Park Views: A nature vacation destination | Columnists

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Ohio is blessed with nine state parks that have deluxe lodging, and one of them is located in Pickaway County.

Perched on a ridge overlooking Deer Creek Reservoir, the lodge and cabins offer scenic views of the surrounding landscape. Deer Creek is a wildlife watcher’s paradise. Meadows and woodlands surround the reservoir. The adjacent state wildlife area adds more wildlife hunting and viewing opportunities.

The late fall and winter months, when leaves are off, the trees provide some of the best times to wildlife watch. Deer abound year round and are often seen on the peninsula where the lodge, cabins and campground are located. No hunting is allowed there and the deer seem to know it. With luck, one can see wild turkeys in the area too. Other area wildlife includes ring-necked pheasant, muskrat, mink, beaver, fox squirrel, raccoon, opossum, red fox, skunk and coyote.

The lake is by far the largest deep body of water in the county. That brings in lots of migratory waterfowl during migration, sometimes in amazing numbers. Both trumpeter and tundra swans appear, and at least 18 species of diving and dabbling ducks.

Common loons come through in November and December, along with sandhill cranes. Five species of geese have been sighted. An occasional scoter or long-tailed duck may appear. No matter the weather, a bald eagle is always a possibility, along with several species of hawks. One or more merlins, which are small falcons, tend to frequent the beach area in the winter, and a northern shrike has been seen in past years. Peregrine falcons have been seen in the wildlife areas and at the marina.

Here is a bit of history of the area. The last glacial period left tons of sand and gravel behind as it melted north back into Canada. All that debris, called till, filled in valleys between hills and left our county quite flat. About 14,000 years ago, the glacier was gone from Ohio. But rain and melting snow has its own force, and rivulets seeking the lowest ground have sculpted Pickaway County since then.

The topography you see now is less than 14,000 years old. Deer Creek runs east and south through the southwest corner of our county. Over the past centuries, it carved a valley through the till plains and flows into the Scioto River in Ross County. A hardwood forest began to grow, with pockets of prairies here and there. The resulting great eastern hardwood forest was dominated by oak, hickory, beech, maple, tulip poplar and basswood trees. This was a great resource as the area became more heavily populated with people who started building towns and cities. They found the land fertile and conducive to crops such as corn, soybeans and winter wheat.

As Ohio’s population grew, flooding on rivers and streams became an issue, and in 1968, a dam was completed on Deer Creek as part of a comprehensive flood control plan for the Ohio River Basin. Because of the central location of the resulting reservoir and its proximity to our state’s capital city, Deer Creek State Park was planned as a resort park with a modern lodge, cottages, campground, 18-hole golf course, swimming beach and boating for outdoor enthusiasts.

It has become a vacation destination. The lodge has conference facilities, a restaurant, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, Jacuzzi, tennis courts and fitness room. An historic cabin on a ridge over the lake was frequented by U.S. President Warren G. Harding in the early 20th century and is also available for rent.

Here are some good areas for viewing wildlife. Great vantage points for winter waterfowl are the beach and dam areas, the first picnic area (known as Georges Run) off state Route 207 north of Crownover Mill Road, and the boat launch area of the marina.

The road into the lodge is a good area for wildlife watching from a car. Drive into the golf course entrance past a small pond; or further down the lodge road, turn into the horseman’s camp area and the horseman’s day use area. There are mowed bridle trails through much of the area that can be walked and designated hiking trails take off from the campground, cabin and lodge area.

The state wildlife area is found mostly north and south of the reservoir and also skirts the northwest side of the lake. Part of that area extends into Fayette and Madison Counties. If you hike into the wildlife areas, be aware of hunting seasons. Season dates can be found on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website at wildlife.ohiodnr.gov. It is always advisable to wear a hunter orange cap or vest when in a wildlife area.

If you would rather be a passive wildlife watcher, the lodge restaurant has massive windows and expansive views of the lake. Or rent a cabin and watch the wildlife come to you as you kick back and enjoy a relaxing stay. Reservations can be made for both online or by calling 1-800-AT-A-PARK. The modern campground offers electric hookups and pets are permitted. Campground reservations can be accessed online or by calling 866-644-6727.

Upcoming events at Pickaway County Parks:

Jan. 5 — Ashville Community Park — 10 a.m. — Fabulous 50 Group Walks — more info at pickawaycountyparks.org.

Melanie Brehmer Shuter is a retired middle school science teacher from Circleville City Schools and a lifetime resident of Circleville. She is also an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist. Shuter writes a monthly column for The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.

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