At first glance it doesn't sound very interesting: The Shawnee National Forest is currently asking for public comments on a study of the roads on forest land.
This study, however, does highlight the fact that the National Forest maintains a surprising number of roads that are just a short drive from Cape Girardeau. Snaking through the Illinois river hills, these backroads provide access to rugged terrain and scenic overlooks.
Construction work during the last few years has improved many of these roads so they can be driven by a passenger vehicle, although a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle is certainly a plus. After all, these roads do require venturing beyond the end of the pavement. Here is a selection of some of the more worthwhile forest roads that are closest to Cape Girardeau:
Silica Hill Road (Forest Road 645 and 233)
This twisty road climbs into the hills east of Reynoldsville, where it reaches an overlook where the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge can be seen nearly 11 miles away.
The name for Silica Hill Road appropriate, since tripoli -- or microcrystalline silica -- was once mined from a quarry only a short distance away. To the south is a hollow shown on most maps as You-Be Hollow, but which originally had the mysterious name of You-Be-Damned Hollow.
Directions: From Reynoldsville, take Old Cape Road for 8 miles and turn right on Lingle Creek Road. After 3 miles, look for Silica Hill Road on the right. Follow this lane for a short distance to the first junction and bear right. The road to the ridge top is in reasonably good shape, but it quickly deteriorates.
Trail 264A (Forest Road 264)
Although this road only has a mundane designation instead of a colorful name, it does provide colorful scenery during the fall as it climbs to the southern reaches of Atwood Ridge.
Directions: From Reynoldsville, take Old Cape Road and look for the sign for Trail 264A on the left. The road soon forks twice; keep right to avoid private property. Continue until the road eventually ends at a turnaround.
Water Plant Lane (Forest Road 266)
At first, this road just looks like a dead-end access to the Jonesboro water plant, but it continues as a forest road that climbs to Hamburg Hill and the northern reaches of Atwood Ridge. After a fairly grueling ascent, the road ends at the site of a long-lost fire tower.
Unfortunately, the view is blocked by trees during the summer, but the winter months offer a view of Bald Knob Cross.
One branch of the Trail of Tears used a portion of this road to reach the Mississippi River from Jonesboro.
Directions: From Ware, take Highway 146 east and turn right on Berryville Road at the wooden bridge. After the bridge, bear right and continue 1.2 miles to the turnoff for Water Plant Lane on the right. At the water plant, follow the road as it curves right, crosses a low-water bridge, and enters National Forest land.
Oxford Road (Forest Road 220)
This short drive starts at Grapevine Trail and follows a roller-coaster ride to reach the trailhead for the Horse Creek Trail. Even if you don't have plans to hike the 5-mile trail, the road is a quick and easy way to access a remote part of the forest.
Directions: From McClure, take Grapevine Trail for 4.7 miles. Turn right on Oxford Road (the turnoff is just past the intersection with County Line Road). The road ends after 1.1 miles where the hiking trail begins.
Opossum Trot Trail (Forest Road 628)
I haven't seen any trotting varmints along this road, but the many twists and turns along Opossum Trot Trail make for a fun drive.
As I've blogged previously, this area resembles Swiss cheese due to the many underground workings where tripoli was mined. Indeed, the road passes directly over a small mine shaft.
Directions: From McClure, take Grapevine Trail for 7 miles and turn left on Delta Road. After 2.4 miles, turn right just after the large quarry. After a short distance, make a sharp left turn where Opossum Trot Trail begins. The road eventually ends at McDaniel School Road, which eventually leads back to Grapevine Trail.
Bean Ridge Pond Road (Forest Road 262E)
This short road leads to Bean Ridge Pond, a picturesque picnic spot northeast of Thebes.
Directions: From Thebes, take Highway 3 east to Old Highway 3 and then make an immediate right on Bean Ridge Road. Follow this road for nearly 5 miles to a confusing crossroads intersection that features signs for Bean Ridge Road (left), Bean Ridge Pond Road (straight) and Bean Ridge Ranch Lane (right, private). Go straight and follow the road to the recreation area at the pond.
Hemlock Road (Forest Road 272)
This dead-end road starts at Bean Ridge Road near the pond and snakes to the west into the hills above Thebes. The road is surprisingly long, but it does eventually come to an end at a gate.
Directions: Take Bean Ridge Road past the turnoff for the pond and then turn left on Hemlock Road.