April 5, 2016
Scouts at Work
On April 1st, Boy Scout Troop 213, worked to hang purple martin nest boxes for the coming season and also did improvements on the meadow, adjacent to the Liberty Dog Park. They not only cut invasive pear and olive trees, too large for a mower but rolled a couple of boulders out of the way of future mowing.
Cameron Reed, who earned an Eagle Scout award for his work in first installing the purple martin boxes, headed up the group of energetic young men to accomplish this work benefiting Liberty Park. Thank you, your work is greatly appreciated!
Wintertime Photography, Simply Natural
About ten years ago, I decided I needed to document my nature discoveries via a digital camera. I’d stop taking photos long before that, despite being the photography “kid” in my family, using what they called a “box” camera (my grandmother’s) in those days. Transitioning to a cartridge camera, the Kodak Instamatic, it was with me whenever I hiked as a teen. The next transition was to a film, SLR but eventually the weight, compounded by other equipment, while pushing through swamps and marshes became prohibitive. So, photography ended for me during that time of regular botanical survey work.
Years later, armed with my first pocket-sized digital camera, an entirely new world of nature was presented to me, with the much lighter weight and versatility of the digital. I offer to you that if you have a digital camera used for recording family events primarily and then put to rest in the closet for the remainder of its career, that you consider taking it for a walk in the winter woods and fields. Look for the photo opportunities, which are certainly there. Two recommendations, if your camera has the image of a flower on one of the buttons on the back, it’s your macro button, and useful when exploring nature in winter, close-up! Also, as the sunlight, which creates fantastic images in winter, has a habit of obscuring your view on a screen, a viewfinder is very helpful (the little peephole on top of many cameras). Yes, a phone’s camera can work, especially if fitted with some of the new photo tools available but first I suggest that you rummage in the closet for that infrequently used camera. Already know your gear and all this is elementary? Read on, as you may just take away an idea or two.
From late December into April, winter holds its grip on NE Ohio and for anyone with a basic camera it’s a wonderful time of year to spend on a trail somewhere, photographing nature in normally quiet surroundings. This is something not to be taken for granted and once you try getting photos on a trail during spring and summer, you’ll understand! Interruptions are frequent. While I’ve taken a few photos with gloved fingers, I prefer a loose fitting glove, with hand-warmers inside to allow me to take the shots I need barehanded, for as long as desired before immersing my fingers back into a warm glove. In general, over-dressing in winter is the best way to go. You want to move slowly, to avoid missing an opportunity, so warmth is a priority.
Why winter? With your camera set for macro, there are many, many photo subjects to more easily find in the winter woods, fields and marshes, as normally robust, living plants are no longer blocking your view. Lichens, mosses and yes, even a strange plant called a liverwort, will reveal itself in the bright rays of a sunny winter’s day. With these species come the season’s green, blues, even orange, red and yellow hues to your computer screen! Look for color, it’s everywhere but usually it’s small, even tiny! So observe, walk slowly, look closely and stop often. If you are a birder or hunter, you know about this technique; use it!
As a naturalist with a botany background, I often prefer identifying trees by their buds and of course this is one of but not the only way to identify them in winter. Hickories, oaks, buckeyes and basswoods are trees easily identified in winter by the shape and color of their buds. They also make wonderful challenges to your macro photography skills. No, you don’t have to know what species of tree it is, at least not at the time, since online research is part of the fun! Simply look for buds which stand out; colorful, large buds are best. The native trees in a park or preserve are the most interesting; neighborhood, landscaping trees can come from anywhere in the world, not much fun.
Animal tracks too, whether in mud or snow, become an adventure. Track books are a delight to use in winter, with your photo on the computer screen in front of you. If you get hooked on tracks though, be forewarned, like bird books, one is usually not enough. “Aha” moments are many and winter flies by as you look for tracks and scat to photograph and then identify it. As I have discovered, using the camera in this manner, opens up the natural world unlike one would have ever expected. You’ll begin unraveling the stories of the tracks you find as well, since the camera will direct you toward finding the best of them and you may even find yourself following the animal as it goes about living in the cold winter world.
Many of the mushroom species are perennial and wintertime makes it easier to find them on standing or fallen trees. We have such a large volume of mushrooms in NE Ohio, that the saying “I’ve forgotten more than I ever knew” strikes me as appropriate here. I have hundreds of shots of mushrooms, many of them identified via texts and online but in the field, those names become a stew of partial names and remembrances of seeing them before! Still, I continue to take photos and you should too. The colors are sometimes secondary to the structures of these species and they often hold surprises within those structures! First and perhaps most importantly, when you take a photo of a mushroom from above, then take one or more from below to know what type of spore release structure is on the underside; gills, pores or teeth. Without this shot, you will find it much more difficult if not impossible to identify the mushroom. If you are simply seeking a pretty photo, disregard this, as pretty photos are wonderful too! Taking an underside shot is fun though, so you may wish to give it a try. Some cameras have a flip-out screen, which allow you to actually see what you are photographing but others, like the little pocket cameras can do it too, without the need for the photographer to wallow in the snow. Just put on macro setting, automatic, point the lens toward the underside, guess and shoot until you see a clear shot on the playback image. I enjoy this procedure and you will too, as you use this technique more often. You may want to practice in the springtime however!
Whatever you may choose to photograph in winter, it is an activity, which pulls one into the outdoors, when a warm spot in the house seems most likely to attract. Being outdoors, when warmth of the home beckons, is a wonderful cure for what we call cabin fever. If you have the assistance of children on your exploration, make it a game of finding wonderful subjects for you to photograph and if they are old enough to use a camera, it’s a great distraction for them, who like many adults are stressed by responsibilities in their life. With that said, look for much more than has been mentioned here, as indeed there is far more in the winter woods to photograph. Bundle up, as that is a priority and have fun. Winter is a great time to enjoy our parks and what has been preserved within them!
