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Hike This: Oak Road Nature Preserve

Oak Road Nature Preserve almost hides in plain sight, so I nearly drove past the parking area – a lightly graveled spot of grass sectioned off by thin ropes just past the intersection of two roads. From that introduction, I sensed that this preserve would demonstrate how one need not drive far from a town to escape the rumble of traffic and the sight of busy civilization. 

The hiking trail covers ground both to the east and west of Oak Road. I began with the trail directly connected to the parking lot on the west side. Indeed, the sound of traffic on lightly traveled surrounding roads was infrequent throughout my hike, and the only structures I noticed in the distance were barns and farmhouses. 

Door County Land Trust has planted tens of thousands of young trees at the Oak Road Nature Preserve, including a row of bright-green pines. Photo by Jessica Gatzow.

Even on a mild summer day with the sun shining, I encountered no other hikers during my trek through the property, but the sights, sounds and scents of wildlife were plentiful. Pops of orange fluttered through the open prairie space as monarchs enjoyed a haven of milkweed and fragrant wildflowers. The terrain was soft enough that I didn’t make much noise while walking, so the birds continued to chirp as I passed them perched in trees just a few yards off the path. Inevitably, I scared the deer off, but I did manage to observe them for just a bit longer than a gravel path would allow. 

For those who feel like “earthing” – getting extra close to nature and hiking even more quietly by going barefoot – this preserve isn’t a bad place to try it. The trail begins with soft grass and lacks large obstacles such as tree roots and rocks. Some sections do thin to pokier plants mixed with grass, however, and the trail eventually takes a short loop in which it becomes a narrow, but smooth dirt path before returning to greenery.

Plenty of hikes include a body of water that serves as a main attraction or destination, but the lack of such a feature seemed to be a trademark of this nature preserve. (It does have vernal wetlands, but they’re seasonal and dry up in summer.) I enjoyed the chance to focus on different sensations: hearing wildlife sounds rather than crashing waves, and feeling the contact with soil and vegetation rather than sand and rock. 

One consistent feature of Door County Land Trust preserves seems to be the diversity of trees. Young oaks, pines, birches and shrubs border both sides of the path at the Oak Road Nature Preserve. When the trail forms a loop, it goes through the shade of older-growth forest before returning to the sunny prairie and young trees. 

The viewing platform offers an elevated perspective that contrasts with the mostly flat trail. Photo by Jessica Gatzow.

Once I completed the hike down to the short loop and made the return trip to the parking lot, I followed the brief portion of the trail that continues across Oak Road to the east. That section was all prairie, and it seemed to erupt with even more wildflower color and diversity than I’d seen already. The short trail came to two even shorter forks: one leading to a small viewing platform that overlooked the vernal wetlands, and the other ending with a bench that afforded the same view. 

The words of Aldo Leopold inscribed on this lone bench suited the end of my hike well: “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” 

Where: 6391 Oak Road in Egg Harbor 

Distance: 1.75 miles (one way, including a small loop at the end and a trail section across the road from the parking area) 

Difficulty: Easy; the terrain is mostly level

Highlights: The diversity of wildflowers welcomes many pollinators. A short viewing platform ends this hike. 

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