Blossom Hollow, by Karen Wade

Road Trip: Southern Johnson County

We asked Karen Wade, one of our board members who lives in Johnson County, to recommend some attractions near the Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow. She offered this guest post.

Did you know that Johnson County is known as Festival Country Indiana? And you bet we’ve got festivals and events aplenty; just take a peek here. There’s literally something happening all year long, from craft fairs to car shows to fundraising galas. We have theater, movies, and comedy shows, wine and beer tastings, yoga (with and without goats), and the list goes on.

But if you would like to experience a quieter side of the county—a drive through woods and hills, a hike at a favorite CILTI nature preserve, and perhaps a few other sites not on the festival circuit—well, we’ve got those too. Read on for a few that I’ve compiled into a road trip I hope you’ll enjoy…

Your trip starts with two stops in Franklin. Swing by the Soil and Water Conservation District Office (SWCD) and the Science Center at Franklin College. These are two stops on the Little Native Seed Library Trail, a project sponsored by SWCD and Indiana Native Plant Society. Each library box is hand-painted by a local artist, illustrating native plants, insects and birds. Visitors can take free native seeds to start their own native plant gardens. Although the Seed Library Trail Passport program is finished for this year, you can download the map of all seven seed library locations in the county. Why not start making plans to visit them all next spring?

From Franklin, head south to Johnson County Park and stop at the Native Prairie Garden, which is in its full fall glory at the moment. Franklin College biology professor (and CILTI member) Alice Heikens developed this five-acre native prairie garden. It’s a model of biodiversity, providing habitat for songbirds and butterflies—and it’s gorgeous, too! Continue past the park and stop to visit the Camp Atterbury WWII Prisoner of War Chapel where you can pause for a few minutes of quiet reflection and historical remembrance.

By now you’ll be hungry, so shoot up the road to Grillerz in Nineveh for a crock of house-made cheesy French onion soup. If soup’s not your thing, then try one of their juicy gourmet burgers, beer-battered cod or a breaded tenderloin sandwich. This restaurant is frequented by locals who love the warm and homey atmosphere, awesome food and cold beer. Trust them on this.

Photo by Karen Wade

After your meal, drive west a few miles and pass by Betley Woods at Glacier’s End Nature Preserve where CILTI’s stewardship team has planted over 12,000 trees over the last two years. The preserve isn’t open to the public yet, but you can pin it in your GPS for a future visit. Keep driving just a little further to reach one of CILTI’s most special nature preserves: Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow. Park your car respectfully in the small parking area and hit the trail. Be prepared to be drawn into an astounding experience of nature and peace as you traverse the hills and swales of the loop trail – working off that burger from lunch!

When everyone in your hiking party is sufficiently mesmerized by this beautiful preserve set on stunning Lamb Lake, hop back in your car and retrace your route part way. Stop at The Apple Works orchard where you can taste at least 10 varieties of apples in season before choosing your favorites to take home. While you’re at it, recharge with a cup of wonderful fresh apple cider and a warm apple dumpling. In addition to apple-inspired goodies, the orchard offers a full array of tasty yummies and gifts in the country store. There are friendly farm animals for the kids to visit, as well as mums, pumpkins, winter squash and gourds for purchase.

On your way home, make a quick stop at the Johnson County Public Library’s Trafalgar Branch for a final nature fix for the day. Stroll the half-mile Prairie Path trail, an Indiana Bicentennial Legacy Project, on the library’s grounds. This native tallgrass prairie is replete with wildflowers and grasses, featuring a Story Walk to capture the imagination of children and adults alike.

I hope you enjoyed this road trip through the southern end of Johnson County—and rest assured there are countless more places throughout the county to discover, good eats to be savored, and beautiful natural areas awaiting your adventure. Hope to see you soon!

Karen Wade

Board Member

Before retiring in 2017, CILTI board member Karen Wade worked for Eli Lilly & Co. In retirement she volunteers for a number of environmental and equine pursuits including Indiana Master Naturalist Certification and Meadowstone Therapeutic Riding Center.