Char-Mar Ridge Park is the reason I work here at Preservation Parks of Delaware County.

I knew a little about the park district previously, since I wrote for a newspaper and had covered some park news. But when Char-Mar opened in 2007, I visited, picked up a brochure, went to the website looking for volunteer opportunities -- and there was a job posting. So here I am.

Char-Mar Ridge, located just off state Route 3 in Genoa Township, has remained one of my favorite parks for many reasons. The first hits you almost immediately on leaving the parking lot: the shade and quick drop in temperature. The park is almost entirely forested, and it feels like it. Sure, it can be very humid, but the cooler temperatures along the trail are noticeable and appreciated.

The trees are mostly oak, beech, maple and hickory, and they fill the park, inviting not only walkers -- many with dogs on leashes -- but wildlife that often are seen or heard. Many late afternoons, I've heard the sweet hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo of a barred owl or the gobbling of wild turkeys.

White-tailed deer and raccoons, even if they are hiding from sight, leave evidence of their presence with footprints that line the edge of the creeks. Turtles, visible from a wildlife blind, often sun themselves on logs in the pond. And we see the markings left by beavers that have a lodge in that same pond. The lodge is well-hidden, and we leave it alone, but there are times we spot these elusive nighttime creatures. During a recent night hike, the naturalist leader said the group saw several beavers out and about, doing their wood-cutting thing. That's the kind of nature-rich moment we relish over and over again in the parks.

Char-Mar is not only nature, however. It's also a workout, as anyone who has run the 1.7-mile trail will attest to. It's uphill and down, and even a fast walk will get your heart pumping. To add to the challenge, we'd added workout stations along the trail where the extra-motivated can use a tree for standing push-ups or a bench for triceps dips.

One of four Preservation Parks' natural play areas is located here, too. Young people spot it right away and pass through the arch into their own little kingdom -- filled with logs to jump from, a tree stump-table at which to snack or play a game, and a creek to wade in. It's here that the imagination truly comes alive: those toadstools really are for fairies, and tiny magical creatures nap under the flower-umbrellas.

The Ohio to Erie multiuse trail crosses the western edge of the park, and we recently connected the park trail to it. Bicyclists can chain their bikes to a rack and enter the park for a quick rest stop.

I love seeing that Char-Mar Ridge, once a hidden gem, is becoming the go-to park for many who seek nature, an invigorating hike or a new place to explore.

Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.