In winter, the beech trees are the stars at Emily Traphagen Park.

My walk, a week or so ago in this pretty park at 5094 Seldom Seen Road in Liberty Township, was a cold one, with wind-driven ice pellets smacking me in the face. Worse, the park just felt a little drab that day; there was a coating of snow, but gray and taupe were the dominant colors. Even the birds were quiet. In short, there was not much going on.

But walk on I did, moving a few branches that had blown onto the trail and taking note of ice forming in the wetland. I really was just looking forward to getting back to my car, which is saying a lot, since I enjoy being outdoors no matter the weather.

But I rounded the bend leading to the pond overlook and was greeted by a cloud of rust-colored leaves seemingly floating at eye level ahead of me. The "cloud" was formed around a cluster of beech trees, stubbornly holding onto their leaves long after their companion maples and hickories had let go of theirs. Looking more deeply, I saw that these small beech trees were all around the pond, creating an oasis of color in the desert of gray.

The color was energizing and woke me up to my surroundings: the mature beech showing off their gnarls and woodpecker holes; the trickle of water in the creek; the huge squirrel nests, easily visible now that most leaves had fallen.

Back at my desk, I learned it's primarily young beech trees that hold onto their leaves through the winter; theories for this phenomenon -- called marcescence -- include the idea that these dry, brittle leaves will discourage deer from browsing on the young trees, or that the leaves hold snow, like a fence, trapping beneficial moisture that will be needed in the spring.

Whatever the science behind the prettiness, I was -- as usual -- awestruck by nature's ability to create a picture that will henceforth stay with me whenever I think of a wintry Emily Traphagen Park.

Regardless of the weather, the 86-acre park is a true gem, with a lot packed into its small footprint. Two short trail loops -- about a mile in total -- take walkers through forest and meadow, and to the edge of a manmade pond that plays host to myriad aquatic birds, many visiting from the nearby Scioto River. There is a playground and a natural play area, and the picnic shelter -- with its fireplace -- is my favorite in the park district.

Preservation Parks held a winter hike at Emily Traphagen a couple of years ago; on that very cold day, I gladly stayed back to tend the fire and make coffee.

Emily Traphagen also serves as a gathering place for neighborhood friends, surrounded as it is by housing developments. We've come across family Easter-egg hunts and photo shoots, along with impromptu picnics and hikes to seek out elusive white-tailed deer and barred owls.

For those who have yet to discover this great park, we invite you to come along on an owl prowl at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4. Gather your friends and family ages 7 and older as we call owls and enjoy a dark winter's evening. We might even have the fire roaring!

Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks. Email her at shagan@preservationparks. com.