County Farm Park is a good place for a winter walk. Wide, crushed-stone loop paths flow smoothly into one another, with unexpected openings that look out onto lawns and meadows surrounded by coniferous or deciduous trees. It’s an invitation to slow down and appreciate details like the tree in our photo, cupped by tall prairie grass with an accent of sumac.

Before European settlement, this area was all woodland with touches of prairie. In the early nineteenth century, most of it was cleared for farming and the native flora plowed under. Starting in the 1830s, it was the county “poor farm,” where “paupers” were expected to support themselves by working the land. Though that vision proved elusive, it remained a working farm into the twentieth century.

Later, as the home of the county hospital, it became more forthrightly a social service center. Public ownership protected it from the development that swallowed up the surrounding farmlands after World War II and its conversion into a park began in the early 1970s. In the twenty-first century the landscape around it was extensively “renaturalized.”

These different stages of history live on in the flora. There are patches of native prairie grasses and patches of cultivated grasses, native deciduous trees and introduced conifers. Native asters’ dried blooms add interest in winter. And all kinds of plants have found a home in the park on their own.

Bob walked some of the loop trails one December day with county parks naturalist Shawn Severance. At the end of loop trail seven, they skirted a parking lot and walked back through Britton Woods, eighteen acres of oak, hickory, and other deciduous trees that were once the farm’s woodlot. (The trails there have a natural surface.) On another day, Bob photographed a carpeting of red oak leaves illuminated by the setting sun.

County Farm’s trails remain open all winter, but, since they’re not maintained, consider the conditions before venturing out; we have turned back when the trails were too snowy or icy. Come spring, the ground will be covered with trillium and other wildflowers.

A map of County Farm Park is at (park at the Platt Rd. entrance). Trail signage is adequate and easy to follow. No guided walks of County Farm Park are currently scheduled, but on January 13, Severance leads a “Woods to Meadow Ramble” at the county’s Baker Woods Preserve (See Events).