By Marilynn Karbonski
Among the buildings and runways of the McMinnville airport sits the green oasis of Airport Park. Habitat for woodland plants and animals, the park includes 21 acres of woodland, and has two maintained trails, measuring 1/2 mile and 1 mile.
Beaver have transformed part of the creek that runs through the park. The series of dams that they have built hold the water back and form several small ponds. These ponds are fairly inaccessible and should be left undisturbed for the sake of the beaver.
Trilliums bloom in the early Spring, along with great carpets of the delicate flower, Spring beauty (Cardamine nutallii var. nutallii). Bright sunshiny spots of yellow wood violet (Viola glabella) are also found at this time.
The canopy of douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), grand fir (Abies grandis), and big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) are a haven for birds. Over 50 species have been observed, from the precocious Black-capped Chickadee, to the rare Black-throated Gray Warbler, with its zebra-like stripes. Nesting in the park for several years, a Cooper¹s Hawk has raised its young. Along the edges where woods meet fields, quail and pheasant scratch for seeds and search for nest sites. In the early morning hours of spring one may hear the pheasant¹s rough yodel.
As the path moves through the tunnels of dense, oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) and hazelnut (Corylus cornuta var. californica), the resident Rufous-sided Towhee watches with beady red eyes. When you approach his territory he will pop up into plain sight and begin a warning noise, half buzz and half chirp. To lead you away from his area he will flutter and move ahead repeatedly, until he is satisfied that you are no longer a threat.
It is important to stay on the main trails. Foot-steps bruise the delicate workings of an ecosystem. Over the years many offshoot paths have cut into the fragile environment of the park.
Wild orchids grow here, and several lily species including the exotic looking rice root lily (Fritillaria lanceolata). Airport park¹s diverse plant life makes it a wonderful classroom for budding botanists. But that¹s not all this woodland has to offer. Insects, butterflies, snakes, newts, squirrels and even a Barn Owl live in this woodland habitat.
There are many habitats that exist within this small acreage. Dry woodlands, pocket wetlands, fields and a creek bed, to name a few. Even a close inspection of a stump along the trail will prove it is a micro ecosystem of mosses, fungi, insects, and lichens. Sheltering, feeding and reproducing in their own Lilliputian world.
This park is a place where you can become intimate with the flowers, since the paths bring you easily among them. In the spring you will see great drifts of the pale yellow fawn lily (Erythronium oreganum) and the uncommon dark pink fawn lily (Erythronium revolutum).
Along the creek where mud banks barely hold their own against the rains, tracks of deer and raccoon, skunk and beaver may be found. Here also you will discover one of the park¹s four fern species, Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). The tangle of roots from these graceful ferns help hold the soil along the edge of the creek.
Two charming wood bridges cross the creek and provide a perfect place to watch birds. From the farthest bridge (named Far Bridge, surprisingly) watch woodpeckers and Brown Creepers work over an old snag. From Middlemost Bridge, named for its location in the middle of the park, ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) chokes the creek and provides cover for secretive warblers and wrens.
A haven for wildlife at the edge of a busy airport, this woodland ecosystem will provide you with hours of enjoyment observing nature doing what comes naturally.