Located in Franklin and Delaware counties, Highbanks Metro Park is 1,159 acres in size with over 10 miles of hiking trail, including a 3.5 mile, mowed path that’s available for dog walking and cross-country skiing. The park is bounded on one side by the Olentangy River, and it’s crisscrossed by small streams flowing in ravines.
One of our favorite attractions is an observation deck that’s perched on a shale bluff 110 feet above the Olentangy river. For a number of years a pair of eagles have nested in a large sycamore tree just upstream from the observation deck. We’ve watched from the deck as an eagle flew over the river beneath us. If you direct your attention upstream, you can often spot an eagle perched on a tree on either side of the river. The eagles have become the park’s most famous residents. It’s easiest to catch sight of them before foliage appears on the trees, and for a better view I recommend bringing binoculars, or a spotting scope.
Bald eagle on a tree across the river from the observation deck.
The osprey have returned to the northern edge of Hoover reservoir. Osprey are brown and white birds of prey measuring two feet (61 cm) tall with a wingspan of almost six feet (183 cm). They build nests near water and feed on fish.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus
) photographed March 17th of this year
The Stratford Woods State Nature Preserve is privately owned and operated by a non-profit organization, the Stratford Ecological Center. Education is the primary mission of the Center. Seven nearby counties send their children to Stratford on field trips where they learn about nature and farming. In the summer the Ecological Center offers a popular Farm Camp for kids. During the growing season there’s also a Nature Club for youngsters in which they learn to tend the Giving Garden. In the first year of cultivation, 660 pounds of organically-grown produce harvested from the Giving Garden were donated to a local food bank. The Center also offers several internship programs for young adults. In a typical year, about 3500 school children participate in field trips at Stratford Ecological Center which also sees about 8000 other visitors.
Kids on a field trip.
Since farming is such an important focus of the Center, let’s take a look at the farm.
Saturday we went to Stratford Woods for a maple syrup event. They were serving organic, whole wheat pancakes with real locally made maple syrup, farm-fresh sausage and coffee. Delicious!
Hoover Reservoir supplies the city of Columbus with its drinking water. At eight different sites around the reservoir is the Hoover Reservoir Park. It is a great recreational resource for residents and tourists, and it is important sanctuary for birds as well. Today I’m going to focus on one of the lesser known sites of this park: Hoover Meadows.
The seed heads of this grass were way over my head.
I struck gold in central Ohio! Although many trees have completely dropped their leaves, there are still large swaths of forest that are decked out in yellow. I stopped by two parks this week. On Thursday I visited the Sharon Woods Metro Park (part of the Columbus/Franklin County Metro Park system), and on Saturday I went for a walk in Char-Mar Ridge (part of Delaware County’s Preservation Park System).
Yellow brick road
Heron photographed last month
One of our favorite locales for bird watching is Hoover Mudflats Boardwalk. We’ve previously posted about it here. This locale is constantly changing with the season and the level of Hoover reservoir, but it rarely disappoints.
Pond at Char-Mar Ridge.
Char-Mar Ridge is part of Delaware County’s preservation park system. It features a wooded trail that passes over gently rolling hills. The trail itself is packed earth and gravel that remains in good condition even when it’s rainy. A 0.25 mile trail connects the parking lot to a loop trail. The loop trail is 1.5 miles and is very popular with joggers who often do multiple laps. Like most of Delaware County’s parks, visitors are allowed to bring their leashed dogs along with them. “Mutt mitts” are provided at the entrance to facilitate clean-ups. I almost always encounter people walking their dogs there, and they have been doing a super job of keeping the trail clean.
Hoover Mudflats Boardwalk is part of the Hoover Nature Preserve operated by the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. It is one of the best birding sites in central Ohio. In the fall the city lowers the water level in Hoover Reservoir, so it’s more hospitable to migrating shore birds. The area around the boardwalk is also used for fishing and launching kayaks, and I’ve seen crew teams training here. Beyond that, the site is just lovely.
The Emily Traphagen Preserve is part of Delaware County’s Preservation Park system. There are two short trails in the park:
- White Tail Loop (0.6 miles), and
- Meadow Trail (0.5 miles)
Both trails are loops. As you might expect, Meadow Trail is a mown path. However the White Tail Loop is an improved dirt trail that passes through the woods and by a marsh area. From White Tail Loop there is a side trail to what’s called the Pond Overlook. I spotted the red-shouldered hawk pictured below while visiting the overlook.
Red-shouldered Hawk near the Pond Overlook