Some of you may be familiar with the great hill at Wooster Memorial Park (Spangler) that you must climb down to get to the trailheads or up to get to the parking. There's always been a great tree about 3/4 to the top with a bench for weary hikers to rest at on their ascend. It appears after years of steady shade, a restful stop, and as a beacon of hope, the tree has been felled. Although the tree may be down, it leaves on last message for all (see last image).
Every New Years Day we make a point to start the year out in nature. The past few years have been at the Gorge Metro Park in Cuyahoga Falls, we've New Years hiked through both sun and snow, negative degrees to balmy. This year, however, has, is, and will be, different than the past 4 or 5 years. At the turn of the new year, we had relocated so Noah may attend school to pursue his dream of becoming a park ranger. Conveniently enough, it has brought us back to our old hometown. The biggest challenge was leaving the Summit Metro Parks and the National Parks system, the convenience of having so many great, diverse, parks just a short drive away had really spoiled us. But we can't look at this so much as a loss as it is an opportunity to really explore a whole new area, find the hidden treasures off the beaten path, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
So for this year's New Year's Day hike we chose Johnson Woods State Nature Reserve to explore.
This past summer we tried to explore this preserve, but we were rushed through by the swarms of mosquitoes who found us to be a delectable treat. With this being a wetland with old growth trees, it makes sense.
About the woods from the ODNR website:
"Johnson Woods is one of Ohio's largest and best remaining old-growth forests.
Many trees rise 40-50 feet before the first limbs occur and several are more than 400 years old. Some are 120 feet tall with a diameter of 4 to 5 feet. The largest trees, then and now, are white oaks, red oaks and hickories.
Many of the larger oaks and hickories are now dying because they have reached the end of their biological lifespans. As older trees die, they are being replaced by more shade-tolerant trees, such as sugar maple and American beech. As a consequence of this natural succession from an oak-hickory community to a beech-maple community, the maples and beeches are becoming more prominent members of the forest community at Johnson Woods.
Swamp forest communities, dominated by red maples and pin oaks, are found in the more poorly drained sections of the preserve. Several buttonbush swamps are found in depressional areas which are frequently associated with a swamp forest community.
An impressive display of wildflowers flourishes in the spring, including trout lilies, large-flowered trillium, several species of violets, and windflower. Summer brings the cathedral-like canopy of leaves, which becomes more colorful as autumn has its affect on the woods. Winter emphasizes the massive trunks and the height of the huge trees.
In addition to its importance as one of the few old growth forest stands remaining in Ohio, Johnson Woods is also significant for its size. At 206 acres, Johnson Woods is a self-supporting ecosystem. Its large size makes it less vulnerable to storm damage and threats from disease. Birds, such as the pileated woodpecker, scarlet tanager, Acadian flycatcher, wood thrush, ovenbird and hooded warbler, are found nesting at Johnson Woods along with many other species that are dependent upon larger tracts of forests. The size, age and history of Johnson Woods make it one of the most significant forest communities in Ohio."
It was a frigid, blustery winter day, amplified by the unseasonable warmth which had kept the grass green up to that point. No snow had fallen so everything felt sharp and crisp. None of that would stop us, it was a new year and we must go outside!
The forest floor is a soft swampy ground, so a boardwalk leads the way through the trees and brush. Along the path are markers informing you about the trees and the grounds with which you wander. A bench allows you to rest and contemplate the trees, some trees here have been since before the Mayflower landed on the shores of America, it's inspiring and humbling to be in the presence of the trees. Reflecting on them makes our existence feel so short and insignificant. The trail is an easy one mile loop, but there's so much to see. With the newly set on cold weather, the ice needles had rose from the ground (see the last couple images), more info on what and why those are to come.
The briskness of the walk was the perfect wake up for the new year. I look forward to exploring the trail more as the seasons change.
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.