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One of the joys of Columbus is that the city spread so quickly and without much industrialization, that you can find pockets of natural habitats cheek-by-jowl with heavily-developed areas. For instance, the west side of Columbus, with its densely-packed old neighborhoods, is hardly the location one might expect to have a good natural area, but Sullivant Trace has defied these long odds. Wrapped like a shawl around the base of the hill of the Hilltop neighborhood, this narrow greenbelt stretches around the eastern and northern faces of this neighborhood, stretching from Glenwood Park on W.Broad street north and west all the way to Holton Park (and into the tiny hamlet of Valley View). Most of it is traversed by a bikepath that starts in Rhodes Park and ends in Holton Park.

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I visited Sullivant Trace on a recent sunny November day looking for late migrants. Because it is the only greenspace in the vicinity, it often accumulates all sorts of interesting landbirds. I’ve found that the best place to park is the huge ODOT lot just west of the massive office builings along W.Broad St.; its lot is much better patrolled than the lonely lots in Wolfe Park. You can pick up the bikepath just off the north end of the lot, and I wandered west along it, past some meadows and down past an old flood control impoundment. This is sparrow city, and I quickly found Chipping, Field, Song Swamp, and White-throated Sparrows here. The impoundment has a small marsh that is one of the most reliable spots in the city for Swamp Sparrows. As I walked further down the path, it slipped into a tiny riparian ravine where woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches were foraging. A Phoebe flycatching over the creek was a good late record. Further west the path broke out into parkland leading up to the Holton Recreation Center; the honeysuckle along the creek here was swarming with Robins and Waxwings. I looped around the Holton park, where the park and neighboring yards held more flock birds. A trio of Turkey Vultures soared overhead, spiraling up to continue their southward migration. As I walked back eastward, I hiked up onto the flood impundment berm, going around the northern, non-bikepath side of the flood impoundment, checking the shrubby edge of the Dry Run creek corridor for interesting birds. I’ve had late White-eyed Vireos and Orange-crowned Warblers here in the past, but today could only rustle up a few kinglets and a flock of White-throated Sparrows.

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As I headed back east, I passed the ODOT lot and kept going. The path bends past a huge grove of planted Gingko trees which had a few Chipping Sparrows today. Then it descended down through the scrubby hillside to the fields of Wolfe Park. You can walk the path straight out to Broad St., but I veered left to walk along the face of the shrubby hillside looking for Yellow-rumped Warblers (hit) and Towhees (miss). 1-2 Horned Larks were out in the playfields of Wolfe Park, but I wouldn’t expect them on the weekend when these fields are heavily-used. I back tracked along the hillside to the south, eventually reaching W.Broad, where I turned west, hiking up the sidewalk to the ODOT lot. I didn’t have time to cross the street to Glenwood Park, but have often found good birds there, especially earlier in migration. It has perhaps the densest woodlands in the area, so can attract forest birds that are harder to get elsewhere along the trail, like Thrushes and woodland Warblers.

 

This site has an interesting history. It is one of the last places in west Columbus that still looks vaguely like it did when the area was still being settled. The trace stretches along part of the old Lucas Sullivant farmstead, which stretched from Franklinton (down around Central Ave) all the way up to the Hilltop. His was one of the original families to settle the area, and their name graces a lot of things in Columbus. In fact, there is a huge glacial boulder just west of the flood impoundment that figures in an ancient photo of the Sullivant farm. Columbus Parks used to have a copy of this picture along the trail, but it was continually defaced by vandals. This brings a last caveat. This area has a certain charm all its own, but don’t let it blind you to some reality. The neighborhoods next to ODOT and Glenwood Park are both struggling, and I’ve run across homeless men and unsettling characters at both Glenwood and Holton Parks, so be alert. Generally, you won’t be bothered, and a little vigilance is a small price to pay for a good urban nature walk with some colorful history as a bonus.