9 great spots for nature lovers

Longtime naturalist Dane Mutter shares some of his favorite outdoor areas

Credit: Frank Portner

Credit: Frank Portner

He’s been called “the iconic naturalist of Ohio’s Miami Valley.” Dayton Daily News readers who’ve been around for a while will remember our weekly publication, the “Downtowner” and the popular column by Dane Mutter entitled “The Downtown Naturalist.”

With many of us spending more of our days outside, it seems a good time to check in with Mutter. At age 89, he’s published a collection of his columns, “Nature in Dayton.” The book highlights a wide variety of his discoveries, ranging from peregrine falcons nesting on downtown office buildings to huge, pre-1913 Flood hackberry trees growing on the Miami River levee.

“Today, in this pandemic, people are stressed and depressed,” says Mutter. “I believe that getting outdoors to a natural place with fresh air, trees, birds, water, and other natural beauty provides a calming effect, a feeling of oneness with the natural world.”

Researchers at Harvard, Stanford and elsewhere, he notes, have shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. “In the Miami Valley we are lucky to have so many green spaces for getting away from it all, even briefly, to find comfort and relief in these difficult times,” he says.



An impressive career

Over the years Mutter served as director of Aullwood’s Children’s Farm and as associate director of the Dayton-Montgomery Park District (now Five Rivers MetroParks), a job that took him into all the Park District reserves. “I marveled at the diversity of plants and animals that we have in the Miami Valley,” he says. Later he became executive director of the Beavercreek Wetlands Association, guiding the expansion of its holdings to hundreds of acres and protecting the wetland plants and animals that are found there.

We chatted with Mutter about his devotion to nature and his recommendations for special adventures in our area.

Q: How did you first develop a love for the natural world?

A: As a farm boy in Indiana, I was outside a lot, feeding animals, interacting with them and watching them interact with each other. I was attuned to all the seasonal changes, and I became aware of the rich variety of trees that grow in the Midwest.

My family moved to Ohio when I was 14, and I helped my dad farm a 150-acre hog farm. As I was plowing, I noticed birds following the turning furrows, gobbling up worms. I later learned that they were pipits. Crows roosted in the woods behind our house. When I left the house with a broom, they paid no attention, but when I left with a rifle, the entire flock lifted and flew away.

These experiences led to my curiosity about the natural world, specifically, bird and animal behavior. At Ohio State my ornithology class made me aware of the variety and behavior of birds, not only on the farm, but also on the OSU campus and everywhere else. I became an avid bird watcher.

I earned a degree in wildlife management and became a habitat restoration specialist for the OSU extension service, helping farmers manage land for wildlife habitat, working with the whole gamut of the natural world. I was able to observe the inter-relationships of birds, mammals, and plants. This insight has guided my career.

By the mid-eighties my wife, Priscilla, and I lived in a condo on the Great Miami River. I visited the river every day, and was amazed at the variety of wildlife in and around the river in the shadows of the downtown office buildings. In an urban habitat, I was surrounded by a rich diversity of wild creatures: raccoons, herons, gulls, chimney swifts, muskrats, frogs, and many more.

Q: Can you recommend some natural spots in our region our readers might want to visit for a “nature fix” and share a bit about each?

A: Sure. We are fortunate here in the Miami Valley to have so many parks and natural areas of all sizes for seeking relief from stress and anxiety. This list only scratches the surface. Your readers may have a little soul-restoring jewel in their own neighborhoods they can reach by walking. All of my directions are from downtown Dayton.

Germantown MetroPark. Germantown topography reminds one of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Magnificent fall foliage, hiking trails, and kids can find fossils in Fossil Creek by the underground visitors' center. 7101 Conservancy Road, Germantown. (About 17 miles. 35 West to Route 4, southwest on Route 4 to Manning, west on Manning, south on Conservancy).

Huffman MetroPark. Hiking trails along lake, fishing, kayaking, mountain biking. Good for families. 4095 Lower Valley Pike, Dayton. (About 7 miles. Ohio 4 North straight to Lower Valley Pike exit.)



Englewood MetroPark. Small stand of virgin trees, nice walking trail along the Stillwater River. Mud flats a good place to see migrating waterfowl. 4361 W. National Road, Englewood. (About 14 miles. North on Dixie to Route 40, west to Englewood Dam. Entrance just before dam.)

Siebenthaler Fen, Beavercreek Wetlands. Extensive boardwalk, viewing tower. Wetland vegetation at its peak. 1998 Fairground Road, Beavercreek. (About 13 miles. 35 East to Factory Road, north on Factory to Dayton-Xenia Road, left onto Beaver Valley, right on to Fairground and entrance.)

Bill Yeck Park, Centerville-Washington Township Park District. On Sugar Creek. Playground, gravel path suitable for strollers. 2230 E. Centerville Station Road. (About 12 miles. Southeast on Wilmington to East Centerville Station Road, east on Centerville Station to park entrance.)

Sunrise MetroPark. On bank above Great Miami River. Benches, bird watching beneath the downtown Dayton skyline. 50 N. Edwin Moses Blvd., Dayton. (About 1 mile. North at 3rd and Main, west on Monument, left on to West Riverview, left on to Edwin Moses. Park on street.)



Wesleyan MetroPark. Picturesque natural area within Dayton, good gathering spot for families. Paved trail along Wolf Creek. Playground. 1441 Wesleyan Road, Dayton. (About 3½ miles. West on Monument, left on Riverview, right on Salem, left on Cornell, left on Wesleyan to park entrance.)

Woodland Cemetery. Many trees and 165 specimens of native Midwestern plants. Great for walking. Follow road to top for spectacular view of downtown. 118 Woodland Ave., Dayton. (About 2 miles. South on Main, left on Washington, right on Jefferson, straight on to Brown, left on Woodland. Proceed to entrance.)

Aullwood Nature Center and Farm. Over 200 acres of nature sanctuary with six miles of trails through prairie, forests, marsh, ponds and meadows. Although the Center has been closed because of the pandemic, the Farm and trails are open. Pick up the new trail map. (About 17 miles. North on Route 48 to Route 40, east on Route 40. Pass Aullwood Road (at end of Englewood Dam) and continue to Frederick Pike, right on Frederick to the Farm signs.)


What: “Nature in Dayton: An Anthology” by Dane Mutter

Where: Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell Books

Price: $15.99

More: If you’d like an inscribed copy you can order it directly from the author at 4191 River Ridge Road, Dayton 45415.

About the Author