Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni
The 48th Annual Walk with Nature was recently held along the Miami-Erie Canal. Of course, there were a lot of extras going on along with the Walk including music, kids’ activities, craft and market sales, and more creating a true festival atmosphere. While a few didn’t take the scenic hike, most hiked the three-plus miles to the 40 Acre Pond and take a bus back. Some walked both ways. Either way, there was some interesting things to see if you were the observant type.
I didn’t take the walk this year. I fished in a crappie tournament for a good portion of the day. Besides, it isn’t that I haven’t made the walk before. I’ve made the hike countless times to the 40 Acre and back. As a matter of fact, one of them was the first official Walk with Nature almost 50 years ago.Monty Montague and the St. Marys Chamber established the first walk, and I think that was in 1970. Of course, according to my figuring, that would make this the 47th annual walk, but who’s counting. Actually, there were 48 walks since there were two in 1970, one in the spring and one in the fall. I don’t think that was planned, but with the success of the spring walk, having a fall walk made a lot of sense. This is especially true since the spring walk that year was a hot one. I’m assuming Monty thought that a fall walk would be better received. For a bit of trivia, according to my files, the spring walk was on May 17, 1970 and the fall was on October 11.
A lot has changed along the canal since that first walk. Back then, the by-pass around St. Marys hadn’t been constructed and the tow-path wasn’t in the best of condition. There was a lot of trash since a few people were known to party in that direction, tip a few of their favorite brew, and leave the cans. Sometimes people walked the tow path while others were known to take their trucks instead. Depending on the weather, there were always some monster ruts hikers had to contend with. I drove my CJ-5 jeep down the path one time and probably added to a rut or two, something I’m not particularly proud of.
Before that first Walk with Nature, the tow path was considered by most canal rats as a free-fire zone. Most kids learned to shoot a rifle or pellet gun along the tow-path and those that weren’t that advanced set off with their bb-guns for entertainment which sometimes ended in a serious war. It, too, was a natural extension of our childhood activities. We played cowboys and Indians with some really sophisticated cap-guns. Having bb’s bouncing around added a bit of realism to the entertainment. Of course, I don’t think any youngster would ever wind up playing such a game today, and if they did, it wouldn’t be called cowboys and Indians. Being politically correct, they would be put into counseling for engaging in anti-social activities by imitating hostilities between emerging ranchers and oppressed Native Americans. Of course, that would be okay if it were done on a video game application where the causalities went up in smoke rather than got stuck with an arrow.
The tow path was a great place to hunt groundhogs 50 years ago. It was also a place to get a rabbit or two if you worked at it. I shot my first duck along the St. Marys River where it almost touches the bank of the canal. I shot another duck close to the Half-Moon and waded out to get it, minus shoes and pants. I think I was 12 or 13 at the time, the water was freezing, and I needed proof to back up my story. By the way, there were few, if any, deer running around the area back then, and if a track was ever seen, it would have been news worthy. Turkeys? Forget it! They were extinct.
I’ve got a lot of good memories about the Miami-Erie Canal. I did many things that were acceptable and legal back then but would have gotten me into serious trouble today. The point is that I learned a lot about nature and learned some survival skills. I learned to shoot. I learned to be independent. I learned to explore. I learned to create my own recreation without having someone do it for me. People who walk the canal today will never have that opportunity. They will, however, have the chance to make the walk their own. Hopefully, it will be a great experience. I guarantee, taking the same walk on a weekday will provide an entirely different perspective. The same applies walking it during the different seasons. For example, the variety and number of birds seen during the spring and fall are totally different.
Finally, the Miami-Erie canal needs cosmetic work and a greater flow of water. That’s nothing new and has been talked about for years. Make your thoughts known to anyone who will listen. The canal is a great place and needs to be preserved. That’s an attitude that needs to be created.