MOUNT VERNON — Knox County Park District Director Lori Totman picked a garlic mustard plant beside a well-mulched walking path that connects Honey Run Waterfalls Park and its 18 acres with the Kokosing River. The plant’s pungent smell was in full “bloom.”
“You can actually eat garlic mustard. It makes an awesome pesto,” she said during a Tuesday tour offered to the Mount Vernon News. It was an opportunity to highlight recent county parks progress — with summer fast approaching.
She noted that too much garlic mustard consumption is unwise because it contains a mild toxin. It’s Totman’s business to know all about plant vegetation as mid spring will soon give way to summer. Garlic mustard is a non-native, invasive species, so getting rid of much of it as possible and other invasive species like it is part of her job. Fortunately for the park district, she has volunteers who help in this regard — including soon-to-arrive Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists.
Park progress includes a combination of new park features and amenities offered, while also controlling vegetation. During the driving-and-walking tour, the first stop was at Wolf Run Regional Park on Yauger Road, Knox County Park District’s oldest park with 250 acres. It consists of several distinct habitats — meadows, prairies, woodlands, wetlands and old-growth forest.
Wolf Run is benefiting from a new approach to park amenities, Totman said. It centers around using a durable composite plastic material, which resembles wood, to replace wood when putting in new picnic tables, kiosks, benches, and trash containers. She pointed to a wooden picnic table falling apart near a Wolf Run walking path as the reason: wood tends to have a short shelf life due to rain and other elements, while the plastic composite material will last an estimated 50 years.
A sturdy shelter inside a dog park next to Wolf Run’s parking lot, provided by the local Rotary and Kiwanis service organizations, is a reminder that Knox County parks have benefited so much through the years from such contributions. Boy Scouts becoming Eagle Scouts also continue to improve the county parks as they complete projects like bridges and groomed walking paths.
Wolf Run includes a small house that serves as headquarters for many park district activities, and as a meeting place for the certified volunteer naturalists. A mulched area close by will one day serve as a children’s natural playground area.
“It will have a real hollowed-out log children will play in,” Totman said. “We will also have ‘tree cookies,’ which are cross sections of trees in different shapes children can play on.”
Totman’s description of outdoor activities awaiting Knox County visitors this summer also included mentions of multi-use trails, and river access points to the Kokosing and Mohican rivers. In Centerburg, multi-use trail connecting North Clayton Street with Huffman Road was recently completed and in so doing became part of the Heart of Ohio Trail. It was a major undertaking with multiple funding sources. And it is just one example of a multi-use trail she mentioned. Another was the Mohican Valley Trail and its Bridge of Dreams in Brinkhaven. Paving was completed last fall from the Holmes County line to Danville.
“Through an agreement this is also the only horse-friendly trail we have in our parks,” she said. The Bridge of Dreams trailhead also offers an upgraded, paved road to access it, and a large parking lot that is handicapped-accessible.
Honey Run Highlands Park on Hazel Dell Road in Howard is the county’s biggest park with 348 acres. Its parking lot is across the road from a smaller parking lot for Honey Run Waterfall.
Honey Run Highlands Park, like other county parks, is subject on occasion to controlled burns to create growing space between already fast-growing prairie plants. In about two weeks, college interns working for Knox County Park District this summer are due to arrive, and they will stay in a four-bedroom house owned by the park, with two barns nearby. They will be involved in trail work, educational programming, planting native species and other projects.
On the walk to Honey Run Waterfall, one of the park district’s most popular destinations, Totman smiled in seeing that wild flowering plants including Dutchman’s breeches, Trillium and Mayapple were in bloom. Honey Run Waterfall became a Christmas season destination late last year for 2,000 people who released luminaries along the waterfall and its mulched path that extends to the Kokosing River. The Knox County Career Center, with 40 student volunteers, made the mulched path possible with their hard work, she said.
Honey Run Waterfall has 18 acres total, with the initial two acres offered by Wayne Espenschied and family. The sand and gravel company he worked for donated more acreage, Totman said. At the base of the waterfall, a marker of sorts — written as “SEPT 1906” — gave indication of how long the waterfall has been a part of Knox County’s outdoor heritage.
“I have historical photos showing women in long dresses here,” Totman said.