Tucked away on the southern side of the road, about halfway along South Highland Road in Gibraltar, sits the Judy Abert Meissner Memorial Wetlands Preserve. The small, grassy parking area and information sign are easy to miss if you’re not actively looking for this inconspicuous locale. I must have driven past it a hundred times before my husband, our 20-month-old son and I finally carved out some time to visit this must-hike preserve.
The one-mile, out-and-back loop is ideal for those who want an easy to moderate hike that they can choose to either clip along or stretch out for a nature lover’s sightseeing delight.
After leaving your car or bike in the parking area, set out on the grassy path that twists and turns before giving way to the start of the marsh area, which is home to a variety of plants, wildlife and fish, including northern pike during the spawning season. If you take a look at a map, you’ll notice that the wetlands here feed into Peil Creek to the south, which then flows into the north end of Kangaroo Lake. Thick arborvitae, larch and hemlock flank both sides of the narrow crossing.
From the culvert, installed to help the pike migrate during spawning season, hikers can take in the expansive view over the marsh before continuing through a dense, forested corridor. Depending on the time of year, this area can be muddy – as was the case during this visit – but it’s nothing that a solid pair of hiking shoes can’t handle.
Once through the marsh, the trail opens up before heading uphill. The loop at the top of the hill can be a little tricky to navigate among the junipers and arborvitae and several dead-end side trails. Spying the bench to our right, we chose to travel the loop counterclockwise along the crest of the hill before dropping downhill into another forested area and then back up again, returning to the top of the hill. Pay careful attention to make sure you stay on the path in this area scattered with junipers.
Eventually, the path wraps back around to the main trail that leads to the parking area. There’s something special about hiking a preservation area in the spring as everything begins to awaken from the long winter, but the diverse mix of plants and wildlife that call this wetlands preserve home make it a hike worth experiencing at least once in every season.
Where: 8587 S. Highland Road, Gibraltar
Distance: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy to moderate, with a few climbs, and some areas can be muddy, depending on the season
Highlights: Diverse terrain showcases a variety of wetland plants and wildlife. Depending on the time of year, you may even see a white egret, sandhill crane or osprey overhead as they fish for young northern pike during the pike spawning season. The area is also home to the rare Hine’s emerald dragonfly.