Outdoors: Ohio's natural areas expanding

·5 min read

Nov. 8—Ohio boasts 140 State Nature Preserves and natural areas — a very diverse collection of parcels that feature massive oak trees, vernal pools, rare plants, meadows flush with native wildflowers, unique geologic deposits, and valuable wetlands.

Many of the preserves are managed by the state, some are under the management of park districts, while others are owned by non-governmental entities or private landowners who have sought to have their land designated and protected as a preserve.

Ohio recently added Coyote Run, 230 acres of preserved natural lands in Fairfield County, to its index of state nature preserves. As it unveiled Coyote Run, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources cited its "amazingly diverse forested wetlands" and cited the essential habitat it provides for wildlife, specifically amphibians such as spotted and tiger salamanders, spring peepers, and western chorus frogs.

"Our state nature preserves are rare gems that allow people to learn and experience our state's amazing plant and animal variety," ODNR Director Mary Mertz said, adding that Coyote Run will protect its forest, stream, and meadow habitat so these can be enjoyed by future generations.

The ODNR's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves was established by statute in 1975 and it currently oversees Ohio's system of scenic rivers, nature preserves, and natural areas. Coyote Run was added to this large network through the generosity of conservationists and property owners David Hague and Tammy Miller. They will manage Coyote Run State Nature Preserve, with access limited to guided hikes and visits with permission through Coyote Run, LLC.

When the distinction as a State Nature Preserve is established, a site receives the highest level of land protection afforded by the state. As public and privately-owned lands are so dedicated, the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves takes on the responsibility of ensuring that these sites are permanently protected and utilized for education, science, and visitation.

—Springville expanding: With the addition of 66 acres, the Springville Marsh State Nature Preserve near Carey, about 50 miles south of Toledo, will expand to encompass nearly 270 acres. This will enhance Springville's position as the best remaining remnant of Big Spring Prairie, which at one time spread over several square miles in sections of Wyandot, Seneca, and Hancock counties. It's one of 140 nature preserves and natural areas that have been dedicated in Ohio and includes a boardwalk trail system, observation tower, and wildlife blind. Springville also hosts a bird banding station and is the largest inland wetland in this corner of Ohio. The site protects more than two dozen state rare plant species, such as shining ladies'-tresses orchid, few-flowered spike-rush, tower mustard, Virginia rail, green star sedge, and northern adder's-tongue fern, along with some of the few remaining remnants of twig-rush wet meadow in the state. Plans call for the newly acquired tract to be planted with native prairie and meadow plant seed mixes later this fall. The price tag on the parcel being added to the preserve is $560,000 and the purchase was facilitated by a water quality grant from the Ohio Water Development Authority.

—Students go H2Ohio: In an effort focused on getting the next generation of conservationists prepared for the challenges of the future, students from the Aerospace and Natural Science Academy of Toledo's Wildlife and Sustainability Career Technical program took part in an Ohio Department of Natural Resources program of virtual field trips focused on wetland habitat restoration at Oak Openings Preserve. The students grew native plants that will help restore the wetland while increasing its biodiversity and helping to reduce the problematic phosphorus runoff into the Maumee River watershed. The students recently put those plants in the ground on a field trip to Oak Openings Preserve, where previously farmed land adjacent to the site will be regraded and restored as wetlands habitat. "Years from now, these young men and women will be able to return to Oak Openings and see how their work made a difference for our environment," Metroparks Toledo Executive Director Dave Zenk said. The H2Ohio initiative is focused on ensuring safe and clean water throughout Ohio, using a comprehensive, data-driven approach to improving water quality over the long term. More information is available at h2.ohio.gov.

—Steelhead stay cool: Last week's run of cold nights and chillier days might not please most folks, but the combination proves ideal for Ohio's steelhead trout. The best action on the six waterways that make up Ohio's Steelhead Alley fishery in the northeast corner of the state comes from November through March, when the temperatures are at their coolest of the year. The Ohio Division of Wildlife supports this robust steelhead fishery with annual stockings. This past spring, about 500,000 steelhead that had spent their first year in one of the state's hatcheries were stocked in these steams. The fish, 6-9 inches long at the time they are stocked, will eventually migrate out to Lake Erie and when they return to the streams in two or three years, they will average 25 inches long and weigh about five pounds. Older fish weighing in excess of 10 pounds are also part of the famed steelhead runs in the Vermilion River, Ashtabula River, Rocky River, Chagrin River, Grand River, and Conneaut Creek. Steelhead will move up the waterways in the fall, headed to spawning areas where they will remain until spring. There is limited natural reproduction in Ohio's rivers and streams, so annual stockings are required to maintain the world-class fishery.

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