Winter walks at Wildwood Park


Three stewards of Wildwood Park recommend winter walks through Radford’s urban oasis

Liz Kirchner

Snow in the sycamores, icicles under the tufa cliffs, wrens in the cattails—a walk in Wildwood Park is as interesting and beautiful in winter as it is in milder months.

Photo by Liz Kirchner
Under snowy sycamores, Brian Parr admires winter in Wildwood Park.

While Wildwood Park is no wilderness — it’s just a quick peel off Main Street beside the library and the National Bank of Radford, it’s a storied place: it shelters a late-Woodlands period burial cave where bones were rummaged through by saltpeter mining, Civil War cannonballs were lobbed into it from Fairlawn, and bikers zing through it rumps aloft, a small, but critical link on the 4000 mile TransAmerica Trail connecting America from coast to coast.

The 50-acre stream valley cleaved by Connelly’s Creek is Radford’s backyard, its classroom, its garden and its laboratory. In spring and summer, the park is full of people: Radford High School biology students with dip-nets students monitor stream water quality, Belle Heth Elementary School students march across their baseball field to consider its watercress and wetlands, naturalists attend outdoor lectures on lichen and falconry, photographers roam its pockets and meadows for spring ephemerals and fritillaries.

But to describe the park’s winter interest, we asked three stewards of the park: Carly Dove, the city horticulturalist; Radford University plant cell biologist, Dr. Gary Coté, and photographer and park neighbor, Nancy Kent, to describe what they see in Wildwood Park on their own winter walks.

As the city’s horticulturalist, Carly Dove works to protect and manage Radford’s urban fields and forests and to teach people about the natural world around them in city.

Dove spends winter days in Wildwood Park working with the Parks and Rec crew protecting park biodiversity.

“We do a lot in Wildwood Park in the winter. We go around and get rid of the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima, an exotic invasive),” Dove said. “That’s a huge one because they make so many seeds. It takes a lot to control them, but also English Ivy (a common invasive).”

As she’s out in the park on frosty mornings, battling invasives, Dove recommends noticing the multiple ecosystems throughout the park and the leafless beauty.

“I just think you definitely see stuff in the winter.” She said “There are so many things in the winter, like beautiful flowers in the summer.”

In the woods in winter she notices big and small parts of the ecosystem.

“You definitely get to see the sycamore bark more in the winter. It has a bark that has white running through it – white and grey and brown. Sycamores are along the stream. They prefer water,” Dove said.

“A lot of what I notice, I guess, is the seed pods on trees and meadow plants – golden rod and coneflowers. The lichen of course, and you’ll also see winter berries,” she said. Keep an eye out for the winterberries of native plant species,” she said.

Photo by Gary Coté Kirchner
Often overlooked, but very pretty, is Lemon Lichen (Candelaria concolor) which looks like little flakes of yellow. Look for it on rocks and on trees. Quite a bit has been seen on the bark of trees by the library.

Gary Coté, Radford University biologist and webmaster for ‘Pathways for Radford’, the park’s nonprofit, leads spring and summer Lichen Walks through the park.

“Lichens are found all over the park: in the treetops, on bark, on rocks, and fences along the path,” he said.

An amateur lichenologist, Coté leads popular spring Lichen Walks. Virginia Native Plant Society members from all over the state and Wildwood Outdoor Classroom Lecture series follow him.

Asked why he leads walks, “I like lichens” said Dr. Cote, ending that emailed sentence with a side-ways smile ‘J’. I find them very interesting and study them as a hobby. I like to walk through the woods and study them and just admire them and I like to get more people interested in them.”

Two lichen that people are most likely to see in Radford are the Common Greenshield and the Sulfur Firedot.

The Common Greenshield is a flattened, green, leaf-like one with wrinkled edges that grows on trees in Wildwood on the RU campus and even in people’s yards. Scientists know it as Flavoparmelia caperata. It is one of the toughest and lives well into towns as well as out in the wilderness. It is known from New England to California.”

They are everywhere, but lichen are often overlooked.

“Another is the very common one that hardly anyone notices is Sulfur Firedot (Caloplaca flavovirescens). Its reproductive structures are little orange buttons, but the rest of it is just a yellowish stain on rocks, cement, or mortar. Look for it in Wildwood on limestone, but also on sidewalks, concrete and mortar all over town. Look for an orange stain and then look close,” he said.

The Wildwood Park web pages lists lichen, birds, spiders, grasses, dragonflies, and mammals, and plant indices

Nancy Kent, a Radford resident, photographer, and Wildwood champion was called by Dr. Coté “a dedicated student of Wildwood”. For her a winter walk in Wildwood is natural.

“Walking in the woods in after the leaves have fallen off the trees makes it easier to see birds, squirrels and other creatures. Seeds are also more visible and my camera helps me see how marvelous they are,” Kent said.

“I walk in the Park once or sometimes twice a day. I walk because walking makes me feel good. I walk because I enjoy being outdoors. I walk with my camera because taking pictures helps me to see more of my surroundings. I walk because I like to hear from others about why they are walking. I walk because that is a good way for me to learn about the world around me and how I can care for it and find my place in it,” she said.

Wildwood Park is a Park for all seasons.

more recommended stories