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Wildlife and Native Plants in Blendon Woods Park, Central Ohio
State Parks Improvements 1970s - 2015
In the 1970s, many state parks in Ohio were small and sketchy, but good for annual year end school picnics. Rangers were always pleasant and helpful, even taking children on hikes to spot woodpeckers and owls as well as plants our Native Americans used in daily life. The parks were features in displays at the Ohio State Fair every summer, encouraging greater numbers of visitors.
By the 1990s, conservation became more of a political and personal goal among people and organizations in Ohio previously and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources began to further develop and expand the offerings in the parks. By the 2010s, the parks in Central Ohio alone are places where visitors may enjoy the quiet beauty and magnificence of nature that has been encouraged by government agencies and private organizations like the Audubon Society.
On a recent Friday evening during summer, I attended free events at one local state park and, compared to the status of the park twenty years previously, I scarcely recognized it. It was like the Land of Oz after leaving a dry Kansas dust storm.
The park is actually a member of the Columbus city parks network, a forest inside the city.
Directions To Blendon Woods
Blendon Woods is located in Northeast Columbus off the east-and-west artery that is State Route 161; and approximately eight miles east of Westerville's main drag, State Route 3.
Rt. 161 used to be a two lane highway, but now is more powerful than many interstates and nearly always traffic clogged. I find it easier to head east on Morse Road and take a left on Cherry Bottom Road after passing Easton Shopping Mall and the I-270 overpass. Continue three miles on to the main entrance of Blendon Woods. Easy!
The "Back Way" to Blendon Woods
Wildlife Programs at Blendon Woods
I like Blendon Woods, because it includes a research program that helps the Monarch Butterfly without trespassing on the rights of other wildlife or businesses. The park is also a joy because staff and visitors are always friendly.
The park supports a Monarch Mansion that is open during regular park hours from June through September ach year. It is a screened gazebo outside the nature center, which has an observation deck and printed materials about the park and its wildlife. Outside the observation deck windows, you can see a 100-foot long mock-up of waterways within the park and native plant life you can expect to see on your walks and tram (trolley) tours.
The nature center has a large interactive map of migratory paths and plenty of pictures of waterfowl found in the park. Seating inside and outside is available for relaxing before or after a walk. Group tours also start from the nature center, which maintains large, clean restrooms and a park office with a small gift shop.
The Monarch Mansion contains free-flying butterflies raised inside Blendon Woods for release on Monarch Day every year. Children are taught to capture and tag Monarchs in the fields of Blendon Woods. Later in the day, they release the tagged insects to fly to Mexico in a yearly migration. Activities continue from 10:00 AM through 4:00 PM on the first Saturday in September. Call the InfoLine: 614.508.8000
Special programs about spiders and bees are offered to pre-schoolers, but parents often enjoy them as well.
Several species of endangered and protected wildlife call Blendon Woods home and are well cared for by park naturalists. A flock of 100 wild turkeys live in the woods and I feel fortunate to have seen two adults and several babies cross the road. One naturalist told my tram group that as he puts out feed for the turkeys, they draw near and gobble at him to hurry up.
Walden Waterfowl Refuge
After a walk, a tram tour took my group around the park and down to the waterfowl refuge. The lake was full of lotus plants, including the American lotus, which grows freely when the water levels of the lake become lowered. Around the edge of the lake we found a good birding area, where we saw ducks, inland gulls, and a Great Blue Heron.
Audubon Bird Hikes are offered around the year, for all ages and might be early on a Saturday morning or at any of several times of wekend days. During some months, a late-night full moon Owl Hike is offered.
A GPS Hike is a lot of fun, especailly for families. On some Sunday nights, hikers listen for insects. One long standing hike is one in which a naturalist helps hikers identify different species of trees, along with birds and other wildlife living in them.
Additional hikes focus on birding via photography and related projects include building birdhouses and learning about turkey history. Preschoolers have their own programs and some hikes are reserved for Senior Citizens.
Native Plants Protected and Enjoyed in Ohio
Landscaping in the park is well done, with native flowers and grasses masses in central areas near parking lots, facility entrances, and cross-trail areas, as along the trails themselves. The evening I recently visited, I could smell sweetgrass (Indian grass) in the air. Another of the native plants in the park is the Indian Hemp, the bark of which can be stripped to make rope.
Purple Coneflowers and Gray-headed Coneflowers are lovely to see in these landscaped areas. Flea Bane is also present, and can repel fleas on dogs. Golden Rod is present in large quantities, but some people are allergic to it. Some Red and Black Raspberry plants can be found as well, but not nearly as many as in other parts of Ohio. Black-eyed Susans. Sunflowers, and Milkweed are also evident.
During the summer of 2013, a problem occurred that reduced the numbers of milkweed plants that grew around America, cutting down the Monarch Butterfly population, because that is where they lay their eggs. Naturalists asked ayone who fnd a Monarch Butterfly to bring it into the nature center during the summer of 2013.
One non-native plant in the park is Queen Anne's Lace, from which carrots were originally cultivated. I remember it gowing in the alleys and schoolyards of Columbus when I was a child and how it was interesting to see.
Blendon Woods is one place in the city where you can leave the city behind.