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Lesser known nature division has much to offer

By DICK MARTIN • May 19, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Most Ohio outdoorsmen and women are familiar with the ODNR's Division of Wildlife and reasonably familiar with the Division of Parks and Recreation.

But have you ever heard much about the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves? You should. This Division holds sway over 136 nature preserves, and those preserves are little jewels for Buckeyes who love nature and thrill to the sight of a rare and endangered frog or a seldom seen native orchid and other wild flower.

They range in size from a miniscule quarter acre to hundreds of acres, and most can be visited at your leisure, though a few are ecologically fragile and can't withstand human traffic so aren't available without a special permit. And while many are left in their native state, a growing number have well kept trails, bridges, and even boardwalks for the handicapped, and other trail amenities. They're oasis where visitors can walk alone or with friends, see in places virgin woods with ancient trees that once existed all over Ohio, and wildflowers in all their prehistoric profusion.

For example, did you know that while Ohio was once basically covered with virgin forest, it also had (has) prairies? These were maintained by native Americans who would burn the grasslands periodically to kill encroaching shrubs, saplings and brush. That kept native grasses and plants growing and made good food for buffalo, elk, deer and other game animals. You can still see a living prairie at such places as Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve in Adams County.

This 130 acre preserve not only has outstanding post oak groves, but open meadows of tall grasses and other prairie plants like prairie dock, little bluestem, pink milkwort, rattlesnake master, and prairie false indigo. These are plants once viewed as common by early pioneers and folk from Daniel Boone to Lew Wetzel.

Many amateur botanists and zoologists (and pro's, too) like to roam these preserves seeking the unusual, often carrying booklets or books with pictures that show various kinds of insects, frogs and other amphibians, and potentially rare plants. It makes them happy when they come across an endangered plant or animal that is still struggling to exist and making a living in these bits of pre-history. And they're out there.

If there's a problem it's that the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves is always strapped for money and struggling to maintain the preserves and purchase new ones before they're gone forever. Readers can help by sending any sum to the Division at 2045 Morse Road,building C-4, Columbus. They need volunteers too, to repair trails, destroy invasive species, and keep the preserves operating. Call 614-265-6561 to volunteer and help preserve our jewels for future generations. They're worth any effort.

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Hooks & bul­lets

• The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) will institute a temporary Shore Structure Permit to provide Lake Erie property owners an opportunity to quickly address any severe erosion damage their property may be experiencing. This effort provides people with a free expedited permitting process that enables them to protect their property from any further erosion damage. Details regarding the temporary permit and the approval process can be found at coastal.ohiodnr.govtssp.

• Interested in wolves? Chuck Rineer has written a book called Wolf Sanctuary: The Wolves of Speedwell Forge. It's a tale of Speedwell Forge Wolf Sanctuary in Atgen, Penn., a refuge for displaced wolves. The book tells the hidden details of wolf life, and behind the scenes looks at this special sanctuary. Learn how the newest wolves are integrated into the packs, and follow them through the different seasons of the year. The book is printed by Schiffer Publishing and should be available on Amazon or in local book stores.

• Advanced high school, college students, educators, and others very interested in learning more about the outdoors might enjoy a workshop or more at the Ohio State University's Stone Lab on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. The workshops last from a day to a week and range from fish sampling techniques and algae identification to birding and banding, and sport fishing. A complete listing is available online at go.osu.edu/SLworkshops. Stone Lab also offers college credit courses.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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