When I was a kid, my parents regularly packaged my brothers and me into the car and up Route 23 we went to Delaware. My grandparents lived there, and from our Worthington home it was a scenic 20-minute ride through the countryside.
Now, the northern reaches of Columbus nearly commingle with Delaware. There are few wild places left along the corridor.
In 2014, Preservation Parks of Delaware County acquired a surviving gem halfway between Columbus and Delaware just west of Route 23. On a recent glorious October day, I met Delaware County resident and spider expert Rich Bradley at Shale Hollow Park.
It wasn’t my first visit. I’d ventured there in the early ’80s, when then-landowner Ed Postle hosted a wintering northern saw-whet owl. I made another visit 15 years or so ago, when efforts to acquire the property were starting.
Now, fortunately, the 211-acre park encompasses the best of this wild area.
A bit more than 2 miles of trails bisects the richly wooded site, and visitors will soon forget they’re a short car ride from heavy development. Shale Hollow is well-named. Big Run Creek, a tributary of the Olentangy River, incises deeply through large banks of shale.
Noteworthy are numerous massive concretions. These geological oddities resemble stone cannonballs, and they dot the shale banks and creek bed.
Near-vertical cliffs tower over the sinuous stream, and the steep slopes and ridge tops are carpeted with massive oaks and other timber.
Biodiversity abounds, and it took us 15 minutes to move on from the parking lot, as the trees around the nature center teemed with feathered life.
In our three-hour foray, we tallied nearly 40 species. Especially noteworthy were six species of woodpeckers, including the crow-sized pileated woodpecker. Several winter wrens worked tangled root masses along the stream. This Lilliput weighs just 9 grams and measures 4 inches.
Tiny golden-crowned kinglets flitted high in some spruce. Yellow-rumped warblers worked the berries of various vines, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker tapped its Morse-code beat. A large flock of migratory American robins alternately bathed in the stream and serenaded us with autumnal whisper songs.
Rich found interesting spiders under nearly every rock and log, and uncovered a red-backed salamander. Architecturally ornate coral fungi adorned a mossy stump, and we noticed a young buck white-tailed deer watching us from high atop a bluff.
I became enamored of the jaw-dropping scenery and scrambled about, seeking the perfect vantage point. There were many, it turned out, and I returned with a catalog of photos that few might suspect were taken in such close proximity to the big city.
Delaware County is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. It’s vital that parkland is set aside now, while it can still be. New development nearly encircles Shale Hollow, and 10 years from now, it probably wouldn’t have been possible to make this acquisition.
I’ve watched Preservation Parks of Delaware County since its infancy, and I am impressed. Their holdings now include 10 parks totaling 1,066 acres. They encompass some of Delaware County’s best natural areas, but much work remains. Protected lands are less than 1 percent of the county’s 457 square miles.
On Nov. 7, Delaware County voters will be asked to approve a 10-year renewal levy to ensure the continued growth and efficient management of the county’s parks. Approval of the levy would mean a brighter future for county residents, present and future.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.