Every time I take a summer walk at Blues Creek Park in Ostrander, there are a few things I notice immediately -- and it's hard to know what to look at, sniff for or listen to first.
There's the wide openness; the expansive tracts of prairie; the bright sunlight beating down; the hawks overhead. Then there is the heady aroma of tall prairie grasses, their seed heads baking in the afternoon heat. And the nonstop sound of crickets and grasshoppers, the occasional drone of bees flying flower to flower, and the nasal "conk-la-ree" song of the red-winged blackbird.
Mostly what I notice -- every time I visit -- is how far removed I feel from civilization. Situated at the far west side of Delaware County, almost to the Union County line, Blues Creek is distant from the heavily populated parts of the county. For those who like a solitary walk, like I do, that's an important feature. When I arrived, late on a Thursday morning, one family was exiting the park and I was the only visitor left.
The quiet really lets me take in my surroundings, noticing anew all the things I love about Blues Creek. The 2.5 miles of trails are gravel or mowed and wind their way through prairies, planted by park staff over the years to create habitat for wildlife that's an improvement on old, weed-filled fields.
In August, the prairies are filled with native Ohio flowers of yellow, white and purple: black-eyed Susans, purple coneflower, Queen Anne's lace, partridge pea. Not only do these plants thrive during the hot, dry summer months, but they attract pollinators and provide food and cover for all manner of wildlife.
While prairies dominate the center of the park, woodland areas rim the area, providing relief from the hot sun and places to live for woodpeckers, owls, wild turkeys and other species that rely on trees for food and shelter.
Besides nature, which truly is the star at Blues Creek, a couple of manmade features attract park visitors. A number of years ago, we had a fishing pond dug and stocked with bluegill, sunfish and other Ohio sport fish.
Now, people of all ages can practice their angling skills in this catch-and-release pond.
The dirt left over after digging became a sledding hill, which doubles as a scenic overlook in nicer weather. I climb that hill every time I visit the park, noticing gentle undulations in the topography that I don't see at ground level.
I can't leave a discussion of Blues Creek without mentioning the night skies. Far enough from the cities, and with wide-open vistas, it's one of the best places to stargaze in the county.
That might not mean much now, when the park closes within a half-hour of sunset.
But in late October, when the sun is sinking down toward 6:30 p.m. and the park is still open until 9 p.m., you can see a lot of stars on a clear, dark night.
That, if nothing else, makes the drive to Blues Creek worth it.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.