The gifts of rewilding

Summit Metro Parks
4 min readApr 12


Joan Long, Summit Metro Parks Volunteer

Joan in her garden next to cup plants.

Five years ago, a dream came true when I purchased a 3-acre property and began rewilding and restoring the landscape with native plants. As a certified Ohio naturalist, Summit Metro Parks volunteer and homeowner, I was eager to put into practice what wildlife ecologists and scientists were teaching about the absolute necessity of native plants in supporting wildlife.

With diversity as a goal, over 150 native species were planted over the last five years, including oaks, cherries, willows, shrubs, wildflowers and vines. A 1-acre native prairie was seeded in fall of 2020. At the same time, a small vernal pool was created for amphibian habit and as a feature of the prairie.

These efforts have resulted in a discernable increase in wildlife numbers and diversity. Since rewilding and restoration began, I’ve noticed many changes, including the following:

A bluebird brings food back to its house.


Spring peepers discovered the vernal pool the very first spring, making themselves known by their ardent, shrill peep chorus; my human neighbors wondered what all the commotion was about. To my delight, American toads joined in weeks later and filled the sound waves with their charming, long-winded trill.

Willow blooms, ripe with pollen, coincide with the emergence of the first bees of the season.

Left: Tadpoles in the vernal pool. Right: A leafcutter bee.

Bluebirds assume residence in the nesting boxes each year. It is an absolute joy to watch adult birds feeding their young and to witness fledglings take their maiden voyage from the safety of the nest.

On a late spring day, a flash of green alerted me to the presence of a female leafcutter bee taking advantage of the pre-drilled holes offered by an old log on my deck. An industrious creature, she would leave for several minutes to return with an almost perfectly round piece of leaf. She carefully carried it inside the nest, cell “papering” the chamber with lush green accommodations before laying a single egg and moving on to prepare the next chamber.

A bee flies over a cup plant.


The diversity of flowers brightens the landscape and attracts insects, spiders and birds in search of a meal. Monarch butterflies and other pollinators flock to swamp milkweed. A female monarch busies herself with egg-laying under the cover of milkweed leaves.

Cheery cup plants attract an array of pollinators. Goldfinches adore the seeds and enjoy a refreshing drink from the cups of water this plant offers after a quenching rain.

Left: Fireflies light up the yard during the solstice firefly event. Right: A monarch caterpillar snacks on a milkweed plant.

We hosted a solstice firefly event last June, and these glorious beetles did not disappoint. Their glowing abdomens elicited spontaneous oohs and aahs from the group. We were taken back to childhood memories of the wonder and awe of these magical creatures and discussed the thrill of reliving this experience as adults. Struck by the flashing of fireflies against the backdrop of glittering stars, we hoped that children and adults would continue to experience such joy and delight for generations to come.

A hummingbird hovers next to a cardinal flower.


Migrant and resident birds feast on wildflower seeds, elderberry, chokeberry and winterberry as the colors of summer give way to autumn glory.

Hummingbirds dart around the garden, sipping nectar from jewelweed, obedient plant, white turtlehead, great blue lobelia and cardinal flower in preparation for the long flight to winter homes.

Hawks sit in a bare tree during winter.


During winter of 2020, I was thrilled to catch a red-headed woodpecker partaking of the seed cylinder outside the kitchen window. My first sighting ever!

Dormant plants, left to stand, provide visual interest as well as seed, cover, and nesting material for birds and bees. Male bluebirds begin guarding the nest box in preparation for this year’s offspring.

Northern flicker woodpeckers (left) and finches (right) enjoy the seeds available to them in Joan’s back yard during winter.

This landscape is a haven for wildlife, a sanctuary for humans and a feast for the senses. Rewilding has transformed my relationship with the land from one who thoroughly enjoys and appreciates nature, to one who also experiences a deep kinship with the natural world and experiences a sense of place and belonging; a strand in this mysterious and amazing web of life we share.

Joan has volunteered with Summit Metro Parks for three years, spending most of her time monitoring trails and conducting amphibian surveys. Her passion for supporting the local ecosystem inspired her to grow a Wild Back Yard. To reap the benefits of your own Wild Back Yard, visit

All photos by Joan Long.



Summit Metro Parks

Summit Metro Parks manages 15,000 acres, 16 parks, three nature centers and more than 150 miles of trails. Find more at