How long does it take to walk a mile-long trail? When I'm walking for exercise, I can cover that distance on a roadway in about 15 minutes (at four miles per hour).

How long does it take to walk a mile-long trail? When I'm walking for exercise, I can cover that distance on a roadway in about 15 minutes (at four miles per hour).

A Preservation Parks nature trail will slow me down a little, since it's covered with mulch or gravel and across uneven terrain. On a trail, 20 minutes is a good guess.

But when I'm walking with one of our park naturalists, it can take -- oh -- 45 minutes, easily.

On one such walk, I learned how to identify holes made by yellow-bellied sapsuckers, what the bark of a black cherry tree looks like, why many grapevines are twined around the trees in our parks and what a cardinal's call sounds like.

We listened for woodpeckers, and heard the rat-a-tat of one nearby. Pecking too softly to be a pileated woodpecker, it probably was a downy or hairy; all three live in the woods at Hogback Ridge Preserve.

I've seen the pileated twice and recognized it by its red crest and size -- 16 to 19 inches long. But without knowing what to listen for, I wouldn't have yet seen this bird in real life -- only in the cartoons! (Yes, Woody is a pileated woodpecker).

Again, I had our naturalists to thank for teaching me what to listen for.

I've been working for Preservation Parks of Delaware County for six months, and am just now learning what I don't know about nature. Which is quite a lot.

The thing is, even though I've spent a lot of time in canoes and tents, and walking on trails over the years, I mostly just took in the sights, smells and sounds without thinking much about what was creating them. It was enough for me just to appreciate the beauty around me.

If anything, I love the outdoors even more now that I'm learning more about birds, trees and habitats. I didn't know, for example, that nuthatches walk down tree trunks with their heads down and their tail feathers aimed at the sky. Or that black cherry tree bark looks like burnt cornflakes. Or which owl makes which sound. A simple walk in the park takes on new meaning when you're armed with a little knowledge. A tree becomes a habitat and its seeds become food for birds and animals. A salamander represents the successful retention of an intermittent wetland. And the entire park becomes a refuge for all the plants, birds and animals that call it home in a rapidly growing county.

Between now and the end of August, Preservation Parks naturalists Jackie Brown and Kim Banks will lead nearly a dozen nature hikes. They include our monthly Hound Hikes (walks along our parks' nature trails with your dogs), our new Adult Nature Series (two "Birding 101" walks and a tree hike) and four Wild Town Walks (checking out nature along city streets).

Not on the trail, but still in the parks, naturalists also will lead programs for families, preschoolers and school-aged children. They will hold the week-long Summer Explorers Camp and lead the Preservation Parks chapter of Ohio Young Birders. Most of the programs are free and advance registration is required for only a few. All the programs will open your eyes and ears to sights and sounds that add a lot of meaning to a simple walk in the park.

Information on programs and events can be found at www.preservationparks.com and by calling (740) 524-8600 or (740) 595-3725.

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

Sue

Hagan