One thing I love about our Eastern Ohio town is the close proximity to retail, restaurants, church, etc. and to nature’s flora and fauna. It’s hard to imagine, living in our quiet neighborhood in St. Clairsville, that trains used to run about a block from here. In 1997, a 2 1/2 mile Rails-to-Trails project transformed the abandoned track into a wonderful paved bike and walking path that includes the 522′ tunnel where trains passed under Route 40, a 342′ bridge that crosses Route 9, and a new tunnel that underpasses I70. Those impressive features interest to a natural tree-lined trail where spring rains flow down cut hills and ever-changing seasons bring early spring flowers as well as stunning fall leaves.
The flora is beautiful, if not somewhat predictable, however the fauna can be quite surprising. Lacing up our sneakers and heading for the trail is a favorite exercise and get-away all in one. Every time we visit the National Road Bikeway, a variety of birds are present, including many of my favorite cardinals. But, once in a while, a group of wild turkeys strut down a hill and cross the path in front of us.
As in our backyard, gray squirrels scurry and forage about along the trail. However, one of the best surprises about living here is the presence of white squirrels. I was amazed at seeing seven of them during one walk! This one lives in an oak tree next door and visits our yard daily.
Leashed dogs are permitted on the path, and we’ve seen countless breeds. But one afternoon while I was on a solo walk, a coyote stepped out of the brush to cross in front of me. I have no idea how I would have reacted had a neighbor not reported a week earlier that she had seen one in our neighborhood. The large canine and I both stopped in our tracks for a moment before he moved off to the other side and disappeared. This was so alarming to me that I called the police department to let them know that a wild animal was in town. No reaction. I’ve since learned that folks who live outside of town are familiar with the howls of coyotes and that they do wander into town now and then.
We often we see white-tailed deer grazing along the trail, but we need only look out our back window to watch them resting or nibbling on our landscape plantings. I’ve decided that I enjoy the deer more than hydrangeas anyway.
Other wildlife sightings include a fox and her kits, tadpoles and bullfrogs, and evening bats. And then there were the 17 year Cicadas whose crescendoing drone was loud enough to send us to the mall to walk last summer.
So we have mammals, insects, amphibians, birds, and, oh yes, reptiles. It’s not surprising that snakes enjoy the trail’s access to shade, water, and an asphalt path for afternoon sunning. What surprised me while out on an early spring walk not long after moving here was the sight of MANY small snakes swimming downstream in the ditch beside the path. I’ve since realized that our spring garter snake broods, which can number 3-80, leave the nest shortly after St Patrick’s Day. While not crazy about being surprised by a snake on the path, I have taken an interest in locating the little fellers on early warm afternoons such as we experienced earlier this week. I’ve learned to stop and listen for them slithering among the dead leaves on the hills and then to spot the camouflaged reptiles. When I’m successful, I can’t help but share my excitement with other walkers and smile at their reactions. Those who are wearing headphones, riding bikes, or walking dogs are not likely to notice the emerging snake population. Let me be clear. I stand on the paved path and view the snakes while having NO INTEREST in venturing into their habitat. Anyway, it’s against Bikeway rules.
Garter snakes are pretty nonthreatening . On occasion, though, a 3 to 4 foot black snake startles a walker. I’ve only seen one once. It was lying in the grass beside the path. My husband, however, was notified by our mail carrier one afternoon that there was a big snake resting beside our front porch. Mercifully, I was not home at the time (although I would have snapped a picture) and only heard the story of the disposing of the snake when I returned. I guess we don’t get to choose which critters make their way from the country into our quiet little neighborhood.