Most of the phone calls I receive from readers are interesting, even pleasing, but a recent one from a 78-year-old man left me sad.
"I like to read your columns," he said. "They take me back to the days when I could get out and hunt and fish. But these days I can't get around much, and I miss seeing the woods and fields and wildlife."
I'm sure there are a good many readers in the same situation, and others have parents, relatives, or friends who can't visit Mother Nature anymore.
But there's good news. You can still smell fallen leaves and hints of pungent fox grapes, see squirrels bouncing through trees, watch a woodpecker tap on a dead limb, even fish a little if the winter stays open without having to walk. And places to do so are just a short or modest drive away.
Fowler Woods State Nature Preserve is a fine example. It's 13 miles north of Mansfield on the Olivesburg-Fitchville Road not far from Olivesburg, a 187-acre of old growth woods grading into swamp forest and woodland pools.
There's a fine 1 1/4-mile long boardwalk through the forest that's easy traveling for wheelchairs, and sturdy wooden benches along its way for walkers to sit, rest and look for wildlife. There are deer here, and squirrels, birds of various species, and in spring, a lovely assortment of wild flowers, a nice place to spend a few quiet hours.
Johnson Woods State Nature Preserve is another prime place to visit or to take an elderly person for an outing. This 206-acre woodlot lies 4 miles north of Orrville on Ohio 57, then one mile east on Fox Lake Road. The Preserve has huge trees, mostly oak, hickory, maples and beach, and is probably the largest, least disturbed, old growth forest left in Ohio. A 1 1/2-mile long boardwalk winds its way through the forest, and it's a good place to see not only deer, wild turkey, squirrels and other animals, but also unusual birds like pileated woodpeckers, scarlet tanagers, ovenbirds, and hooded warblers. Old-timers can get a taste of what forests were like before the coming of the axe and saw here.
Any aging outdoorsman or young one will enjoy a visit to Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve on U.S. 6 three miles east of Huron. This is a 572-acre estuary with a fine visitor center that has everything from live fish to native American relics. There's a handicap accessible asphalt trail that leads from the center down to the estuary, and on my last visit there in November I walked down to a little landing and spent time watching ducks and geese and looking for eagles. Again, peaceful and quiet, and lots of waterfowl and shorebirds when the estuary isn't frozen.
There are yet other places where you can enjoy being outside, like little 29-acre Clear Fork Gorge Nature Preserve near Loudonville with its white pines and hemlocks. It's just a quarter mile north of the fire tower off Ohio 97. And if walking won't work, drive down to the covered bridge near the small Mohican State Park campground, park along the Clear Fork River and watch a fisherman or two trying their luck on brown trout.
Check the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves Web site and you'll find others, Tinkers Creek, Kent Bog, Dupont Marsh and more. Many are handicap accessible and others have trails and paths good for at least a short walk. Keep in mind, too, that there are some nice places to fish that require hardly any walking and are handicap accessible.
Come spring you might like to fish the pier at Pleasant Hill Lake, a place where I've caught everything from big perch and channel cat to saugeye. And other lakes often have fishing piers waiting to be tried. There's no need to stay home, no need to miss the out-of-doors. It's out there waiting year around.
Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ohio teachers who have successfully used Project WILD in their classrooms can now provide students additional hands-on learning about wildlife and habitat through grants available from the Division of Wildlife. Grants of $500 each will be awarded on a competitive basis to 20 schools currently participating in the project. Project WILD uses wildlife and wildlife management techniques to teach traditional subjects like math, science, and language arts. For more information, call 1-800-WILDLIFE.
Ohio trappers are midway through a banner year, and fur buyers statewide couldn't be more pleased. Since the fur trapping season began Nov. 10, trappers and buyers alike have watched prices and harvest numbers take a steady upturn. "I sold 1,400 coon hides two weeks ago and I've bought close to a thousand since then." said one fur buyer. While raccoons are without a doubt the No. 1 fur animal in the state, it was the surge in muskrat prices that got things rolling on the trap lines. Many fur buyers are paying $4 to $5 for unskinned muskrats, $20 for male mink, and $10 for raccoons.
Calling it a milestone in recreational activity, the ODNR announced that boating-related fatalities on state waterways declined 50 percent in the three-year period from 2004 through 2006, compared to fatalities over the previous three years. Boater deaths have declined approximately 85 percent since record keeping began in 1965.