As most of you know I am back in the Midwest spending time in my hometown. Since I plan on being in the area for an extended amount of time, I am trying to make a point to explore areas of the city that one can experience the natural world without venturing too far away from creature comforts. These are places that are not intimidating for those with limited outdoor experience and easy for the experienced to get a quick nature fix.
Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve
I have run numerous laps in and around the baseball fields and picnic areas surrounding Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve but it has been since I was a kid that I have entered the actual preserve. The nature preserve is tucked between an expressway, golf course, baseball fields, numerous businesses and busy streets which may immediately turn some away from a visit, but I personally am impressed by the fact that the preserve is still “preserved.”
The day of my recent visit, there were many runners and dog walkers around the preserve but I timed my visit to avoid school trips and weekend crowds, I basically had the place to myself. My child mind remembers feeling very easily taken in by the wilderness around me and so I was excited to see how my perspective would differ as an experienced hiker and adult.
The preserve has about six miles of walking trails (not to be confused with hiking trails) which are well maintained, and a great introduction for children or adults new to the outdoor experience. I didn’t walk the entirety of the preserve, as some sections were extremely flooded due to recent rain however, I explored over half the area. Some small sections of trail (closer to the nature center) are paved but most of the trails are dirt or boardwalks. It’s easy to forget that a busy city surrounds you while walking within the preserve but occasionally on some of the out skirting trails I was brought back to the city. On some of these trails, I heard and could see traffic along with taking in smells of fast food on the wind. I have a feeling, that once the surrounding flora goes into full bloom these sights and sounds will be diminished to some degree.
As I walked along the trails I was able to let my mind wander and take in the calls of birds and even the sounds of a woodpecker. Walking along a few ponds and creeks I took in the familiar croaks of toads (a sound I didn’t realize I had missed out West) and the sounds of flowing water that doesn’t seem to happen enough in the desert.
Several trails have been given local and historic names such as “Wabash Erie Trail” which is named for the water source it runs by; once the longest canal in the United States, the Wabash & Erie Canal. Others I couldn’t help but find a little off-putting after clearly being named for a company sponsor such as the “Toyota Break Trail”. Within these same off-putting thoughts, I cannot help but feel grateful that these companies saw the importance in continuing to help protect this special area of land; a catch twenty-two of sorts.
After immersing myself within the woodlands, I returned to explore the small nature center. A few captive birds and reptiles can be viewed along with several hands-on displays, which I am always a sucker for. The weird smells and deteriorating taxidermy animals I remembered from my past have long since been replaced. I did remember being mesmerized by a bird and wildlife observation area within the nature center and found the area still part of the center.
From the protection of glass, one can observe various species of bird, squirrel and other wildlife that come to feed and drink around a small stream. What makes the scene even more special is the placement of hidden speakers outside allowing the observers to hear all the natural sounds and wildlife talk. Forgetting just how bright red a male Cardinal is and how big a Fox Squirrel can get, I was fully entertained for a good half hour watching small dramas unfold in front of me.
After my visit to Wesselman Woods, I can honestly say I was fulfilled. For a minimum of five bucks (further donations are always appreciated), I was able to get my nature fix, learn a little history, rehash old memories, get some exercise, observe wildlife and hopefully with this post, show my appreciation that my hometown recognized the importance of protecting a wild place.
There are many ways to enjoy nature beyond just long-distance hiking and without traveling long distances. If you’re ever in my old neck of the woods, I recommend a visit to Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve.
Learn More About Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, a place of the likes that “no other city in the United States with a population exceeding 100,000 has within its corporate limits.”
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