The Medina County Park District is expanding the Black River Nature Preserve in the Lodi area.
The park district in early January purchased 35.1 acres on Avon Lake Road (state Route 83) using a $232,850 grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission’s Clean Ohio Fund, with the park district contributing less than $30,000 of its own funding.
According to the park district, the property will allow it to eventually provide public access to a 104-acre parcel it acquired in 2001. Those two parcels will be considered part of Black River Nature Preserve, which also includes the Bluebell Valley and Hidden Hollow Camp areas.
"This acquisition was two years in the making but well worth it," said Medina County Park District Director Nathan Eppink. "The land makes expansion of Black River Nature Preserve possible and additional recreational opportunities available in the future."
According to the park district, there are several environmental benefits of preserving the land, which includes more than 20 acres of woods that support migrating birds in the spring and fall.
The park district said that an assessment by natural resources staff found several aquatic macroinvertebrates and fish species, which is indicative of good habitat in the stream along the western boundary of the new property, a stretch of the East Fork of the East Branch of the Black River.
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The park district said that natural resources staff have transformed 7 acres of farm fields at the back of the new property, seeding it with a mix of native grasses and wildflowers. More than 500 native tree seedlings, including oak and cherry, were also planted.
There is no timeline for development of the new property.
The Black River's watershed encompasses 467 square miles in parts of five counties, with its headwaters in southwestern Medina County’s Harrisville Township, according to the park district.
According to the park district, the East Branch of the Black River is formed by the confluence of two tributaries that flow through these park sites: the East Fork and the West Fork. The streams come together just north of U.S. 42, flowing through Spencer Township and into Lorain County, where the Black River meets Lake Erie at Lorain Harbor, the park district said.
Black River Nature Preserve is made up of three park sites: Hidden Hollow Camp, which opened in 1984; Bluebell Valley, which opened in 2020; and the future East Fork area.
The 86.74-acre Bluebell Valley area, at 8500 Richman Road in Harrisville Township, was part of a wetland mitigation and stream restoration project in 2002 that restored 8,000 linear feet of the Black River, according to the park district.
Recent improvements at the site include a 20-car parking lot; a 10-foot-wide, half-mile limestone loop trail (accessible for wheelchairs and strollers); and a 0.65-mile natural surface primitive trail. Future planned improvements include a small picnic shelter and a restroom. Because the area is designated as a nature preserve, it won't include a playground or any paved areas, and biking isn't permitted.
The 178.5-acre Hidden Hollow Camp, at 8672 Richman Road in Harrisville Township, is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 6 a.m. to one hour past sunset and on the weekends if there are no reservations. It features a one-acre woodland pond and two nature trails, with the West Fork of the East Branch of the Black River at the bottom of the hollow.
Reservations can be made for a fee for day-use events on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations can also be made for a fee for overnight camping on Friday or Saturday evenings, with either tent camping or use of an enclosed facility.
"Lodi is an area we're very excited about," Eppink said. "We've recently made changes at Hidden Hollow Camp to make it more accessible year-round, and Bluebell Valley will see improvements this year, including a small picnic shelter and observation platform overlooking the river."
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Medina County Park District expanding Black River Nature Preserve