On the Trail on New Year’s Day

 I Visited a Vernal Pool at the North Chagrin Reservation

The vernal pool at North Chagrin Reservation, pictured on Jan. 1, 2024, is a kind of wetland that provides a place for amphibians, insects and other living beings.

By Anna Krejci

My New Year’s Day tradition is hiking in a park.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment to hike on the first day of the new year.  I can experience the distance I’ve traveled on foot.  I know I have a starting point and an ending point.  A New Year’s Day hike is my first resolution for each year, and it helps to have one that I can mark off as having been done so early.  I think it gives me momentum to tackle the other resolutions I have.

This year I hiked in the North Chagrin Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks.  It was not my first time there; I wanted to return to a small wetland that I remembered from an earlier visit.

This natural habitat I revisited was called a “vernal pool.”  When I saw it on New Year’s Day, it looked like a puddle formed on top of a leafy bottom.  They do not last long; they form in winter or spring but dry out in summer.  The pools are a little like time, kind of fleeting.  They are there and then they aren’t.  But they do return.  The role of vernal pools is to provide safe places apart from fish for amphibians and other creatures. Otherwise, fish would disrupt them.  Because the water in the pools evaporates, fish can never live in the places.  The vernal pools are considered wetlands, and they support the beginning of life for insect larvae, crustaceans, salamanders, snails, reptiles and even leeches.  This is according to a sign erected by a vernal pool along Foster’s Run, a portion of trail on the far southern end of the park. 

Foster’s Run had a watercourse alongside it; water spilled over rocks.  It was a bit exciting to sense the water’s movement – to watch and hear the current.  The flow was more eye-catching than the vernal pool at this time of year.  According to the literature about the pools from the park system, they have no water flowing in or out.  But in the spring, I would think they should be teeming with life.

Nature fascinates me in this way.  It is so prepared for the next step.  The vernal pools form when it is still winter, but they are ready for the next season when the little critters will come to life in them.  If only I could be so well-prepared for what comes next.  I feel like every January I make plans for the coming year.  There are resolutions to be made.  I form expectations.  Usually some of my plans come to fruition and always it seems there are some that are postponed until the following year.  It is still progress that I make, I believe.

So, on New Year’s Day this year, the temperature was in the 30s and snow flurries dallied around me in the air.  I wore a long coat, gloves, and ear band.  After I began striding along, the cold became less of an issue.  In my favor, the wind was not strong, and I felt sheltered underneath my coat’s hood.

Peering out from under my hood, I saw a good number of fellow hikers and walkers at the Metropark.  I know I am not alone in doing a New Year’s Day hike.  I think it is such a good tradition.  My expectations for the coming year are hopeful.  Mother Nature keeps her expectations, too, as evident by the vernal pool.

A section of all-purpose trail called Foster's Run, pictured on New Year's Day, leads to the vernal pool in North Chagrin Reservation.

First Day Hikes Are Common Across U.S.

Some of Ohio’s state parks, which are different entities from the Cleveland Metroparks, held First Day Hikes to coincide with New Year’s Day.  The state park system publicized the hikes, including those which were headed by a naturalist, in a news release on their website.  Some history of the First Day Hikes program was provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

On Jan. 1, 2024, there were more than 1,000 hikes scheduled among the 50 states.  They were to take place under a program called First Day Hikes In America’s State Parks.  It is a 30-year-old program, and all the states have taken part since 2012, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Accessing The Vernal Pool at North Chagrin Reservation

The closest parking lot to the vernal pool from the north is at the A.B. Williams Memorial Woods Trailhead parking lot. After a 20-minute walk south on the paved, all-purpose trail, I arrived at Foster’s Run, which takes you down by the vernal pool.  On the opposite end of the trail, there is another parking lot at the Wilson Mills Road Trailhead, so this section is accessible by both ends. The vernal pool is marked with signs, and there is a boardwalk surrounding it.

Works Cited

“ODNR Encourages New Year’s Resolutions With First Day Hikes.” Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 26 Dec. 2023, https://ohiodnr.gov/discover-and-learn/safety-conservation/about-ODNR/news/first-day-hikes.

“Vernal Pool Restoration.” Cleveland Metroparks. Retrieved 2 Jan. 2024, https://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/about/conservation/resource-management/vernal-pool-restoration-1.