Wetlands, vernal pools, meadows, prairie and woodland -- Gallant Woods Park has it all.
Located a mile northwest of the city of Delaware, this park is Preservation Parks' largest at 231 acres. With such a wide variety of habitat, it seems each season offers something special.
In the fall, it's the vibrant oranges, yellows and reds of the forest and meadows that draw me in. Earlier this month, I hit the trails in search of autumn splendor. The parks system had added a new primitive trail along the western edge of the park not long ago, and that's where I headed, after pausing to relish the rust-colored seed heads of the prairie grasses in the center of the park.
With the addition of the dirt-surfaced primitive trail, the 3.3 miles of trails at Gallant Woods are a "stacked" system. Because trails connect to one another in more than one place, hikers can turn right or left one day and walk in a figure eight the next, basically creating a new hike each time they visit the park.
Of course, unlike in most of the Preservation Parks, this means there's a real possibility of getting turned around. We're remedying that, creating a "You are Here" sign at a key juncture; I could have used that sign as I kept walking -- and walking, and walking.
Happily, I was surrounded by maples, oaks and other hardwood trees, all sporting their pretty fall colors, so I found what I had come to see. Many of the trees are only a few decades old, so the sea of yellow they created had a fair amount of invasive honeysuckle and grapevine mixed in. After all, this land was farmland for generations -- back into the early 1800s.
Huge trees are rare in the park and were probably part of tree lines that served as farm-field dividers back in the day. Some of those trees are truly magnificent, towering above their surroundings and marked by burls and huge, gnarled branches.
The trail also winds past several vernal pools, but they are easy to miss in the fall because these intermittent bodies of water are usually dry this time of year.
Not so in the spring -- "vernal" describes the spring season, and the aptly named woodland pools explode into life with the snow melt and spring rains. Salamanders breed in these pools and depend on them for life, but it is the vociferous chorus frogs and spring peepers that grab attention. The din can be heard from outside the park boundaries and is almost deafening up close.
Winter draws park visitors to the sledding hill, and in the summer, the picnic shelter is always busy. That's also when we host our free Thursday-evening concerts and annual adventure run.
But it's those fleeting, nature-full, shoulder seasons -- spring and autumn -- that shine at Gallant Woods and call me back again and again.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.