I have shared a couple of stories of recent outdoor activities I’ve enjoyed with my family. I’ve been very excited about my three-year old son’s shared enthusiasm for nature. He loves being outside. While playgrounds are probably his favorite thing right now (just above riding his tractor and playing in the sandbox) he has also showed some interest in hiking. That makes me smile from ear to ear. We have hiked at Chestnut Ridge Park a couple of times, which is only about ten or fifteen minutes from our home, but I was hoping to find an even closer option.
We typically walk to the playground at Woodview Park a couple of times per week. It’s about a ten minute walk from our house. Most people don’t know the place locally as Woodview Park; they know it as Gunther’s Hill. Just about everyone who has grown up in Hamburg has gone sledding down Gunther’s Hill (I know I did). The large hill, covered by tall grass in the summer months, is probably about 200 feet past the playground. At the bottom of the hill is the Eighteen Mile Creek. The creek begins in Concord and flows eighteen miles (I’d assume) into Lake Erie.
I have explored some parts of Eighteen Mile Creek in the past. I’ve kayaked down stretches of it, but the water can get pretty low in parts. I’ve also walked beside the water in a couple of spots with Ashley and the kids. This time, I wanted to do a little reconnaissance work. My plan was to hike through the creek starting at the bottom of Gunther’s Hill and ending under the large bridge near the Water Valley Inn, which would leave me just a couple of blocks from the other side of my house. It would theoretically make a nice loop walk/hike. I figured I could try it myself and see if it would be something Noah could handle, too. If it would be too difficult for Noah, maybe I could at least bring our dog, Noelle, in the future.
So, one day I began my scouting mission. I looked on Google Maps to get a better idea of the course of the creek and was surprised to see it curve away from the neighborhood and roads more than I thought. I told my wife I figured I’d probably be home in an hour or so. That was just a guess, but I thought it would be a decent estimate.
I walked to the park with my wife and kids. They continued down the street and I veered off down Gunther’s Hill toward the creek. It was a hot and sunny day, but it was nice by the creek. The water was cool and there was a lot of shade due to all of the foliage lining both sides of the wide creek. The water was less than a foot deep where I entered, but it was probably around 50 feet wide.
There was a lot of water, but there was almost always at least some dry land available to walk on if I really wanted to stay dry. It was hot out and I was wearing my Keen sport sandals, so I didn’t really care about getting wet. Sometimes there were exposed areas of shale protruding from under the water and most of the time there was an abundance of stones on one side or the other of the creek bed.
Dense forest lined both sides of the creek. A trail, just inside the woods initially paralleled the creek. The path soon terminated in a small clearing surrounded by trees. That’s an area where local high schoolers have been known to frequent.
Within minutes it was easy to forget that I was only a couple hundred feet from a neighborhood. A calm and natural quiet had fallen upon the entire area. The gently flowing water and the chatter of birds were all I heard. I felt like I was miles down a trail, far away in a National Park, not a few minutes from my house in the suburbs of Buffalo.
Needless to say, I was thoroughly enjoying the beginning of my hike. The walking (whether in or out of the water) was very easy, it was very quiet, the water was nearly still and reflecting the dark green forest, and I was fully alone. I didn’t see another soul on my hike. I was thinking that both my son and my dog would enjoy this.
That’s the way things continued for the next half hour or so. Then, suddenly the walking got worse. The creek narrowed and grew considerably deeper. The water crept up past my knees, which would be too high for my son and dog. Stones occasionally accompanied the creek, but not like they did earlier on. The rocks grew much larger and uneven. It was difficult to navigate them. Slipping and falling off them would no longer mean an easy step down into water either; it meant getting soaked and possibly going under.
My surroundings had transformed into more of a swamp-like area. The creek bed was mostly mud instead of shale and rock. Tall grass lined the creek and sometimes stretched into the water. And hordes of flies and mosquitoes enveloped the stagnant creek.
I was no longer enjoying my short hike. It was also easy to realize that doing a complete circle from my house (to the park, into the creek, and back out and onto a street on the other side) would not work with my son or dog. I stopped to check the GPS on my phone to see if I was nearing the bridge that I was expecting to be my sign to exit the water or if it might actually be better to retreat to the park. I didn’t have too much farther to go so I decided to continue.
Soon after that things got even worse. I came to a bend in the creek where it narrowed even more. That caused the water to get deeper. Large rather jagged rocks lined the near side of the creek and the mud that was just inside the rocks and beneath the water was deep, too. It was like quick sand. If my sandals weren’t fully strapped to my feet I’m convinced they would have been sucked into the mud and disappeared forever.
At that bend, the creek closely paralleled a road for the first time. I was only 20 or so feet from the water and just beyond a wall of the large uneven rocks. The problem was it was difficult to cross over the rocks and then I had to fight my way through some thick vegetation to reach the road. I didn’t even know what road it was, but I decided it was time to end my scouting mission. I was ready to get to dry land.
It wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t enjoyable, but I made it over the rocks and through the brush to the road. I got fairly cut and scratched on my way, but I was free. I was quite a sight for the few people who saw me on that street. I can imagine they wondered where this strange man with soaking wet shorts, a sweaty cut-off tee shirt, and cuts and scratches up and down his arms had come from.
From there I walked down the street and then saw the Water Valley Inn and continued my walk onto Route 62. After a couple minutes I made my way onto the large bridge over the Eighteen Mile Creek that I had been looking for. From there it was a five minute walk home. I enjoyed the first half of my creek walk, but I would not be returning with my son or dog any time soon.