For my third trip into the Hoosier National Forest, I made three stops - the Paw Paw Marsh, the Initial Point, and the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest. Explorers can find all three locations in the ‘southern section’ of the Hoosier National Forest, all of which are around French Lick and Paoli.
As with any venture into the Hoosier National Forest, make sure you wear bug spray in warmer months, long pants (and sleeves if possible) to deter ticks and hiking books. All three locations require a bit of hiking, and cell service is poor, so plan accordingly. The Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest would be fine for children and pets, but Paw Paw Marsh and the Initial Point are more rigorous trails than what you might find in a state park and are probably best left to the more experienced (and adventurous) hiker.
The Paw Paw Marsh As with many other wonderful features of the Hoosier National Forest, the Paw Paw Marsh is part of the Lost River. Specifically, it’s a flooded wetland around an oxbow bend of the Lost River south of Shoals and due west of French Lick.
To get to Paw Paw from French Lick, travel west on U.S. Route 150 (Indiana’s Historic Pathways - South Spur) until you get to Butler Ridge Road (just before the hamlet of Lacy). Head south on Butler Ridge Road until you hit County Road 41 (just past the Lost River). There’s a small gravel parking lot/turn-off on the left/east side of the road (as you travel south). Park there, but walk about 50 feet further south on the road until you see the gate to the path back to the marsh. Wear waterproof hiking boots, or prepare to get your feet wet.
Paw Paw is a beautiful spot but very rural and not really designed for easy exploring in the way I might hike along a state park trail. The Paw Paw trail back is also rough with lots of standing water, so be prepared. DON’T GET INTO THE ACTUAL MARSH, as it’s a functioning wetland, and the less human interaction with it, the better. But, the path back has numerous places to walk out to the edge of the wetlands for great views. If you are a photographer, definitely bring your camera as the wildlife thrive in the area and don’t seem camera shy. Beaver, heron, egrets, whitetail deer, and muskrats are all common to see! The marsh is surrounded by a hardwood forest that’s also worth exploring.
Initial Point After the colonization of the Old Northwest Territory began, the federal government sought to survey the acquired land to establish property lines for all real estate. After the territory was formed, a committee of the Continental Congress (headed up by Thomas Jefferson) initiated a survey system for all new land acquired by the United States. According to the Forest Service, “the rectangular system of public land surveys was initiated in Ohio and Indiana. Indiana was the first state to be completely laid out under this survey system.”
The Initial Point is a single location in Indiana representing the intersection of two imaginary lines - the 2nd Principal Meridian (which runs north and south) and the Baseline (which runs east and west). Indiana is then divided into survey townships, all of which refer back to this point. Think of all Indiana real estate (public and private) as existing on a giant cartesian plane. The Initial Point would be the intersection of the x and y axes.
A ceremonial marker for the Initial Point is placed on the lawn of the Orange County courthouse in Paoli, but the real Initial Point lies a few miles south in the Hoosier National Forest.
To get there from Paoli, travel south on State Road 37. About 5.5 miles south of Paoli, you’ll see a turn-off (right/west) on E. Pivot Point Road. There’s parking and a short trail that will lead you back to the original Initial Point. The interpretative signs help explain how the point ‘works’ in the system.
Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest The highpoint of this second adventure into the HNF was the Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest, a beautiful 88-acre hardwood forest just southeast of Paoli. This particular type of forest all but vanished in the 1800s after settlers heavily deforested the state during colonization. PMMF is one of the few remaining examples of what forests were once like in Indiana.
The Cox family preserved the site from 1816-1940 before the Forest Service purchased the land for the Hoosier National Forest. In subsequent years, archaeologists found evidence of a Native American village that once existed in the area.
There are two ways into the forest - an entrance w/parking off US Route 150 (traveling out of Paoli, headed southeast) or along State Road 37, just south of Paoli. About half of the trail is paved. The rest is not. However, the unpaved section is easy to navigate as well. The trail isn’t that long, but do plan to spend some time here...it’s stunningly beautiful, relaxing, and full of interesting creatures.
As always, bring bug spray if you are traveling in the summer months and your camera, as the views, wildlife, and canopy are spectacular.