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Places We Protect

Big Darby Creek Headwaters Nature Preserve

Ohio

A creek meanders through a forest with tall green trees along its banks.
Big Darby Creek Buckeye tree overhanging Big Darby Creek in Central Ohio. © Randall Schieber

Big Darby Creek State and National Scenic River is one of the most biologically diverse aquatic systems in the Midwest.

Overview

Description

The 1,000-acre Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve encompasses a mixture of wetlands and streamside forests. Here, humble coldwater springs and streams emerge, forming the nourishing capillaries that are the lifeblood of Big Darby Creek’s permanent flow downstream.

These headwaters are fed by a complex of underground seeps, which contribute millions of gallons of clean, cold water to tributary streams of nearby Big Darby Creek.

These headwater streams—and the floodplains, forests and wetlands around them—are important not only for their influence on water quality and hydrology in the Big Darby, but also because they provide important habitat for plants and animals.

But this natural treasure faces many threats, including pollution from nearby development, as well as man-made changes to natural stream flows and habitat destruction.

Access

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Hours

Trails are open year-round, daily from dawn to dusk.

Wheelchair Accessible

The gravel section of The Gary J. Jainshig Trail that leads from the parking area to the first observation deck at Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve is wheelchair accessible.

Highlights

View the restoration site that transformed a farm drainage ditch back into to a biologically diverse meandering stream. Activities include: hiking, birding, wildlife-watching, nature photography and native plant observing.

Size

1,000 acres

Explore our work in this region

Photos from Big Darby Creek Headwaters

At 1,000 acres, Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve boasts a mixture of wetlands and streamside forests along with a natural kids play area and a 2.6-mile round-trip trail.

Preserve signage that says 'Big Darby Creek Headwaters' on it is situated on a wooden platform overlooking a meandering creek..
White wildflowers bloom among greenery in a forest.
Aerial shot of the meandering streams of Big Darby Creek.
Poison sumac colored with a deep red.
TNC staff and volunteers standing beside a preserve sign in the woods.
Green trees towering over a river.
Autumn-colored trees border a still river.
A meandering stream between grassy hills.
A wooden platform overlooks grassy fields and a meandering stream.
A stream meanders between rocks under towering trees.

Visit

  • What to See

    Flora and fauna surveys of the headwaters region that supports Big Darby Creek Headwaters Nature Preserve have found such species as central mottled sculpin, southern redbelly dace and least brook lamprey, which are indicators of good stream health.

    Wetlands in the area support such plant species as marsh marigold, skunk cabbage, trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit and cottonwood and, along with the surrounding forests, sustain wild turkey, eastern screech-owls and great crested flycatchers.

  • Activities

    At just 45 minutes west of Columbus, this preserve is easy to get to but feels far into the country away from the busyness of the city.

    Explore the 2.6-mile round-trip Gary J. Jainshig Trail and enjoy interpretive signage that showcases the importance of the headwaters to people and wildlife.

    There is a 0.3-mile wheelchair-accessible trail from the parking lot to the first observation deck. Another 1-mile primitive trail leads to a second observation deck.

    A natural play area was installed in 2019 to allow kids a space to really enjoy and get familiar with nature. Follow the trail into the preserve, and the play area will be on the left. Studies show that frequent, unstructured play in nature can help make kids healthier and happier. It’s also the single most common influence on adult conservation values. The natural play area provides young visitors with an opportunity for the kind of outdoors, imaginative play that is important for children—and the planet. Visitors to the preserve will find a space “furnished” with elements such as various-sized sticks and logs, tree cookies, rocks and boulders, and a rudimentary mud kitchen with old cast-iron skillets. Through its simplicity, and by keeping the area as true to nature’s design as possible, the natural play area provides kids with an unstructured experience.

    Visit often and enjoy what each season brings to the preserve. From spring peepers and skunk cabbage in spring, to wildflowers and pollinators in summer, to fall color, and finally to the quiet solitude in winter, the preserve offers important mental and physical attributes for nature and people.

  • Preserve Guidelines

    Our vision is of a world where people and nature thrive together. The Nature Conservancy encourages people of all ages, races, ethnicities, religions, gender expressions, and abilities to visit our preserves and has a zero-tolerance policy for racism and discrimination.

    The following activities are NOT permitted at Big Darby Creek Headwaters Preserve:

    • Biking and mountain biking
    • Camping
    • Driving an ATV or off-road vehicle
    • Cooking or campfires
    • Horseback riding 
    • Hunting
    • Picking flowers, berries, nuts or mushrooms
    • Removing any part of the natural landscape 
    • Snowmobiling

    Big Darby Creek Headwaters Preserve is pet-friendly. Leashed pets (leash no longer than 6 feet) are welcome on the trail.

    Use of other power-driven mobility devices (OPDMDs) is permitted only when the preserve is open to the public and only on the gravel trail (not on boardwalk or earthen trail), speed cannot exceed 8 miles per hour and width cannot exceed 36 inches. For more information about the use of other power-driven mobility devices (OPDMDs) at our open preserves, please visit our OPDMD guidelines.

Current Conservation Work

The Nature Conservancy and its partners have been working to protect the Big Darby Creek Headwaters Nature Preserve through land acquisition, education and restoration efforts.

  • In 2019, a new nature play area was installed to provide young visitors with an opportunity for the kind of outdoors, make-it-up-as-you-go play that is important for children—and the planet. Visitors to the preserve will find a space “furnished” with elements such as various-sized sticks and logs, tree cookies, rocks and boulders, and a rudimentary mud kitchen with old cast-iron skillets.
  • In spring of 2012, an expanded trail opened to the public, enabling visitors to traverse 2.5 miles of the preserve and view the restoration site from a scenic overlook.
  • In the spring of 2008, the Conservancy opened Big Darby Creek Headwaters Nature Preserve to the public. The preserve features a wheelchair accessible trail and interpretive signage showcasing the importance of the headwaters to people and wildlife.
  • In the spring of 2007, the Conservancy launched an impressive project to restore the headwaters of Big Darby Creek to re-create its natural meandering flow. The project, completed in 2011, helped to reverse decades of channel modifications made for farm drainage and highway construction.
  • In 2006, TNC strongly supported and influenced the Big Darby Accord, a partnership between jurisdictions within the watershed to cooperatively develop a plan to preserve and protect the Big Darby Creek and its tributaries.
  • Since 1999, the Conservancy has acquired more than 900 acres of the floodplain forests, wetlands and prairies that comprise Big Darby Creek’s headwaters. Purchased from willing sellers, these lands represent the foundation of the Conservancy’s larger conservation vision for the area.

Find More Places We Protect

The Nature Conservancy owns nearly 1,500 preserves covering more than 2.5 million acres across all 50 states. These lands protect wildlife and natural systems, serve as living laboratories for innovative science and connect people to the natural world.

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