ANDREW BOOSE ANNETTE BOOSE
Metro Parks Aquatic Ecologist Staff Emeritus, Otterbein University
Our favorite place to canoe is always around that next bend, where there’s the chance to see something new or even an old familiar sight in a new light. Down a glide where sucker fish streak below, bobbing over riffles that hide colorful darters, into a deep quiet pool of flashing minnows and giant catfish lurking under logs. Our favorite time to canoe is early on a spring morning, serenaded by a chorus of warblers and wood thrush, mingled with the scent of the damp oak woods coupled with a warming sunrise, seemingly far away from the daily grind. On days like these the possibilities for wonder and viewing opportunities are limitless. We’ve seen barred owls with their young fishing for crayfish on the creek bank, deer with their spotted fawns getting a drink, a beaver industriously building a lodge, great blue herons high above our heads in their rookery, and wildflowers lining the creekside with a plethora of colors and shapes.
Paddling on a creek can, and is encouraged to be, the true leave no trace outdoor experience. With each stroke of the paddle, whether it be the deft J stroke of an experienced canoeist or a first-time paddler, there is only for a moment, a small whirlpool that disappears as one paddles through the waterways. Take a whole day, one with no other time commitments, and truly immerse yourself in the surroundings. We like to pack a lunch and stop along the way on the bank or at a gravel bar and get out and just wander around and look at mussel shells or search for bits of colored glass or photograph the flowers.
Rather than canoeing solo, or as a couple, a group outing can be so much fun. Last summer we went with a group, ages ranging from 26 to 65 years old, and a variety of watercraft, down Big Darby out of Prairie Oaks. We had an unforgettably enjoyable day with like-minded individuals passionate about being in nature. These kinds of activities are so soothing for the soul. We both grew up with parents who took us canoeing as children. For some, the cacophony of excited children dipping their paddles into the creek, maybe for the first time, spinning and splashing and full of wonder will become a cherished memory. Additionally, there is a multitude of documented research on the benefits of nature to the body and mind health of children.
Metro Parks has three rivers (Olentangy, Scioto and Hocking) and eight navigable creeks – Little Darby, Big Darby, Big Walnut, Alum, Blacklick, Rocky Fork and Walnut running through the Scioto watershed, and Clear Creek running through the Hocking watershed. Trips ranging from an all-day journey down Big Darby Creek at Prairie Oaks and Battelle Darby Creek Metro parks to a paddle around the Darby Bend Lakes at Prairie Oaks Metro Park are possible. Scioto Grove offers canoe access both up- and downstream for a possible 2-mile trip down the Scioto River or you can extend your jaunt to 9.5 miles by starting at Scioto Audubon Metro Park. And there is no one season to enjoy the paddling.
Spring is an interesting time to paddle but fall and winter paddles also have their merit. A fall paddle on Big Darby Creek affords views of magnificent trees adorned with the beautiful colors that reflect off the creek and look almost surreal. A cold chilly morning, on Big Walnut Creek just below the Hoover dam, to the towering oaks of Shafer Woods after a covering of snow can be the perfect winter blues cure as you view the majestic sycamores frosted in pure white against vivid blue skies. Know before you go and be ultra prepared and safety conscious. Be sure to have a properly fitting PFD for each person in your party and file a float plan with a trusted friend or family member. Be aware of water conditions and other potential hazards and remember your cell phone may not have reliable service in all areas and a wet phone might not work at all. More information on canoeing and boating safety can be found here. Remember also to pack out all your trash and leave any shells, flowers or natural items you find for others to enjoy.
Why not plan a trip this spring? There’s a Metro Park just around the bend and it just might be your future favorite place to paddle.