at Clifty Falls State Park.
Though spring weather decided to drag its feet a bit, signs of the season are beginning to sprout up and sing out at Clifty Falls State Park.
Granted, it may take a little patience and sharp eye to spot the changes.
The park begins charging weekend admission today, which will run until the park's official opening day May 1.
Patrons will be charged $5 for in-state vehicles and $7 for out-of-state vehicles.
The annual Indiana state park pass has increased from $36 to $40 this year. The pass can be used at any state park location.
The nature center will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
Clifty includes 10 different hiking trails totaling 14.4 miles. They range from easy to very rugged, and this year, several of the trails feature new steps and railing.
On Thursday, Naturalist Dick Davis toured some of the highlights on Trail 7, pointing out a few budding plants and scenic spots along the way.
The trail loops throughout the south end of the park. Its main attraction is an overlook - which is handicap accessible - of the park's largest waterfall, but Davis also identified numerous birds and plants that might not be as obvious to hikers.
A few hundred yards into the trail, Davis spotted a Phoebe bird, which he associates with the beginning of spring. The bird has a dark head and pale body and feeds on airborne insects.
"When the Phoebes are back, you know it's spring," he said.
Near Little Clifty Falls, Davis names a few different plants and trees that make up the understory and canopy of the park. The most predominant trees in the park are ash, maple and the tulip poplar - Indiana's state tree.
Davis calls the park's canopy a mesic mixed forest that includes communities of oak trees.
But the park's lower level and canyon side are also a sight to see, he said. Hikers can enjoy the trout lily, which has a quarter-sized yellow bloom in the spring. Davis said the plant gets its name because the leaves resemble the spotted body of a trout.
Another springtime plant, harbinger of spring, features a white petals with black spots, earning itself the nickname salt and pepper.
Davis said he expects the blooming season for spring foliage to be later and somewhat "compressed" this year because of the lagging cooler temperatures. Blooming season typically hits at the beginning of April.
However, as the native plant species begin showing signs of life, so do the evasive species, Davis said. The multifloral rose and autumn olive shrub can both be found throughout the park.
Both plants, native to Asia, are a problem because they crowd out native growth.
"The single biggest ecological threat in the park today is the invasive species," Davis said.
Another issue in recent years has been protecting the wildlife, specifically bats.
All caves on the property - and all other Indiana Department of Natural Resources properties - have been closed to protect against the spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is deadly to bats.
When the fungus, believed to be transmitted by humans, is present in a cave system, it can spread rapidly from bat to bat and cause dehydration or starvation.
Even without the caves, the park still offers plenty of sights - regardless of the season.
Matt Taylor, assistant property manager for Clifty Falls, said the trails offer a great view of the park even outside of the green season, especially for Clifty Canyon.
"Trail 8 has always been one of my favorites," he said. "It gives you a perfect panoramic view of the canyon. Once you hit summer, when everything is in full view, it kind blocks your view of it."
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