The first thing I noticed when entering Deer Haven Park, 4183 Liberty Road in Delaware, was the large puddle -- almost a pond -- off the right side of the driveway.
To most people, the pool of water and the graded land around it don't look like much. But I know it will be wetland habitat before long -- and moreover, I know it is emblematic of the overall evolution of Deer Haven.
Deer Haven opened about a year after I joined Preservation Parks in 2007, so I have seen it evolve from simple meadow and woodland to a park that includes four constructed wetlands, a stone creek crossing, trails and bird-nest boxes, a wildlife blind, a pollinator garden, a natural play area and a visitor center. My recent walk in the park, on a mild winter afternoon, took me past every feature.
First came the wetlands. Visitors need only look at the established wetlands in the park to know how that puddle near the entrance will change. Hydric plants will grow in and around it, and we're seeding it with native rushes, forbs and grasses.
Before long, that wetland will be filled with life, and we'll hear and see frogs, watch dragonflies flit between the grasses, and possibly even see some waterfowl paddling on its surface.
It's always interesting to me to see how nature takes over. One of the Deer Haven wetlands started out as a water catch basin.
It still serves that purpose, but it also is home to so much wildlife activity that it is a favorite destination for park visitors, who lean from the bridge to look for frogs and water insects.
Leaving the wetlands, I entered the woods to check out the park's new wildlife blind. A three-sided, roofed structure, it is situated on a little peninsula halfway around a pond, affording a 270-degree look at the water and whatever is on it. Being early winter, the pond was quiet -- a far cry from the warmer months, when waterfowl visit. The view was nice, though, and I predict the new blind will be hopping come spring.
The two woodland trails at Deer Haven are some of the prettiest in Preservation Parks, situated atop ridges and affording great views into ravines and creeks. My walk followed a rainy period, and I could hear the rushing water in the ravines below. It was just deep enough that I didn't chance the stone creek crossing that connects the two trails; I circled back instead to avoid wet feet.
Next, I walked along the edge of the prairie in the northeast corner of the park, choosing not to take the trail into adjoining Havener Park, which would have added an extra mile to my walk. Instead, I observed the tree-swallow grid, a pattern of tree-swallow nesting boxes that will, before we know it, attract birds staking out their territories and preparing for spring.
Often, walkers at Deer Haven wind up in the visitor center, where we hold many of our free nature programs. We also offer hot drinks from noon to 5 p.m. weekends in the winter at the center, where visitors can enjoy the wood fire and watch birds through the windows.
We invite visitors, new and old, to stop in and say "hello" after a wintry walk in the park.
Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.