As the sun begins to set Thursday, a crowd is gathering in the grass in a lot just off the highway at the Eagle Creek Greenway preserve.
They’re there to take a guided hike through parts of the 325-acre property in Hiram Township — a rare look at an undeveloped parcel of land owned by the Portage Park District.
These hikes, called “Preserve Peeks,” are a chance for people to get a glimpse of the properties owned by the Park District that are usually closed to the public.
“With the idea that these are public dollars and it is the public’s space, we wanted an opportunity for folks to be able to see those properties, engage with those properties, learn more about them — learn about those resources and why they’re important — and then also have an opportunity … to provide feedback,” said Andrea Metzler, public engagement manager at the park district.
More: Story trail, children’s play area to open at Dix Park in Ravenna Township
More:Portage Park District adds 112-acre Streetsboro parcel that will become public park
Metzler said that they’re interested in what park patrons think should be done with these unopened preserves. Typically, she said, they often hear requests for more hiking trails through word of mouth and surveys. She’s expecting to hear more of the same after the hike through the park.
For now, the focus is on the restoration of the property through reforestation, meadow restoration, and a two-day drive conducted last spring to identify how many different species are living on the land.
In 2021, the park district bought what it’s calling the Eagle Creek Greenway — temporarily named so because it’s inside the Eagle Creek watershed — from the Carlisle family. The property is adjacent to land owned by Hiram college and used for student research. Eagle Creek and Silver Creek both run through the park in different places.
“The previous owners, the Carlisle family, these were siblings that grew up here,” said Christine Craycroft, the executive director of the park district.
The Carlisles, Craycroft said, so excited to be able to see the land they love be preserved, cut 5% from the sale price. The land could have been developed into anything else if someone else had gotten ahold of it. Money from the Clean Ohio Fund and a local tax levy paid for the $1.5 million acquisition.
Bob Lange, leader of the evening’s hike and natural area steward for the district, called for everyone to gather around as he gave hikers some information about the park and what to expect as they set off across the untamed land.
“As you can see, we have a lot of open field up in the front with woodlands to the south, lots of wetlands,” Lange said. “Tonight for the hike, we’ll be going down to Eagle Creek,” roughly 3/4 of a mile from where the hikers assembled.
“Our plan is to cross there. It’s a little bit tricky, the water’s not that deep—maybe ankle deep at the worst—the bank on the other side is a little tricky,” he said.
In the waning light, the group took off south across a rolling field. It wasn’t long before the group spread out along the trail with Lange leading the meandering column. Moths and grasshoppers flitted along through the clover covering the ground as hikers took careful steps through the uneven terrain.
After passing into a shaded area, Lang stops to point out a gathering of pale blue tubes in the distance to the west. One of the things they’ve done since acquiring the property, he said, is reforestation and meadow restoration. The tubes serve as protection for tree seedlings.
“I think we had about almost 30 different species,” Lange said. They planted a variety of oaks, sugar maples, shagbark hickory, and mixtures of shrub species like ironwood.
The idea, he said, is to build the forest out as much as possible in order to contribute to the life cycles of a variety of different species, specifically birds.
Eventually, the group came to a halt again in a clearing just outside of the woods. Equipment related to the extraction of natural gas flanked the open space. We gathered in a loose circle around Lange and waited for some of the stragglers to catch up.
Lange warned that the we would have to contend with about 150 feet of rough terrain as we moved into the trees. Once into the woods, we’d arrive shortly at the creek crossing.
The whole group made it across the water without incident, scrambling up the muddy embankment on the other side, and stacking up single file on the hill above the creek.
Over the hills and through the forest the hike progressed, eventually reaching a point on a hill where the primitive “trail” becomes impassable.
Lange pulled over to the side and waited for everyone to circle around again. Below, faintly visible through the trees, is a body of water, one half of a pair of beaver wetlands.
Lange said that in the spring they noticed a connecting ditch between the two ponds. It looked like someone had been using a shovel to link the two bodies of water. He explained that it was beavers working to connect the waterways.
“They’re using the river, they’re coming up using the pond, making the connection to the other pond — some kind of a housing development thing for them, I guess; expanding their family,” Lange said.
By then it had been about an hour and it was time to turn back.
The return trip through the woods was mostly downhill, creating an added bit of difficulty at the creek crossing. Everyone made it down the embankment and across the water once again without incident.
Upon emerging out of the woods and back into the meadow, it was clear how much time had passed. Much more of the field was shaded as the sun set behind the stand of trees to the west, its dimming rays turning the clouds pink, gold, and purple.
At the end of the hike, everyone seemed in good spirits, if a little sweaty and tired.
Jo Folger has a personal connection to the land she just traversed.
“I grew up with Stan Carlisle,” said Folger, “so I’ve been on the farm before but not for a long, long time, and not all the way back like that.”
She hopes that they’ll include a connecting trail to the Portage Hike & Bike trail, and she’s excited to watch the newly planted trees reclaim the empty parts of the land.
By his own admission, Bob Mayfield came out to the hike because he’s “nosy.”
“It’s just exciting to see what’s here,” Mayfield said. He greatly enjoyed the hike, seeing the diversity of the flora on the preserve.
His hopes for amenities in the Eagle Creek Greenway are simple.
“I’m all for just the hike and bike trails. We don’t need a playground here,” Mayfield said. “Just come out and visit nature.”
Bill Graham, treasurer of the Portage Park District Foundation, attended the hike as well. He said he’s a fan of the Eagle Creek project, and hopes that as the district begins to develop the land for public use that they’ll include low-impact amenities that bring in people of all ages and backgrounds.
“My dream is that that communities will organize around watersheds because whatever’s happening upstream comes downstream. This is, like Bob [Lange] said, a relatively high quality small headwater stream where there’s unique life. With the cold water, there’s fish that don’t occur other places, it’s habitat for amphibians, and there’s sites around here that have the spotted turtle, too,” Graham said.
“I think people are receiving what’s happening in the parks enthusiastically,” he said. “It’s been pretty amazing what a park district with a small staff has been able to accomplish in the last few years.”
Those interested in a Preserve Peek hike can sign up for the Portage Park District’s newsletter or visit their website.
Contact reporter Derek Kreider at DKreider@Gannett.com
Source link [gs_pinterest id=1]