Looking high and low, John Jaeger walked along the trails in Springfield Township's new 35-acre wooded park off Angola Road.
Director of natural resources for the Toledo Area Metroparks, Mr. Jaeger stopped frequently, pointing out deer tracks and squirrel nests; a huge cottonwood and a magnificent pin oak; garlic mustard, skunk cabbage, mountain mint, and grape vines.
"This is all very exciting," he said during a walk through with Springfield Township Administrator Bob Anderson and Bill Tunison, the township's road maintenance superintendent.
In recent weeks, Mr. Tunison and other township workers have been clearing fallen trees, raking leaves, and cutting back underbrush along trails that existed before the township purchased the undeveloped land abutting the south of Community Homecoming Park about two years ago.
New walking trails are being created, too. When finished, the trails will loop the land about a mile or perhaps 1.5 mile. The township is seeking a state grant to help pay for the work. "This is a passive park. It's for people who like to walk in the woods and look at the birds," Mr. Anderson said as a male cardinal's burst of red caught the eye.
Nearby, Mr. Jaeger told stories about his exciting finds, such as the flowering spice bush. "Pioneers dried the red berries and used them for all spice," he said. Wild leek, which he found growing near a savannah ridge, was used for onion flavoring by early settlers, he said.
Mr. Jaeger, who gave the township officials advice about how to develop the trails and preserve the wooded parkland, showed elderberry that is starting to leaf out along the Crissey Road Railroad Prairie that runs along the railroad tracks at the edge of the property. Sparks from the old locomotives caught the tall grasses along there on fire years ago; today, perhaps a controlled burn should be done, Mr. Jaeger said.
He recommended boardwalks for trails in the lowland wet areas. "You do not want to disturb the water movement along here," he said, one reason why he discourages the use of asphalt for trails. Wood chips and compacted gravel would be options, he said.
Mr. Anderson led the way to a sandy area where Mr. Jaeger dug into some beach sand from a glacial lake, deposited here more than 13,000 years ago.
"It's great that Springfield Township is interested in protecting and preserving this oak savannah," Mr. Jaeger said, noting that he's pleased that the property wasn't bulldozed for a housing development. "I'm glad it's being saved. The township recognizes that this is something special."
Look there, wild geranium. Over there, sweet cicely, smells like licorice. And there - witch hazel. At one time, he said, wooded areas thick with the shrub were believed to be bewitched. That's because the shrub snaps its seeds with such force that it can sting the skin or spook a horse, he explained.
The township is welcome to borrow signage ideas from the Metroparks, Mr. Jaeger said. Identification signs could list plant names and what the plants were used for by early setters and Native Americans, for instance. Black oak trees dominate the property that includes a wet prairie, home to frogs and turtles.
The new wooded parkland, near the community park's pond that has been stocked with fish, is open to the public. Motorized vehicles are no longer allowed in the wooded area, and signs will be posted soon to let the public know that, Mr. Tunison said.