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Alpha Pass, Kildoo popular destination for hikers

| Saturday, June 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Descend down the steps from the Alpha Pass trailhead parking lot into the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge and one is immediately immersed in what makes McConnells Mill State Park so unique.

The trail twists around enormous moss-covered boulders deposited thousands of years ago by the drainage of glacial lakes. The air is filled with the sound of water washing over rocks and the forest floor is covered in bright green ferns. Along the banks of the creek, the intermittent piles of tree branches of all sizes leave evidence of flooding. The occasional posts from which life-saving buoys hang serve as a reminder of the potential hazards of the water.

There are nine miles of hiking trails through the park, including the Kildoo Trail that follows Slippery Rock Creek from the mill to Eckert Bridge and returns on the other side. To begin at the Alpha Pass Trail for a moderate loop of just under 3.5 miles, take Johnson Road into the park, make a right onto McConnells Mill Road and the trailhead parking lot is almost immediately on the left.

The Alpha Pass trail leads to the old grist mill that was in operation until 1928. Not far down the trail from the steps is access to another, busier parking lot and picnic area. Because of the proximity to the mill and dam, this section of trail can see heavy use, especially on weekends. The boulders at the edge of the creek attract fishermen, picnickers and sunbathers, and are fairly accessible along this portion of trail.

Once at the mill, the Kildoo Trail begins on the other side of the road. Like the Alpha Pass Trail, this section is also extremely popular on weekends. The hiking is easy close to the mill and accessible to families even with small children, but portions of the trail become quite rocky further along; proper footwear is highly recommended.

It's easy to slip on mossy rocks and roots, and any cell phone signal is weak, if it exists at all.

It is along this stretch of creek that hikers can often spot kayakers or canoers navigating the rapids, which can range from Class II to Class IV depending on the water level.

Once the trail reaches Eckert Bridge, cross the river and continue back toward the mill on the west side, which is part of the North Country Scenic Trail and marked with blue blazes. This side sees only a fraction of the foot traffic and is much quieter, but also slightly more difficult.

Almost immediately the trail turns and begins ascending toward the left. Continue to look left for the blue blazes as the trail gradually continues to climb before eventually reaching the covered bridge, one of two in Lawrence County. Cross through the bridge, back to the mill and continue back to the Alpha Pass trail. Even with a few stops for photographs and rest, the entire hike shouldn't take more than two hours and easily can be done in less time.

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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