Monday, February 10, 2014

Prairie Oaks

Kenneth and I have been attending the Columbus Metro Parks Winter Hike Series for the past three years. Last year we attended seven hikes, which is the minimum required to get the coveted Barred Owl decorative patch. Unfortunately both of our schedules with work and school in January and February this year have been busy on the weekends and we have not been able to make it to more than one winter hike. 

This crazy winter weather didn't help either! It's difficult for me to get excited about going outside in regular winter weather, I don't like being cold and I'm more than happy to appreciate the beauty of freshly fallen snow in my pajamas on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate. Even though the winter hikes take place regardless of weather conditions, Kenneth and I are not winter warriors and have opted to stay home on a few snowy afternoons.

All of that being said, we had beautiful weather on Saturday, January 12th for the hike at Prairie Oaks. It was warm(ish), a bit muddy and very sunny! It was the perfect afternoon for a winter hike and we took advantage of it by hiking the longest available hike, five miles.

The winter hike series is extremely popular! We saw people of all ages and lots of families and groups of friends hiking.

At 2,136 acres, Prairie Oaks is a very large metro park! Over 500 of those acres are prairies and grasslands. We hiked the Darby Creek Greenway trail which runs through prairie, woods and along the west side of Darby Creek. The trail is gravel and easy to walk. 

In addition to hiking trails, Prairie Oaks also offers pet and bridle trails, cross-country skiing, fishing, canoeing and swimming for dogs. There are good places to picnic, rollerblade, bike and a natural play area where kids and families can leave the trail and play.

Despite my strong dislike of winter weather, I do enjoy taking photographs during this cold season. Fluffy seeds, dry plant stems and naked branches clawing at the sky make for great shots. The piercing blue sky we had on Saturday didn't hurt either!

I came across a plant I'd never seen before on this hike. I saw these spiky, kiwi sized dry fruits hanging on a vine that had grown over some low branches alongside a creek. I had to investigate! I couldn't tell what they were at the time, but I took a bunch of photos and shared them with my friends on Facebook (social media for plant identification - I love it!). 

Several of my friends were familiar with it and told me it's the Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata), though my favorite response was from my friend, Zach, who responded "Ah, yes -- the rare prickle-podded nut blossom. It has been a while since I have seen such a majestic sample." It's a pretty cool plant, check out the Weekly Weeder #37 on Common Sense Homesteading to learn more about it. Wild Cucumber, despite it's name, is not edible, but with those spikes, why would you want to eat it? It was a cool find though!

There are three more winter hikes left for the 2014 season, you can check out the schedule here. If you'd like some tips on how to make the most of winter hiking, check out my post, 5 Tips for Great Winter Hikes in Columbus, on the Experience Columbus Blog.