Words and Photography by Amanda Kiplinger
Stepping out of my car, I was greeted with a chorus of cicada’s singing their late summer songs. Inhaling deeply, my lungs were filled with the heavy late summer humid air only found here in Ohio. The bright morning sun burned away the ground fog, exposing a carpet of wildflowers. White clouds form overhead in the deep blue sky. This was the first time I visited Sprinkles Serenity and I instantly fell in love with the park.
One of eighteen parks making up the Ashland County Park District, Sprinkles Serenity was officially designated a park in 2014, exactly one hundred years after the original purchase of the farm by David and Ruth Shanks. Several years later the Shanks son-in-law and daughter, the Sprinkles, farmed the land. They were noted for their innovative feed and breeding methods for milk cows.
The Ashland County Park District began farming the twenty acres of overgrown fields with an apple orchard providing food and shelter for wildlife. The park district also planted over four thousand new trees and shrubs on ten acres complimenting the eighteen acres of swampy forest. Pheasants Forever planted seventeen and a half acres of praise grass and wildflowers.
Beginning at the Park District’s kiosk, beyond this point are three main trails. One leads to and through the aforementioned apple orchard. Winding through the apple orchard the trail veers off to the swampy area. The main (or middle) trail leads to the praise and the forest line. Finally, the third leads through the main area of the park including a trail, that like the main trail, follows the forest line. These three trails also have several secondary and off shoot trails which all link together and making it easy moving from one trail to another.
Over the past four, almost five, years I’ve visited Sprinkles several times. After all it’s only seven miles from where I grew up and ten miles from where I currently live. I’ve seen the park during all four seasons from the unbearable heat and humidity of the summer to the freezing cold temperatures and snowy winter. The park is beautiful anytime of the year but I have to say my absolute favorite season is actually between two seasons, from mid July to mid October.
The warmth and humidity of mid July bring an enormous amount of activity to the park. The green grasses of spring disappear beneath carpet of black-eyed susans, Queen Ann’s Lace (wild carrot), clover, daisy’s and common sunflowers. Great Blue Heron’s hunt for food in the ever shrinking swampy marsh. Swallows, both barn, from the nearby farms, as well as tree, making bombing runs over the swamp, devouring mosquitos as fast as they can. A steady buzz of bees work on the flowers. All the while the birds are filling the air with their summer songs. The clouds in the blue sky slowly cast shadows over the landscape.
Fast forward to the beginning of September and there’s a distinct difference in the landscape. Gone are the summer flowers, replaced with various species of golden rod, evening primrose and chicory. Bees are still working as hard as ever; they know it’s the end of summer. Their bodies and appendages are covered in bright yellow pollen. The birds continue singing, but a select few disappear, flying south to their winter homes. There is a new creature emerging from the shadows. Well, actually, emerging from their cocoons. Brilliant monarch butterflies fly their erratic flight patterns through the golden rod and clover, landing every once in awhile, grabbing from pollen before taking flight. The sun is now hanging lower in the sky as the days grow shorter. Shadows become longer and the sunlight turning from a bright yellow to a golden amber.
Finally, it’s the beginning of October. The leaves on the trees turn from the bright green of summer to shades of orange, red and yellow of autumn. The busy praise died off, the majority of the song birds are gone. Silence is the prevalent sound now. The swamp is all but dried up. Flowers are now various shades of brown. There’s a limited amount of time now in Sprinkles Serenity. By the fifteenth of October the park closes to the general public. Hunters, through a lottery system, come in and hunt from October sixteenth to the beginning of January.
So why am I so in love with this park? Quite simply it reminds me of home. The first time I visited the park, almost five year ago it was an extremely warm summer morning. I began hiking on the middle trail, photographing the first summer wildflowers I saw. Beads of sweat began running down my face. I continued hiking, passing the swampy area, listening to the scared frogs jump into the water. That was the only motion created in the water. Everywhere I looked there was nothing but wildflowers. The smell of the thick summer humid air was overwhelming, it was so thick you could cut it with a knife. As I was surveying the landscape, a memory struck me. During my childhood, my mom would make my sister and I slip on our jeans, put on flannels shirts and hike to our “back forty” on our two hundred acre farm. We were going to pick blackberries for blackberry pies, cobbler and jam. Blackberry bushes are notorious for their thorns, they’re almost like razor blades. Thus the wearing of flannel and jean material in the middle of the hottest time of the year. Whenever we would go out on our adventure, the temperature seemed to always be ten degrees hotter than the previous day. Of course, that was probably the flannel shirts. The smell and the feel of the park on that particular day instantly took me back to my childhood.
If you are ever in the northeastern corner of Ashland County, please stop in and visit Sprinkles Serenity. It really doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit. It is the perfect representation of what is beautiful in Ashland County. My home.