Indiana state forests are an often overlooked segment of our Hoosier natural heritage. These are multi-purpose areas that are utilized for timber production, scenic locations, and recreation activities. While there is one state forest, Salamonie River, in norther Indiana, all the rest are located in southern Hoosierland. A classic example of these woodlands is the Jackson-Washington State Forest, located in the two counties with the same name.
The forest is divided into two segments. One is south of Brownstown in Jackson County. The other is northeast of Salem in Washington County. The Muscatatuck River divides the two sections of the forest. The Jackson County segment is in the knobs regions of rounded high hills and is very scenic, with many spectacular overlooks. Several of these can be found along the Skyline Drive, which is a winding, rather narrow road that climbs up to a high knob near the Starve Hollow State Recreation Area. This area is a 281-acre segment of the forest that features a sizeable lake with a swimming beach, boat ramps and fishing piers. It also has a modern campground and hiking trails that lead from the campground up into the state forest.
Near the Starve Hollow area is the 60-acre Knobstone Glades Nature Preserve. This preserve is divided into three segments and features a number of rare plants. These plants are found in a glade, which is an open area surrounded by trees with a limestone base. A trail called the Turkey Roost Trail leads up into one of these rather small openings in the forest. The other two sites are not on a trail and are in a very rugged section of the forest.
Another part of the northern section of the state forest is on highway 39, southeast of Brownstown. It also has a campground and nice picnic and recreation features. There is a small lake and several good hiking trails. The Starve Hollow western section of the Jackson segment of the forest can be reached from highway 135, also from Brownstown.
The Washington County section of the state forest is east of highway 135 and has a well-marked county road that leads to this also very rugged knob-laced area. The Delaney Creek Washington County Park is near the state forest and has a pretty smaller lake and a nice campground. Trails lead from the county park into the state forest and this also is the northern starting point for the Knobstone Trail, Indiana’s longest wooded trail. It extends from the Delaney Creek area all the way along a series of knobs and valleys into the Clark County State Forest and finally ends at the Deam Lake State Recreation Area, which I featured in a past column.
This entire region is one of the most unique sections of Indiana. The knobs extend for miles through Jackson, Washington, Scott and Clark counties until it ends near the Ohio River near New Albany. On the Kentucky side of the Ohio River the knobs continue on for several miles and are much like those you see across the river in Indiana.
A number of hiking trails can be found in the Washington County section of the state forest, and some are rather rugged as they pass across this hilly landscape. Part of these trails are known as the Back County Loop system and can provide hours of quality hiking and outdoor pleasure.
An interesting little side trip while you are in this area is to take highway 235 west from 135 to the longest old covered bridge in the U.S. This is the Medora Bridge that spans the East Fork of White River and is really a historic treasure that has been restored to its past condition. Another interesting history site in this region is the very historic town of Vallonia, which has an old restored frontier fort that dates back to the War of 1812. It is north of 235 and just west of highway 135. As you can see, this part of Indiana does have a lot to offer.