- Jessica Keith
Imagine for a minute what your backyard may have looked like 300 years ago.
If you live in northwest Ohio, you’re standing perhaps hip deep in the Great Black Swamp—a 1,500-square-mile wetland that was gradually drained and settled in the 19th century; today it’s productive farmland.
If you’re in southern Ohio, your backyard lies in the middle of an extensive forest that blankets the backbone, foothills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains, which stretch from Alabama to Maine. Over the years this forest was felled for development and fuel.
For those in the central part of the state, odds are good that you’re standing in a sea of grasses on the fringe of a prairie ecosystem, which once supported species like bison but over time was converted to agricultural lands.
A quick glance around Ohio today and it’s clear that people have touched these natural systems and others—from Lake Erie to the Ohio River and everything in between.
But look closely and you’ll also see the healing touch of people, at work in those special places that offer glimpses of Ohio’s natural past and, if protected and restored, hold the promise of a sustainable future. With your help, The Nature Conservancy is nurturing Ohio back to health.
Four years ago The Nature Conservancy launched an ambitious $1.7 million effort to restore the headwaters of Central Ohio’s Big Darby Creek—one of the most biologically diverse aquatic systems in the Midwest. Years of channel modifications made for farm drainage and highway construction had deteriorated the quality of the headwaters. More than 7,000 feet of stream were restored to recreate the stream’s meandering flow and improve aquatic habitat.
Parts of what’s now Kitty Todd Preserve have at one point or another been a pig farm, sand-mining pit, and/or home site—to name a few. Located in the Oak Openings region of Northwest Ohio, the 920-acre preserve is a demonstration site for natural land management. The Conservancy has reintroduced fire and restored wetlands in the region, which harbors one of the greatest collections of diversity in the state. Some 50 percent of the preserve has been restored or is managed.
By the late 1800s much of Ohio’s forests had been felled and carried away. Today, Ohio’s forests are returning—30 percent of the landscape is now forested—and areas protected by the Conservancy offer places for woodlands to return. The Conservancy is returning the nurturing power of prescribed fire to the landscape, protecting existing woodlands from premature harvesting and improper management and closing in forest system gaps.
TheConservancy recently helped launch and effort to restore important Great Lakes habitats along Lake Erie and its tributaries. Most of the work involves controlling invasive plant species: phragmites control in the coastal wetlands of western Lake Erie; invasive plant prevention and control in the Grand River watershed of Northeast Ohio; and wet prairie restoration in the Oak Openings Region of Northwest Ohio. Together these projects cover more than 4,000 acres.