Cane Creek tour teaches about wildlife

Aug. 31, 2013 @ 04:10 PM

A little after 9 Saturday morning, a small flock of children gathered around Cane Creek Park Ranger Nick Coffey.

"Ok, how many of you have had poison oak or poison ivy before?" Coffey said. One small hand raised as an onlooking parent quipped, "Thomas, you've had poison oak before. You didn't like it too well."

Coffey pointed to a sign bearing the drawings of three distinct leaf shapes. Before heading off on the first official hike of the park's educational hiking trail, Coffey warned the younger hikers some things to avoid in the wild.

Situated south of Waxhaw is the 350-acre park often overlooked by Union County residents.

"There are people in Waxhaw that don't even know about the park," Coffey said.

But most weekends, the park has lots going on. The staff offers classes in outdoors skills life orienteering, beginning fishing, gardening, archery or geocaching. There are peddle boats for rent, a lake beach perfect for sunning and swimming, picnic tables, bike and horse trails, miniature golf, bird watching and quiet wooded trails for a peaceful walk.

But the education trail is a new addition. Construction began last fall. Planners chose the areas with the most ecological diversity and the most to see.

On the hike's next stops, Coffey showed parents and kids a fallen tree.

"You can tell how hold the tree was by counting the rings," he said.

"Do we have rings?" a younger hiker asked.

Along the lake, the group learned how a dam was built to catch water from the creek, flooding acres of the surrounding land. Under water, a wide variety of fish spawn in the spring, hatch out in the quiet coves and grow to adulthood shielded from the larger fish.

But fish are not the only wildlife living in the park. Deer are an almost daily sight, Coffey said.

"We have two bald eagles in the area," he said. "For a long time, you didn't see them around here, but they have been seen out here along the lake."

Some park inhabitant are not as majestic.

"If you look over there, you'll see some fire ant hills," Coffey said. "They weren't here until Spanish ships brought them to America years and years ago."

A tidbit of information for the children amazed several of the adults who learned something new on the hike.

Through the trees and fields, the group learned about the variety of animals that live in the park and how they work together. Limbs that fall into the lake give baby fish a safe place to grow. Animal dung fertilizes the soil. Insects pollinate flowers and the fruit feeds small mammals.

And though a ranger-led hike means everyone can ask questions, park visitors can borrow trail guide books at the park office that explains the animals and plants common in the park.

There are still events at Cane Creek Park planned for September. The weekend of the 15th, the park will have family games starting at 2. On Sept. 21, a bird watch walk starts at 8:30 a.m. An archery clinic on Sept. 21 and an intro to geocaching class on Sept. 2 require preregistration. Do so by calling the park staff at 704-843-3919 ext. 23. Keep up with park news by liking the Cane Creek Park Facebook page.