Growing up in northeast Ohio, Paula Ziebarth lived in a home with a wooded lot and a father who valued nature.
"We raised toads, studied fireflies, watched the birds. He would declare a day each year as 'snake day,' " Ziebarth recalled during a recent walk at Meadowview Park in Powell.
So there's some history to Ziebarth's work on bird trails in area public parks -- but Ziebarth herself said that was never the goal.
"I got involved with nest boxes over 20 years ago in my own yard," Ziebarth said. "I hadn't seen a bluebird until I lived in Powell. When I saw one, I thought, 'How beautiful.' "
With help from the Ohio Bluebird Society, Ziebarth began encouraging bluebirds and other cavity-nesting native bird species at her home.
In 2002, she started installing and maintaining a nest-box trail in Liberty Township. She began the same work for city of Powell parks in 2006, and also has worked with Preservation Parks of Delaware County on its nest-box program.
Ziebarth's work encourages nesting in gourd-style houses by native bird species, including eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, Carolina chickadees, house wrens, Carolina wrens and tufted titmice. But the effort requires knowledge and proper planning and maintenance to succeed.
"Most park systems are happy and excited to help wildlife. It's a win-win for the parks, for the birds, for residents," Ziebarth said. "But it's not something that happens just like that."
An understanding of habitat, territory, species traits and more contribute to the success of nest boxes for the native species being encouraged, Ziebarth said.
House sparrows, an invasive and aggressive species, will take over nest boxes if they're not properly maintained and supervised, for example, she said.
On the other hand, Powell offers many desirable features for bluebirds and other cavity nesters, Ziebarth said.
"Suburban yards are a great habitat for bluebirds. Bluebirds and purple martins like to be near people. They view them as a safe haven," Ziebarth said. "But you must control the sparrows."
Ziebarth has trained a number of volunteers who help her with nest-box trail maintenance in the city. She also, with the help of her team of volunteers, provides data to the city each year.
In all, there are 100 nest boxes in Powell parks.
"Paula had the vision to establish a nest-box trail in Powell in 2006, which has continued to grow significantly over the past 14 years," said Silas Bowers, interim director of parks, recreation and public service.
Her vision, Bowers said, along with her "passionate effort to see it succeed," created a unique feature across Powell's parks.
"We are grateful for her dedication to this program as well as her knowledge that she has willingly shared with the community over the years," he said. "There were 100 nest boxes in the city in 2019, and we have been working with Paula to continue to identify sites for future expansion of the program."
Ziebarth said she will train residents to participate in the care of the nest-box trails in the city, or, if they prefer, help them develop the proper habitat for native birds in their own yards.
"You can have these boxes in your yards, and bring in these beautiful birds and provide them with a safe home," Ziebarth said. "I'm happy to help."
Residents can email Ziebarth at firstname.lastname@example.org.