Connections for Sustainability

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Walk in the Woods

McPherson Park

with Livability Educator Jaclin DuRant

Experiencing nature isn’t something that requires you to travel to the mountains or the beach (though I do love both the mountains and the beach). We are lucky here in Greenville to have a variety of parks that offer opportunities to spend a little time with nature in the middle of the City. Urban green spaces provide many important services; they help mitigate heat island effects, filter and slow storm water runoff, improve air quality, and provide space for recreation. Spending a little time outside, even if it’s just half an hour on my lunch break, is something that I really enjoy, so I decided to explore the natural world that’s available in downtown Greenville at McPherson Park.

photo of a leaf

Sometimes something beautiful is tiny

I began my walk at the parking lot off of Park Street and crossed an old and picturesque stone bridge to reach the main walking trail. I then headed towards Main Street to check out the main park, since I had never been there before. One of the first things that you notice at McPherson Park is the stream that runs into the park from under Main Street. The burbles and splashes from the stream serve as a soothing counterpoint to the sounds of cars driving by.

Urban streams and rivers are different from their natural counterparts. The way that people develop the land impacts water bodies, altering the way that water flows into and through streams and rivers in addition to affecting the composition of aquatic communities and water chemistry.

photo of ornamental flower

Landscapers work to fill urban parks with wonderful native and ornamental flowers

Urban streams provide a great vehicle for studying and thinking about the how urban development can affect the natural environment. Often, simple things can have a large impact on an aquatic environment. For example, a stone culvert under a road may allow water to flow relatively unimpeded but act as a barrier to upstream movement by aquatic organisms like fish and macroinvertebrates altering the composition of the aquatic community. Urban streams also often have lower baseline flow than their natural counterpart due to impervious surfaces like roads, buildings, and parking lots that reduce water infiltration into the soil and thus reduce groundwater flow.

photo of Clematis vine flowers

Invasive Clematis vine flowers: lovely but bad for the environment.

After walking to Main Street, I circled through the park to check out one of the most distinctive features of McPherson Park, the mini-golf course. In addition to the nature that I love, the City of Greenville’s Parks offer some really fabulous opportunities for recreation. McPherson Park has the mini-golf course, two tennis courts, and a great covered picnic shelter where I watched some squirrels feasting on bread crumbs. Parks offer a refuge for many urban animals. In addition to the squirrels, I observed a few different species of birds, insects, and spiders, including this beautiful Garden Spider feasting on an insect caught in her web.

photo of Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope auriantia)

Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope auriantia) enjoying lunch

Watching the spider, I was reminded of a lesson that I taught during summer camps at the City of Greenville’s Community Centers about urban animals. Why do some animals live well in a city, but others don’t? Urban animals tend to be small and quick, as well as generalist feeders. Many are active primarily at night. Quite a few animals have adapted to live well with humans, but when I emerge from a quiet corner of the park into the bustling city, I am sometimes amazed that they have. We change the world in so many ways, from lights at night to the very shape of the land. It is wonderful that we also try to keep some spaces set aside so that we can enjoy the comforts of modern society hand in hand with the wonders of the natural world.

photo of Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). I absolutely love the colors of this native plant.