FOUNTAIN, Ind. — Every year, hundreds — maybe thousands — of people drive a few miles north of Covington to visit the beautiful and unique “North Trail” at the Portland Arch Nature Preserve.
Like generations of Indians, nature lovers and curiosity seekers before them, they come to meander through Bear Creek Canyon, look up at the craggy sandstone walls, wade in the water and pass through the natural arch created by erosion and the unimaginable passage of time. Experts say that the stone was deposited in layers, roughly 230 million years ago.
But there is more to Portland Arch than that. If you drive past the parking lot for the “North Trail” — the one with the arch — then pass the pioneer cemetery on your right, then proceed down the gravel road for another quarter-mile, you’ll find a parking area for the “South Trail.”
The South Trail is ignored by most visitors, but it is worth experiencing, too. After all, it’s also part of a nature preserve that is considered one of the finest in Indiana. The National Park Service named Portland Arch a National Natural Landmark in 1973. The former Boy Scout camp has been a protected state nature preserve since 1975.
The South Trail has trees and rock formations much like those of Turkey Run State Park, but it is essentially “unimproved.” It provides relatively easy, 9/10ths of a mile loop that takes you through some lovely woods, along Bear Creek, up a hill, then down, then up, then back again.
It certainly is not as spectacular as the North Trail. There is no natural bridge or high canyon walls. Still, it’s a good place to go, especially if you appreciate a little solitude.
I stopped by last week. It was a beautiful morning, bright and sunny, with a clear blue sky. The road from my house went from two lanes to one lane, to none, as I finally turned into the empty parking lot. I was the first person to sign the register book that day, and I had the trail to myself.