Nearly 1,000 forested acres protected in Southern Ohio

996-acre project is largest addition to The Edge of Appalachia Preserve

West Union, OH

Nearly 1,000 acres of rugged forest land on bluffs overlooking the Ohio River has become the most recent – and largest ever – addition to Ohio’s largest privately owned nature preserve.

The Nature Conservancy’s recent purchase of mostly steep and heavily wooded land from two long-time Adams County families adds 996 acres to the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, bringing the total acreage of the preserve to 19,418. The new land is located along Smoky Hollow in Adams County, just west of the tiny Ohio River village of Rome.

“The Smoky Hollow purchase is the largest single addition to the preserve in its 57-year history, and it’s beautiful” said Martin McAllister, the Appalachian Forests Project Manager for the Conservancy. “The land is covered in mature forests and there are some dramatic dolomite bluffs, with a view of the Ohio River from the highest point.”

The property was purchased with the help of a grant from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, a voter-approved state program. The Nature Conservancy is raising money from private donors to meet the matching funds requirement of the grant.

The new property, which the Conservancy has been interested in for more than a dozen years, adds mature oak and hickory forest, a few pockets of prairie, and most of the drainage of Smoky Run, an Ohio River tributary. It provides habitat for rare species like the green salamander and recovering species such as bobcat. And the land is “the epicenter for the Allegheny woodrat population in Ohio,” said Rich McCarty, the preserve’s naturalist. The woodrat, sometimes called a pack rat, collects non-food items in its cliff-side nest. These collections can be found around the Edge of Appalachia preserve and nowhere else in Ohio.

The land was purchased from members of the Lockhart and Gaffin families, several of whom still live in the area.

The preserve, formally known as the Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve System, protects one of the most diverse collections of native plants and animals in Ohio. Like the Smoky Hollow property, the rest of the Edge is a mixture of hardwood forests peppered with pockets of small prairies, or barrens. It was these barrens, rich with rare plants, that first drew naturalists to the area. The initial purchase – 42-acre Lynx Prairie, in 1959 – was the first Ohio project for The Nature Conservancy which was, at the time, a fledgling conservation group. The effort to protect the area eventually became a joint project of the Conservancy and the Cincinnati Museum Center, which conducts educational and research programs on the preserve.

“The Edge” boasts four national natural landmarks, more than 100 rare plant or animal species, and popular hiking trails including Buzzardroost Rock and Wilderness trails. In addition to these much loved paths, The Conservancy and the Buckeye Trail Association are working together to build a new 14-mile stretch of the Buckeye Trail/North Country Scenic Trail on Conservancy protected land between the Edge and the Shawnee State Forest.

“The incredible story at the Edge is that we bought 42 acres in 1959 and now we’ve protected nearly 20,000 acres,” said Terry Seidel, director of protection for the Conservancy. “Can you imagine if you went back in time and told those folks that, 50-60 years later, there would be nearly 20,000 acres of land protected? I don't think anyone could ever have conceived of that level of success.”

The Conservancy plans to build a trail on the property to one of the promontories overlooking the Ohio River, but that will be in a year or two, Seidel said. “It’s going to be carefully planned, because the topography there is severe. I don’t know of many places in Ohio with hills as high and steep as those.”

The Smoky Hollow project is the Conservancy’s third major forest protection project in the area over the past two years. Earlier this year, the Conservancy protected 360 acres of forested land once owned by the Southern Ohio District Church of the Brethren near Sinking Spring in northern Adams County. And in 2015, the group purchased 462 acres at Owl Hollow, next to the Shawnee State forest, as part of the organization’s effort to create a corridor of protected land between the Edge of Appalachia and the state forest. 

Earlier in September, the Nature Conservancy also helped support the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ purchase of 929 acres at Shawnee State Forest. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.