Gallant Woods Preserve is not what it used to be -- and that's a good thing!
During my walk there last week, I watched two mallard drakes as they sat on a log at the far end of a pond, seemingly staring at me. When I coughed, they ducked their heads. When I walked farther down the path, they turned their heads and watched. I thought maybe they were protecting nearby nests, but I found out later they probably were simply hanging out and enjoying the sunshine.
After watching through binoculars for a few moments, I retreated and left the mallards to their quietude.
Gallant Woods Preserve just might be my favorite of the eight parks in the Preservation Parks system. At 231 acres, it is the largest, and it feels like it; the nine-year-old park has been open long enough that park staff has had time to build a trail system that reaches most sections of the park.
Located just northwest of the Delaware city limits, Gallant Woods also has that "getting away from civilization" feel to it, maybe because it is not as heavily visited as the parks in the southern part of the county.
For me, those are both good reasons to love the park. But there is something else: At Gallant, there are things to see that simply were not present when that park first opened -- in particular, the wetlands and the wildlife they attract.
Mallards may be all over the place, but sora rails are not. Nor are least bitterns, sandhill cranes or green herons. These waterfowl and shore birds started appearing after Preservation Parks restored wetlands in the heart of the park.
The land that is now Gallant Woods Preserve was farmed for decades by the Gallant family, and they followed the common practice of the day of laying down tile to drain wet areas. After all, they wanted to grow crops on as much of the property as possible.
Since acquiring the property (part of it was donated by a member of the Gallant family), Frank Di Marco, Preservation Parks' wetlands mitigation coordinator, has removed drain tiles, reintroduced some wetland plants and, in some cases, added subtle earthen berms to help the wetlands retain water in those old crop fields.
Once tiles are removed, it does not take long for wetlands to reassert themselves, nor does it take long for wildlife to find them. Ducks -- migrating and resident -- lost no time in making themselves at home. Frogs -- spring peepers, chorus frogs and others -- started using the wetlands for reproduction almost immediately, and the wetland plants started flourishing.
This spring, for the first time, park staff and visitors saw teals, least bitterns, coots and sora rails in or alongside the wetlands. Tall sandhill cranes, migrating through, were seen at Gallant Woods for the first time. All of these birds would have passed the park by if not for the wetlands.
New visitors to this park express surprise and delight at the variety of wildlife they see, especially around the wetland areas. We invite you to come and see for yourself, either during your own walks through the park or during nature programs.
Opposite the large picnic shelter is a covered trail entrance with a colorful display that details the transformation of this land from farm to park, talks about the biology of wetlands and introduces visitors to Gallant Woods and the adjacent Gallant Farm.
There is still time to register for the Wild and Wonderful Wetlands program, which will be held at Gallant Woods Preserve at 9 a.m. May 24. Registration is required by May 19; call 740-524-8600, ext. 3, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The program is free and generally is for ages 18 and older. However, parents with older children are invited to bring them. Waterproof boots are highly recommended, and binoculars make the experience even better.
However you wish to explore the park, take time to do it this summer. The woods, prairies and -- especially -- the wetlands beckon.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.