By Lindsey Ricker
Darke County Park
Come explore the Darke County Parks. Walk through the Nature Center at Shawnee Prairie Preserve or Bish Discovery Center and expand your knowledge of nature and the earth. Take a walk around our raised garden beds that sit beside the Bish Discovery Center building. Rent a bike and ride on the Tecumseh bike trail or, starting Memorial Day weekend, rent a kayak or canoe and float the creek from Alice Bish Park to Historic Bear’s Mill. Attend or volunteer at one of our many programs or events. There are so many opportunities!
You may be wondering how you can get involved with Darke County Parks. I started out as a volunteer myself, as did many of my coworkers. When I moved back to Ohio, I knew I wanted to be involved with the protection of nature in my hometown, where my roots are. I went into the Bish Discovery Center and asked for an application and they told me that the best way to pursue a career in the park district was to volunteer, so I did. As a single mother of two young infants, it wasn’t easy to find extra time to volunteer, but I offered as many hours here and there as I could (thanks to the help of my amazing, selfless parents). As a volunteer, I did a variety of tasks. In the beginning, I helped with custodial work, but I quickly moved onto animal care, garden maintenance, butterfly monitoring, trail maintenance, and more. Volunteering gave me the opportunity to familiarize myself with the staff, the Nature Center, and the ideals of the Darke County Parks. Volunteers are a huge part of how our park district functions. You can make a difference in your everyday life by doing things like picking up trash and gaining knowledge about how our eco system works, or you can volunteer directly at the park district by calling Shawnee Prairie Preserve Nature Center and asking how to become a volunteer.
After being employed by Darke County Parks for two years, I’ve found even more interests and passions through my work. Did you know that the Nature Center at Shawnee Prairie Preserve has a whole room dedicated to Chief Tecumseh? “Tecumseh was a Shawnee Chief…he traveled widely and promoted tribal unity”. You can learn more about Tecumseh and local Native American history by visiting the Susan F. Gray Tecumseh Room. The Nature Center is also home to many different living creatures, including Red Tailed Hawks, an Eastern Screech-Owl, a Barred Owl, and several species of native turtles and snakes. These animals are used to educate visitors about local wildlife.
The Nature Center is also surrounded by so many native insects, birds, trees, and plants. My favorite time of year to work for the parks is spring, because everything outside is in bloom. Spring has the ability to renew life in innumerable ways; through the Earth and through you and I. When you understand how all the pieces of the puzzle work together, you can better understand how to make your contribution. All parts of the ecosystem must work cohesively for the entire “tree” to grow: the soil, the roots, the sun, the rain, and the people protecting it. The soil and the rest of the foundation of nature is just as important as the bees and butterflies, or the vultures and eagles. All species and parts of the ecosystem are vital to its success. Go take a walk and see what you can discover from the forest floor to the towering oak tree canopies.
Did you know that there are 13 nature preserves within Darke County Parks that you can explore any day of any week, sunrise to sunset? Our maintenance staff, along with countless volunteers keep the trails clear, mowed, and maintained. Nature has the power to make monumental positive changes in your mind. Walking in those Darke County Parks can benefit you long after you leave the trail. Benefits include decreased stress and anxiety, increased energy, improved concentration and creative thinking, increased sleep quality, and much more. A walk in the woods can be peaceful alone, but why not share in that joy with someone else too? As the great Chris McCandless said, “Happiness is only real when shared.” I love exploring the parks with my 5 year old daughter and 4 year old son. As I was working on this article, my daughter told me to add “nature is our friend.” When she said this, it reminded me of a Bible verse, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you.”
We must be the change we wish to see. I encourage you to get involved with the parks whether it be walking the trails or taking the plunge and becoming a volunteer. I can promise you that whatever you do, it’ll make a positive impact on your life.
For more information about Darke County Parks, visit www.darkecountyparks.org or call the Nature Center at 937-548-0165.