BETHANIE BIDINGER, Battelle Darby Creek Park Ranger
Fall is a great time to visit Battelle Darby Creek to refresh from the summer heat and take in all the beauty that this favorite season has to offer.
Hiking with my four-legged companions is one of my favorite ways to experience fall. Both parties appreciate the cooler weather and fewer bugs this season brings. Some of the best spots to bring your furry friend along for a hike are the Wagtail Trail and the Pleasant Valley area because they are not busy areas of the park and offer variety of scenery and trail routes.
The Wagtail Trail winds through prairies filled with goldenrod and asters amongst vibrantly colored grasses. The trail cuts through the woods, providing cooler shade with the crunch of crisp leaves under your feet. You can even meander your way down to Big Darby Creek to let your dog go for a swim or get a drink. Make sure you check out a huge, hollowed-out sycamore tree on your way to the creek. There are several loops to this trail which provide options for different longer and shorter hikes every time you come out.
The Pleasant Valley area is on the southern end of the park, off US62 in Harrisburg, just southwest of Grove City. All the trails are pet-friendly and there is even a nice dog swimming area in the larger of the two quarries. The trails wrap around the old quarries and through fields, again filled with those beautiful fall flowers, and are lined with sycamores, Osage oranges and cottonwoods. Keep your eyes open for beaver sign as many call the quarries and creek home in this area. You can also access the creek easily behind the quarries. Pleasant Valley is a quieter area of the park, and as the cooler weather takes hold, you may find you and your dog are the only ones enjoying the trail.
If you are looking for a go-to spot that is pet-free, my favorite trail in the park is the Dyer Mill Trail in the Little Darby Picnic Area. I love this trail because it has a little bit of everything and many different loops to try out; there are hills, views of Little Darby Creek, open fields and wooded areas. You can make it a shorter or longer hike, depending what route you take.
If you are not much of a hiker but still want to experience fall at Battelle Darby Creek, here are a few suggestions. The wet prairie access is not only a popular spot for birders, but also a great place to pull in off Darby Creek Drive to enjoy the sunrise or sunset. You can venture out onto the viewing mound next to the lot and watch as hundreds of birds fly in and out of the wetlands and prairies. You may even be able to observe the bison roam around the prairie across the street as the sun sets.
This parking lot is a great spot to take in the vastness of the restored prairie, with all of its fall colors, and watch the clouds float by. Another good place to take in the fall colors, especially late in the season, is the Cedar Ridge picnic area. The many sweetgums and oaks turn to vibrant oranges, yellows and reds. These large, colorful trees line the roadway and parking lots. A short walk around the paved Hawthorn Trail will give you the full experience.
— OHIO FALL COLOR FORECAST (see weekly updates on Ohio Dept of Natural Resources website) —