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When spring comes -- or when a sliver of sun prompts a winter thaw -- I have an irresistible urge to drive west about one hour into the small town of Yellow Springs.

If you read the news, Yellow Springs is home to one troubled university (Antioch College), one troubled comedian (Dave Chappelle) and a good deal of hippies. The town is also home to some of western Ohio’s best natural spaces.

Near standbys like John Byran State Park, sits the quiet, rather nonchalant Glen Helen. The preserve's north and south sections contain 25 total trail miles, which lead to exposed outcroppings, pine forests and even the yellow spring that gives the town its name.

Glen Helen 405 Corry St., Yellow Springs 937-769-1902 Homepage

On your first visit, head to the main entrance just a few blocks outside of town, which boasts a nature center and a trailside museum. Parking costs $2 and simple overview maps are available inside for 25 cents.

Here's what to expect on your trip.

View larger image A glen is a long, deep valley divided by a body of water, so much of the mileage at Glen Helen runs down craggy rock faces and into low-lying riverside forest. The climbs are easy on both sides of Yellow Springs Creek, and some have cool Tolkien-style staircases.

View larger image A really detailed, colorful topographical map is available at the gift shop for $4. Get it, as trails are unmarked and sometimes hidden beneath leaves. Once you trek those hobbit steps, take the trail south along the eastern edge of the water.

View larger image A few places invite you to cross the creek atop sturdy, flat stones.

View larger image A view of clear, babbling Yellow Springs Creek. They're common all the way down to Bryan Park Road.

View larger image You'll find this pine forest about two miles south of the nature center, on the eastern border shared with John Bryan State Park. Trees rocket into the sky in the park's best picnic spot.

View larger image A wide field just north of Bryan Park Road gleams under a clear blue sky. It should be a great spot to view ground-nesting birds and other wildlife...

View larger image white-tailed deer.

View larger image If you walk all the way down to Bryan Park Road and look to head back up, avoid the path on the extreme western side, which promises to lead to an old quarry and some wetlands. Not really. It runs through scrub forest often in view of a fairly loud country road. Wander back up using some secondary trails on the eastern edge.

View larger image A view from the banks at dusk. The sun caught only the tops of the trees, leaving the river's rocky sides shrouded in mystery.

View larger image Elsewhere in the preserve, trails lead to rock formations like Pompey’s Pillar (above), the town’s namesake yellow spring and other rustic treasures that Hugh Taylor Birch saved by donating the starter lands to Antioch College in 1929. Today the 1,000 acres named for Birch’s daughter Helen remain intact, even when the university does not.