Submitted by Bob Batz Jr., Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Protected by Hollow Oak Land Trust, this park offers pretty ponds, trails, a pavilion and a butterfly waystation.
A teacher in-service day off school for my 12-year-old gave me the opportunity to road trip to a place I’ve been wanting to visit for a couple of years: Sahli Nature Park.
The 90-acre park is a 40-mile drive from Downtown Pittsburgh to Chippewa, Beaver County. It’s one of the hiking spots in the western suburbs protected by the Hollow Oak Land Trust. I’d heard great things.
“This doesn’t look like a place that would have hiking trails,” my son said, looking up from his phone after we exited Interstate 376 onto the commercial strip of Route 51. But a quick right turn took us back into the woods, and then we turned right onto the skinny lane leading into what is officially I.S. and Gertrude Sahli Nature Park, for the late owners whose daughters donated this once-abandoned farm to Chippewa in 2010.
“I guess we’re kind of a well-known secret, if there is such a thing,” says the park’s manager, Pam Varga, a retired teacher who runs camps and other programs there, plus the park’s excellent Facebook feed.
“We pride ourselves on being a nature park,” she says. “We want people to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate the beauty of nature for what it is.”
After hitting the portable potty and consulting the big informative sign in the small gravel lot, my son and I set out to circumnavigate the park on the yellow Seneca Loop Trail. These woods are crisscrossed with other color-coded trails named for the indigenous people who used to hunt here.
We enjoyed one mild climb, but otherwise the mile–plus trail was mostly flat, smooth and grassy on the feet as it curved through hardwoods and pines. There are a lot of ferns.
Back near the car, we flitted around the park’s Butterfly Waystation and the small greenhouse/butterfly nursery, closed for the season, where the park–February through September–raises milkweed plants and raises and releases tagged monarch butterflies.
Then we checked out the two pretty ponds where fishing is allowed–with barbless hooks and as long as you release the fish-but swimming and ice skating are not. We spied a turtle and several frogs flaunting one rule. Ms. Varga knows where Izzy, the 4-foot-long water snake, hangs out.
“Open,” according to a sign on it, was the nature center, a vintage dollhouse-of-a-self-serve-structure housing a guest register and a collection of artifacts, including wasp nests, skulls and other bones. Also tucked into the trees beside it is a picnic pavilion with a stone fireplace that looks great for a visit in colder weather. (Ms. Varga says the nature center once was a beach house and changing room when the ponds were a lake where the family swam in summers.)
As it was, we kept our jackets on and had dew-soaked shoes after our approximately 1½ hours here. We agreed that we would come back. And bring Mom.
Ms. Varga has plans to introduce other butterfly species such as giant swallowtails by planting some hop trees that they like. It’s the kind of globally important work that hidden green gems like this can do. As she puts it, “We’re managing what we have and trying to preserve it, protect it, improve it, and bring more of the native plant communities back.”
Sahli Nature Park is at 194 McKinley Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010. Get more information and a map that you can print out and carry with you at http://hollowoak.org/conservation.html#sahli.
Bob Batz Jr. | firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr
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