As leaves begin to change and the days get shorter, fall is one of the best times of year to enjoy the great outdoors.
Mercer County is home to a plethora of wetlands, treatment trains and wildlife areas that are open to the public year-round, many of which include walking trails. Most are open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Theresa Dirksen, agriculture and natural resources director for Mercer County, said the natural areas provide numerous benefits to the public as well as wildlife.
Wetlands, treatment trains and similar conservation efforts improve water quality and increase habitat diversity for wildlife. They also provide walking paths for exercise and ample opportunities to connect with nature, she said.
While leaves in Mercer County have yet to take on autumnal hues, residents can expect the transformation to begin in early October. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a fall color forecast available online at fallcolor.ohiodnr.gov, which will begin updating on Wednesday.
Here are some of Mercer County's wetlands, treatment trains and other outdoor areas to explore this fall:
The Prairie Creek Wetlands Trail, located along State Route 219 adjacent to the Franklin Township Greenway Trail, features a 1.2-mile crushed stone walking path.
The trail meanders through the Prairie Creek Wetlands, where people can view abundant wildlife among the three ponds. Phase 1 was constructed in 2012 and Phase 2 was constructed in 2014, Dirksen said.
The wetlands include approximately 30 acres of constructed wetlands, 70 acres of forested wetlands and 100 acres of in-lake, or littoral, wetlands. Water is pumped from Prairie Creek into the wetlands at a maximum rate of 1.3 million gallons per day during the growing season of April-October, Dirksen said.
Constructed in 2015, these wetlands located along Johnston Road feature approximately 30 acres of constructed wetlands and 250 acres of littoral wetlands. A 0.8-mile walking path is open to the public.
Water is pumped from Coldwater Creek into the wetlands at a maximum rate of 4-5 million gallons per day during the growing season, Dirksen said.
This 1-mile scenic trail winds through 80 acres of prairie grass and wooded wildlife in the Gilliland Nature Preserve off of Club Island Road. Visitors can find information stations along the trail as well as an observation tower overlooking woodland, wetland and prairie habitats. Parking is available at South Shore Sportsman's Club, 5380 Club Island Road.
A second phase constructed in 2021 created a 2-acre wetland, 1.5 acres of reforestation, 9 acres of existing woods and about 5 acres of planted prairie grasses and forbs, Dirksen said.
Windy Point Wetlands was constructed in 2019 and includes 5 acres of wetlands, 15 acres of prairie grasses and about 22 acres of forest/forested wetlands. It also features a 0.35-mile walking path off of Windy Point Road, with parking close by on Lake Vista Lane.
Also nearby is the scenic Windy Point State Park Trail, a 1-mile paved trail located on Windy Point, a rocky jetty that extends into the lake toward Safety Island. This trail is perfect for biking, jogging, walking and running, and has a picnic area in addition to fishing and swimming access.
Although the Mercer Wildlife Area wetlands are not open to the public because it is a bird sanctuary owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the area does have an observation deck where people can view birds.
Located along State Route 703, this project began in 2021. Phase 1 was constructed in 2022 and Phase 2 was constructed this year. These two phases added 20 acres of newly constructed wetlands, enhanced 12 acres of existing wetlands and include 20 acres of controlled drainage, Dirksen said. Water can be pumped from the lake into all of this new construction at varying rates.
Phase 3 will be constructed in early 2024 and will consist of several more wetlands along with a wetland at the old South Bay Motel property, according to Dirksen.
Mercer County acquired this roughly 117-acre parcel of former farmland off of St. Anthony Road in 2021. Since then, it was returned to a natural state to enhance water quality and wildlife and ease flooding in the area. It includes all native grasses and forbs, along with a walking path.
Acquired in 2020 by the Lake Facilities Authority using Clean Ohio funds, this area consists of 40 acres of wetlands, 15 acres of existing forest and newly reforested areas and about 35 acres of prairie grasses and forbs.
Located on Coldwater Creek Road between Younger and Green roads, the wetland is also Grand Lake's first upstream treatment train. The area opened to the public in August 2022.
The site takes medium to high flows during certain times of the year via gravity and there is a pump that can move about 600,000 gallons per day into the site, Dirksen said.
"There is great educational signage, an observation tower and deck on site," she added.
Consisting of 40 acres of shallow constructed wetland cells, the Beaver Creek Vegetated Biofilter features a 0.9-mile walking path near Lakefield Airport on State Route 219. Water is pumped from Beaver Creek at a maximum rate of about 600,000 gallons per day during the growing season.
Dirksen noted the design is different due to its proximity to the airport.
"We try to avoid open water areas that would attract birds for the concern of airplane bird strikes," she said.