Off trail hike reveals seldom seen sights


By Rick Palsgrove
Southeast Editor

Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove Scott Felker, a Metro Parks interpretive naturalist, points out a tree that was chewed off by a beaver (lower right) along Big Walnut Creek in Three Creeks Metro Park.
Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove
Scott Felker, a Metro Parks interpretive naturalist, points out a tree that was chewed off by a beaver (lower right) along Big Walnut Creek in Three Creeks Metro Park.

I, along with about two dozen other hikers, recently had the rare treat of taking an off trail hike at Three Creeks Metro Park in southeastern Franklin County.

The off trail hike, led by Metro Parks interpretive naturalist Scott Felker, explored the normally inaccessible southwest portion of the park in an area park officials refer to as the “Gold Property.”

As we left the park’s paved path and walked into the brush, we saw a grove of tall white pine trees planted in rows. The white pines were originally part of a city of Columbus tree farm that operated on this  land before it became part of the park.

“This area was a pine plantation for the city,” said Felker. “Before this land became Three Creeks there was a heavy human impact on the land. The land was farmed and in later years people would dump trash in the area. It was not a pristine natural environment.”

Felker said the 1,100 acre park is still influenced by neighboring urban areas as a train wheel factory operates nearby and traffic can be heard in the distance. But in spite of that, because it was surprisingly warm for early December, we could hear spring peepers, or tree frogs, peeping away, fooled by the balmy 64 degree temperature.

We plunged through the brush deeper into the park, first along a little used utility path and then through thick brambles and brush along narrow deer paths. We soon came to two bridges – a sturdy foot bridge over a small channel built as a long ago Boy Scout project and the formidable railroad bridge over Big Walnut Creek.

It was here we saw a tree that had been freshly chewed off by a beaver. The small stump of the tree came to a point and the beaver’s teeth marks were visible in the wood. Nearby were several other small trees chewed off by beavers in the past.

Felker said of the three creeks that meet in the park – Blacklick, Alum and Big Walnut – Big Walnut has the best water quality. He said stormwater runoff – which can include soap, paint, fertilizer, debris and other man made products – flows into the creeks contributing to contamination.

“There is human impact, but overall the water quality is not bad,” said Felker.

We hiked on through the brush on a deer path. I saw the remnants of an old farm fence woven in among the trees. It made me think about how this land was once a dense forest, then cleared for open farm land in the 19th century, and now it is returning back to woodlands with young trees mixed in with other giant trees that are mighty in circumference and height.
In addition to the fence remnant, a man made earthen dike still runs along the creek, built long ago as a flood control measure.

Felker stopped and pointed out a cleared dirt spot under some low branches.

“This is a deer scrape,” said Felker.

He said a buck urinates on the spot and then rubs its antlers on the low hanging branches to leave a scent on the ground and in the tree to mark its territory.

In addition to the deer scrape, it was common to see deer scat, or feces, on the ground as we walked.

Even though we were deep into the  woods, it was disturbing to see the presence of occasional bits of litter including bottles, plastic cups, beer cans, cigarette packages, and even a car bumper. Felker said much of this litter washes into the park when the creeks flood. The car bumper may have gotten into the park by other means. It makes one wonder why someone would bother to lug a heavy car bumper through the thick brush into the woods.

We soon came to the high point of the hike as Felker pointed out an eagle’s nest  atop a cottonwood tree. The nest was about five feet across and three feet deep.

“There have been reports of eagle’s nests elsewhere that are as large as a VW Beetle,” said Felker, who added it is believed there are about 200 pairs of breeding eagles now in Ohio.

It was not nesting time for this eagle pair, so we did not get to see the magnificent birds, but just seeing their nest was  an awesome experience in itself.

We then began the trek back to the main part of the park. I noted the colors that exist in the woods even as winter sets in. I saw red berries on wild bushes, green shoots of grass, yellow leaves clinging to branches, the gray fur of the squirrels, and the varied shades of brown of the dormant plant life. Remember brown is a color, too, though it gets overshadowed by its flashier color palette brethren. It’s a color that can be appreciated fully when one is immersed in it in such a natural setting.

Felker paused for a moment and said, “Listen, it’s a woodpecker.”

We listened for a moment to the rat-a-tat-tat in the distance. Soaking it in, I took a deep, satisfying breath, and then we walked on.

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