Winter at Wolf Creek

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Over the past few weeks, winter’s steady approach has forced me to consider how I will manage to continue walking and hiking so much in difficult conditions. Last week’s cycle of snow, ice, thaw, and freeze made for treacherous footing around town, so I walked only half my usual miles and ended up feeling tired, sore, and out of sorts as a result.

While I don’t intend to push myself into unsafe situations just for the sake of getting my miles in, I have come to value my walking and hiking so much that I will not let winter weather keep me inside and inactive all season. Road conditions, however, may limit how far or where I travel in search of good hiking, so I’ve kept my eyes and ears open for other possibilities closer to home.

Wayne County, my home, does not have much of a county park system to explore, though I have already started checking out local trails, from city parks here in Wooster to our two state nature preserves in the county. But just to the north of us, in Medina County, the county park district boasts nearly 20 developed parks as well as a portion of one Cleveland Metropark.

So on my way back from the Cuyahoga Valley today, I decided to stop at one of those parks and start exploring. Wolf Creek Environmental Center and the surrounding Alderfer/Oenslager Wildlife Sanctuary have been on my list of places to visit for years, but somehow I’ve never made the time before. I popped into the environmental center first and discovered a rack of park maps for the whole county, so I stocked up before returning to the mild winter day outside.

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Map in hand, I headed west across the Red Trail, following the snowy path between meadow and woods. The iced-over snow gave me an excellent opportunity to study animal tracks, particularly the abundance of wild turkey prints. (While I did not see them on this trail, I spotted them around the environmental center at the end of my hike.)

Before the trail curved south, I turned onto another trail leading into the hardwood forest. Much like the other woods I explored earlier in the day, this forest had a nice mix of species, though I only easily identified the many beeches and the stands of white pines. I followed the loop through and around the woods back to where I picked up that trail, and then I turned onto the diagonal trail that led me through successional fields of wildflowers, small trees, brambles, and a bird sanctuary.

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At the end of that 1/4-mile stretch, I decided to follow most of the pine forest loop, skirting the western edge of what looked like a dense, dark woods out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Once the path turned into the woods, I realized that more light reached into it than I had expected, but it still had a forbidding, foreboding air to it.

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Emerging from the forest, I picked up the short redbud trail and walked past the shadowed deep water pond before reaching the educational wetlands and the boardwalk zigzagging through it. Iced-over water covered with snow was apparently thick enough for the wild turkeys to hike across, given the number of tracks I spotted, so I think it’s safe to say that winter is truly here!

I returned to the center after about 1.75 miles of exploring, and a quick look around the facility made me think I need to find out more about their programs and events. This will surely be a place I return to repeatedly throughout the year.

So now I wonder: what other treasures will I discover this winter?

 

 

 

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