TheBackPacker January 25, 2011 0

Backpacking the Charles Deam Wilderness

The Charles C. Deam Wilderness was designated by Congress in December 1982. It was named for the first State Forester in Indiana, who was a pioneer in the forest conservation and an author of books on the trees and flora of Indiana.

The area is a fine example of Karst topography, with its flat-topped ridges, geode-laden streambeds, and occasional caves. Squirrels, deer, and other game are plentiful, attracting many hunters every fall. Hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders are also drawn to the wilderness and its 39 miles of trails.

In contrast to relatively virgin wilderness areas elsewhere in the country, the entire area now known as the “Deam” was once inhabited by white settlers. Most of the trails follow old roadbeds, and a bit of exploration off the main trails will bring visitors past other shadows of the past, including house foundations, domestic plants, old fences, and the occasional cemetery (five cemeteries exist within the wilderness boundary). The narrow, rocky ridges made for marginally productive farmland, but the inhabitants were able to scrape by until the Great Depression. As the economy forced them out, the U.S. Forest Service acquired their property and, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, began rehabilitating the area and managing it for recreation. “Improvements” included constructing ponds, replanting trees, and building the Hickory Ridge Fire Tower that still stands, open to the public, at the Hickory Ridge Trailhead. After it was designated as wilderness under Ronald Reagan, the only improvements came in the form of trail maintenance and nature’s own management plan.

I did a 13 mile loop including a 5 mile loop on the Sycamore Trail. The trailhead starts at the Firetower on Firetower Road. I looped back, then drove to the other trailhead and did an out and back.