Now that October is here, it finally smells, looks and feels like Fall. As the leaves are turning, it is a great time to get outside and enjoy autumn’s bright colors. A nature walk is the perfect way to relax, breathe some fresh air and a spend a little quality time by yourself or with family.
Westerville Parks and Recreation Naturalist, MJ, recently visited Metzger Park for an adventure in the woods. She has a few tips to make the best of your next nature walk.
1. Safety first. Watch out for poison ivy. A couple sayings to remember: “If it’s hairy, it’s scary,” or “Leaves of three, let it be.” Poison ivy can turn a very pretty color, so give the leaves a double take before picking them up. Here is an example of a brown poison ivy vine.
2. Don’t pick foliage from trees or bushes; take only what has fallen to the ground. This helps prevent damage to the trees before winter and keeps you from picking something rare that is needed for a plant to grow the following year. Be sure to leave behind enough snacks for animals to eat before hibernation. Consider taking just a leaf, acorn or a nice rock as a souvenir. Or, snap a picture instead. Keep in mind it is illegal to keep a feather from a migratory bird, even if it is found on the ground. Additionally, nature preserves like Boyer Nature Preserve are protected areas, meaning you can’t take any flora from the site.
3. Search for as many different leaves as you can. You can compare and contrast the color, shapes and texture. Test your tree knowledge and try to identify the tree. Can you identify any of the vegetation below?
In honor of our state tree, MJ found a Buckeye! But beware, our beloved Buckeye nuts are poisonous and not safe to consume.
4. Keep your eyes peeled for leaf buds. Trees are already preparing for the Spring. This American Beech has buds for next season.
5. Seeds are plentiful this time of year. Smell them, touch them and take note of how they are different. A few you may find in Westerville are acorns, pine cones, multiflora rose, hickory nuts, spicebush, berries and jewelweed. Jewelweed seeds (A.K.A. spotted touch-me-nots) are actually fine to touch and spring open when you pinch them.
6. Make a game out of looking for different animals. Try to spot deer, chipmunks, squirrels, birds and other creatures. This squirrel just got done playing with a friend at Metzger.
7. Channel your inner child. Stomping on big piles of leaves can be fun and a great stress-reliever. Studies show spending time outdoors has numerous health benefits, so soak up the experience knowing you are doing something good for your mind and body.
8. Try to get out before Halloween. Depending on how the month shapes up, some leaves should still be changing and (fingers crossed) the temperature should be mild. If the forecast is slated to be rainy and cold, aim to get a nature walk in before mid-October because the leaves are more likely to be brown and fall sooner.
Your experience with nature doesn’t have to stop at the park either. You can create a sensory bowl filled with the items you found outside for the kids. Another option is to turn the leaves into an art project by decorating them (instructions here). By pressing leaves in a book or sealing them with wax paper, you can preserve them for years to come.
We’d love to see pictures of your October nature walk. Share images with us on Twitter at @westervillepark using #acitywithinapark. Enjoy your hike!