Rainy days… Tired of them. Sunday, 3/15/2015, promised to be beautiful, and it delivered. During the week I got an email from someone mentioning seeing some spring wildflowers at Elsie Holmes Nature Park near Ringgold, Georgia (Thanks, Jane!). I had heard of this park before, and had it on my “someday” list, so my wife and I decided to head over there after lunch with some grandkids at Clyde’s on Main. Great place! (Both Clyde’s and Elsie Holmes Park.)
I wasn’t real familiar with Ringgold, so finding the park from memory after looking at Google Maps that morning was more of a challenge than it should have been. I knew from the map that it was off of Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, but I didn’t know that Ooltewah-Ringgold Road isn’t the name of the road when it crosses U.S. 41 in downtown Ringgold – turn north onto State Route 151 (left as you’re headed south on 41), and a couple of miles out, look for the small brown Elsie Holmes Park sign pointing to the left. Follow the signs from there and it’s easy to find.
We chose to walk the 1.1 mile White Trail (the trails are named for the color of their blazes.) As we headed through the forest on this 66-acre Catoosa County park, I was surprised at how high we were above South Chickamauga Creek – it’s an elevation drop of around 200 feet over about the first third of the trail. Not bad going down, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “We’ve got to walk back up the same amount.”
Initially there weren’t many flowers, although we saw a lot of Heartleaf (Hexastylis) and Spotted Wintergreen leaves in the forest duff. But then as we got closer to the bottom, there was a stretch of trail with many beautiful Hepatica flowers. These are var. obtusa – Round-lobe Hepatica, as indicated by the rounded lobes on the leaves, versus what I see most often at The Pocket, var. acuta.
Once we got near the creek, Spring Beauties started showing up. The long, narrow grass-like leaf indicated to me that this is Virginia Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica. Virginia Spring Beauty was the dominant flower along the creek, mixed in with a few Toothworts, and some Rue Anemone. The trail followed the creek for maybe 1/3 to 1/2 mile, and I was surprised at the character of the creek and gorge we were in. It was fairly fast water, with several class 1 drops that looked like would be fun to canoe. We also noted several caves in the bluffs across the creek, one of which was gated off. There was a sign indicating that the cave was gated and closed because it was the only cave in the state that was a nursery cave for a particular species of bat (sorry, I didn’t note the species.)
As we left the creek and headed back up the trail, somewhat steep at times, the wildflower numbers, as expected, decreased, although it was a beautiful walk. We took advantage of several of the benches they have along the trails to rest, and made it back to the car after about an hour and a half – an afternoon well-spent, and a surprisingly rugged, beautiful, natural park. Catoosa County has a real gem in the Elsie Holmes Nature Park.