Imagine this feast for your senses: Tall Indiangrass, switchgrass and Canada wild rye are waving in the warm, summer wind and releasing their heady, grainy aromas. Interspersed are purple coneflower and blazing star, bright yellow black-eyed Susan and brilliant yellow or orange butterfly milkweed. Also in the mix are native legumes such as patridgepea, which are yummy to quail and other species.

Imagine this feast for your senses: Tall Indiangrass, switchgrass and Canada wild rye are waving in the warm, summer wind and releasing their heady, grainy aromas. Interspersed are purple coneflower and blazing star, bright yellow black-eyed Susan and brilliant yellow or orange butterfly milkweed. Also in the mix are native legumes such as patridgepea, which are yummy to quail and other species.

Bees are busy pollinating, butterflies are enjoying their time in the sun, rabbits are safely sheltered in the dense grasses, and bobolinks and other songbirds are trilling their melodies.

A prairie is a summertime nirvana for those of us who love being outdoors, and a bountiful home to all the insects, birds and other creatures who live there.

In a couple of years, prairie habitats will be a reality in several of Preservation Parks' preserves. Already, we've planted three acres at Gallant Woods Preserve with prairie grass and wild flower seed, and we are preparing to plant 22 additional acres there. Eventually, most of the section enclosed by the mile-long Pheasant Run Trail at Gallant will be prairie.

Twelve acres of prairie are planned at Blues Creek Preserve, and about nine acres were planted last year at Deer Haven Preserve (our newest park, opening next month).

The prairies will replace meadow land that currently is rife with goldenrod and daisy fleabane. These common wildflowers proliferate in old farm fields and open spaces, and they are everywhere in Delaware County.

Although these plants seem perfectly appropriate for meadows in a natural-areas park district, they don't provide much of a habitat. They are not a quality food source, and, in the winter, their dried stems are spindly and too weak to support a protective cover of snow that would shelter animals and birds from predators and the elements.

In contrast, the perennial prairie grasses and flowers will provide food for birds such the bobwhite quail, turkeys and pheasants, along with bobolinks, sparrows and other songbirds. And the dense grass stems are strong enough to support a thick blanket of snow.

Our prairies are being created with some funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program - particularly its Northern Bobwhite Quail Habitat Initiative. Quail populations have declined drastically (from about 59-million in 1980 to 20-million in 1999) because of habitat loss, and the initiative is designed to reverse that. The project also helps other birds, including the bobolink, Henslow's sparrow and other species of concern in Ohio.

In total, Preservation Parks is in the process of converting about 46 acres of meadow land to prairies. It is not a simple process, though, and some areas of the parks will look worse before they look beautiful. Before the prairie grasses and flowers can be planted, existing weeds and grasses must be eradicated to mak e room for the new plants. After seeding, other vegetation needs to be kept in check so it doesn't shade out the new prairie seedlings.

Within a few years, however, the prairies will be established with little need for mowing or herbicides.

While establishing the prairies, we will post interpretive signs to explain the process and help visitors understand why a particular plot of ground looks, for now, neglected and devoid of life.

During your walks, you'll notice the parks are evolving --- with improved trails at Char-Mar Ridge Preserve, with a new interpretive brochure for the Woodland Trail at Hogback Ridge Preserve, with the establishment of prairie habitat and, on Aug. 24, with the opening of our eighth park, Deer Haven Preserve in Liberty Township. Watch for information on the grand opening and help us celebrate.

For information about Preservation Parks' programs, events, and park features and locations, visit www.preservationparks.com or call (740) 524-8600.

Sue Hagan is public relations specialist for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.

Sue

Hagan