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Reconnecting with the natural world

I’ve had a decades’ long enjoyment of the outdoors. It’s probably something that started in my youth when I would visit family in Wetzel and Tyler counties and go on walks through the woods with my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather.

They would talk about the different types of trees and animals in the area, pointing out deer tracks and other markings.

As I grew older, and got involved in Boy Scouts, the best times for me were the camping trips, where I could just be outdoors in nature. Earning the merit badges was fine, but I looked forward to those daily treks around the campgrounds and the evening campfires.

Having a connection with nature can both remind us of simpler times and provide us an opportunity to disconnect from the current world around us and breathe a little. That means it is just as important to protect and preserve as much of that natural world as we can, wherever we can.

It was good, then, while attending Thursday’s Hancock County Commission meeting to hear some of the plans being developed by the county’s park board, which include the establishment of certified wildlife habitats at some of the county’s parks.

In conjunction with a program offered by the National Wildlife Federation, county parks officials and volunteers would establish gardens of native plants, various shelters and other features which would provide a safe haven for local wildlife, whether it be raccoons and deer or butterflies and other insects.

This is great to hear as it could encourage several native species to grow, or possibly even return, to our region. These projects probably aren’t going to take up large areas, but any bit of encouragement can help.

My immediate thought of a benefit for our region, and our state, was the planting of milkweed to help sustain and grow the population of the Monarch butterfly. There are some residents in our area who already have found ways to contribute to such an effort, but there’s always room for more.

The Monarch is West Virginia’s state butterfly, but, as a result of climate change and alterations of the environment and terrain, they have lost much of their habitat, according to the World Wildlife Fund. That has led to population decline across the United States and in Mexico.

Milkweed is the Monarch’s primary food source, so increasing the amount of milkweed in our area has the potential to increase the number of butterflies. Such an effort has been undertaken in some of our state parks, and even in the backyards of some of our local residents.

Shelters could be installed for local birds and bats. Efforts to encourage smaller mammals also could be included, although it would probably be wise to keep larger animals away from the population, if possible.

These habitats also would provide educational opportunities, allowing area schools with “field” trips to showcase some of our native plants and animals.

Of course, COVID is putting a bit of a question as to when everything will actually get going, but, if done right, it should be great for our area.

We have a variety of recreational opportunities available in the Upper Ohio Valley, and this, as well as some of the other programs being discussed in Hancock County will help enhance them.

It will be interesting to see how these plans develop, and I would encourage residents interested in helping to contact the county park board for more information once their projects are able to move forward.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)

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