I’ve walked in Marion’s Woods many times. It’s a wonderful place to mark the seasons and squeeze nature into a busy day. On my most recent walk, it was overcast with the pleasantly spicy, musky smell of fall. My daughter, who hasn’t visited it as many times, enjoys deciding which fork we should take at each of several splits in the trail. We seem to have the woods completely to ourselves, except for a red tailed hawk overhead.
Named in honor of Marion Eberhardt, Marion’s Woods was acquired by ACRES Land Trust in 2012. I did not know Marion, but I can relate to her in many ways. She was well-known for her love of nature and for introducing it to children. Ideas I value as well. Her husband Art, comes in at the top of a list of some of my favorite people.
Because of Art, ACRES, A& D Specs, Angola Tree Board, Bicentennial Nature Trust, Indiana Heritage Trust and a number of other dedicated people who all contributed to the preservation of Marion’s Woods, we are enjoying our stroll through a little patch of urban forest within the city limits of Angola, Indiana.
Marion’s Woods is good place to learn (or teach) a little tree identification. Three dominate tree species in the preserve (hickory, cherry and oak) all have distinctive characteristics.
The common “Shagbark” Hickories are aptly named and easy to spot. When the tree is mature, the bark is really best described as shaggy. It has a “compound” leaf- usually a large cluster of five smaller leaves, and nuts. The bark has enough overhang that bats can roost in the crevices.
The black cherry tree, when mature, has rough, dark, reddish brown bark- I’ve heard it described as burnt potato chips. To me, I think it looks like roof shingles for a doll house. There are small cherries on the tree, and the leaves are long, narrow and usually very shiny green, now turning yellowish-red.
Probably the most abundant trees in Marion’s Woods are oak. There are numerous varieties of oak. I tried to play “tree bingo” with a group of kids once in a forest with red, white and black oaks. While there was a lot of laughing, I don’t think we ever completely kept them straight. Generally speaking, if you are learning basic tree identification, the trees in the oak family have characteristic lobed leaves and ridged bark. Also, oaks all have something in common; acorns!
Acorns, with their funny, bumpy hats, must seem friendly to kids. They are often drawn to them when they see them on the trail. Many animals are drawn to acorns, too, eating them unripe on the tree or ripe from the ground. Squirrels and jays hide acorns for later, essentially planting them. Wildlife that consumes acorns as an important food source includes jays, pigeons, some ducks, woodpeckers, mice, squirrels and other rodents.
And because Marion’s Woods has acorns, it also has squirrels. Squirrels are well adapted to city living, and a pocket forest like Marion’s Woods is an excellent place to be a squirrel.
Fox squirrels, red squirrels and gray squirrels are the most common varieties in northeastern Indiana. Red squirrels are the jitteriest members of this rodent family, and are very small- not much larger than a chipmunk. Both red and the larger gray squirrels have white bellies, but their size difference makes it easy to tell them apart. Gray squirrels also have large, bushy tails. Black squirrels are not a different species, but are gray squirrels with different pigment.
Fox squirrels are burlier and less nervous. Their upper body is a burnished black, brown and orange combination with brown on their bellies. They are curious and outgoing, with large bushy tails. They can often be seen on the ground, but are never far from trees.
To the dismay of birdwatchers, fox squirrels are notorious for their birdseed heists. Because birdfeeders provide an easy food source, squirrels will often visit. If a birdfeeder is in an area that lacks trees for dens, the squirrel may try to move into homes and attics.
Chipmunks are a type of ground squirrel. They live in burrows in the ground and generally don’t climb trees like their bushy-tailed cousins.
Flying squirrels are present in our area, but are seldom seen because they are nocturnal. They glide, rather than fly, by using skin flaps connected between their wrists and ankles.
My daughter and I quickly finish our walk and head off to our next appointment, taking with us a little of the peace that comes from time in nature. Our day is a little better for taking a short walk.
Like Marion’s Woods, many of ACRES preserves hold stories of families who want to honor the past, embrace the future, and lead the charge in protecting a slice of something they value in the form of a place.
So many of the preserves we hike are there because they were someone’s farm, field, home, or woods. In Steuben County alone, we can put faces with names on many area preserves: Brammall, Bruner, Ropchan and others. Honoring the people who loved those places and inspired the rest of us to take note of them, is why organizations like ACRES are able to protect natural areas. It’s not just about places, it’s about people, too. People like Marion.
Fall is a great time to get out and enjoy the glory of the woods. The days are cool and crisp and leaves are starting to show off fall colors.
Check out ACRES website to find a preserve near you. They are free and open to the public all over northeast Indiana. They are great places to stretch your legs, see a little nature, and have an adventure with the kids.
A fun ACRES event happening Saturday, October 17 at 2 p.m. is a Grandparent Hike at Bicentennial Woods in northern Allen County, five minutes from DeKalb County border, 340 E. Shoaff Road, Huntertown. There will be activities to engage youngsters, and grown-ups can experience the preserve in a new way. Presented by Bill Smith and his grandchildren. There will a second offering at Wing Haven in Steuben County on Sunday, Oct. 18, 10 a.m.
Jill Noyes is a Steuben County resident and outreach volunteer for ACRES Land Trust.