Enjoy the photos accompanying this article and perhaps take away ideas for your own winter photo adventures! Simply flip through using the left and right arrows.
Old Hickory Trail; Today & Yesterday
December 30, 2015 - With the opening of a parking area for Old Hickory Trail, visitation has increased and I’m hearing positive comments about people’s experience on this trail. It doesn’t have rock ledges to decorate it and most of its streams are hidden amidst tall vegetation but it is an open and airy walk or ride through some of Twinsburg’s preserved natural history, which is due to the purchase of the land now considered Center Valley Park – East. About a decade ago, this land and its history were scheduled for home development but wisely so, it was protected from that alteration. It’s a story worth telling…
With the development plans in place, streets and homes depicted on a master plan for construction, the City of Twinsburg’s administration decided that the impact would have weighed heavily on the city’s natural drainage system and the existing Center Valley Park. Thus, the steep slopes and water drainage was protected via its purchase, to remain as a large natural area for the city.
By 2009, a trail had been constructed, along with substantial bridges and wide trail, linking the East and West side of Center Valley Park, through sidewalk connections and bike and hike linkages. Its accessibility and length make this a wonderfully long excursion through the city and on Old Hickory Trail, a trip through history as well.
The Trail Begins
When contractors began the clearing process for the trail, past farming practices became readily apparent. That is, how past residents of the area used the land and how it was managed by them, for decades before Twinsburg became a city. In this regard, Twinsburg has been very fortunate in being one of the last Cleveland area cities to become urbanized. Coming late to urban expansion, city administrators had the time and foresight to preserve natural areas, already swallowed-up in other nearby cities before they could be preserved.
In the case of Old Hickory Trail, pieces were available to link the old farm fields and woods to the downtown, something not ignored by planners for the trail’s development. As an interconnect road was already in place at the intersection of St. Rte. 91, it offered the perfect bike and hike lane connection to Old Hickory Trail. Later, a parking area for the trail was added but throughout this process, the land was available and proper planning made the connections.
Beginning at the intersection of St. Rt. 91 and the Officer Joshua T. Miktarian Memorial Pkwy the trail proceeded westward along the outside of the community garden’s fence. This portion of the trail parallels a farmer’s boundary line, defined by a row of Osage orange trees planted decades ago, which highlights a portion of land managed much differently in years past.
Osage Orange is not native to Ohio; brought here long ago by farmers as a naturally growing fence line, source of fuel and for its use as a raw material for creating tools. In its native region, archery equipment was made from the very durable wood, which was adopted later by more recent American archery enthusiasts, prior to the use of modern laminate materials. As firewood, it was cut and allowed to regrow, providing numerous cuttings over time. As a fence line, it was planted closely together and the thorny branches provided a barricade against wayward livestock. Today, its softball-sized fruit is still produced, providing food for squirrels and perhaps other animals as it ripens.
On the opposite, north side of this former parcel of farm land a row of Catalpa trees was planted, with only a few monarchs of this planting still living. However, numerous young trees have sprouted, scattered about the open land. This tree too was used to define a farms boundary and as it produced beautiful, large sprays of flowers, probably served to nourish beehives maintained by farming families.
Walking along the newly created trail, a very large poison ivy vine, was cut to make room for the trail. Photos taken at the time of the cutting display sap oozing in an oil-like manner from the wound. It contains the chemical urushiol, which causes many people an unpleasant skin reaction! A rough count of the rings of this vine suggested 30 years or more of growth.
Recently, while walking the trail before writing this article, it was discovered that the namesake, shagbark hickory had split at the base and fallen. It is now surrounded by numerous sprouting young hickories; all in competition with each other for sunlight. Little by little, some of these will die but long into the future a stand of young hickories will mark the site of the “Old Hickory,” which stood as a landmark tree east of the trail.
Similar landmark trees, much older than those surrounding them dot the woods. Overall, the majority of the trees have now matured replacing what was once pasture or a lightly wooded area, historically. Sugar maples, some well past their prime and collapsing were retained back in time for the obvious benefit of springtime sap collection. Others like hickories may have been spared for their delicious nuts or because they were close to a spring where they shaded and kept cool, the flowing water. An overgrown fishing pond and another, spring fed pond remain, perhaps the latter for drinking water, along with a fireplace chimney. These historical remnants hint at the site’s use for pleasant days spent in Twinsburg long ago. Rumor has it that the area near Rt. 91 was a camp, with cabins for visitors to Twinsburg.
The railroad, of importance to Twinsburg’s history divides Center Valley Park into the east and west sides but the Park and Recreation Department has provided linkages between both sides via sidewalks, which makes a very ample long loop for foot or bicycle adventurers. Along much of the eastside, the railroad bed has created a damming impact on the springs and drainages, which once flowed more easily into Tinker’s Creek. On some larger tributary drainage, culverts allow water to pass under the tracks. Though much of these artificial wetlands are now thick with invasive plant species, they still provide habitat for amphibians and birds, especially those generalist animal species that will call any wetland their home! A very diverse insect group lives in the small marshes along the railroad and an insect study some years back, documented a couple of uncommon dragonfly and damselfly species in those areas.
Change will continue in the natural-occurring habitat of Old Hickory Trail, as shade increases, with maturing trees and as new invasive species are added to the mix of introduced life, imported in the future. Yet, Old Hickory will continue to offer adventures to those who seek them, through observation of the life intact along its route.
If you haven’t checked out the new parking area, opposite the community garden’s gate, give it a try and enjoy your journey on Old Hickory Trail!