With a forecast for mild weather and a day free from work, I found myself prepared for a gorgeous day of hiking, and I decided to hit several trails all clustered together geographically — especially three state nature preserves that have been on my radar for some time now.
Thanks to photos I’ve seen in my Instagram feed, the J. Arthur Herrick State Nature Preserve topped my list of nature preserves to visit. Though I missed the entrance to the park on my first pass down the road, I spotted a faded sign for it on my way back and followed the rutted dirt drive back between homesteads to a small parking area.
I started the 1.5-mile hike not long after dawn, so I enjoyed the soft glow of morning sunlight on the frost-tipped path as well as the hush surrounding me. A boardwalk guided me through the stream-fed fen, thick with sedge and shrubs, with cattails lining parts of the trail. The preserve is home to a number of threatened species such as tamaracks (which I could identify) and bayberry (which I could not) as well as common fen- and bog-loving species like sphagnum moss. Even at this dormant time of year, I could sense the rich diversity of life to be found in such nutrient-poor soil and otherwise discouraging surroundings.
As the trail led into the woods, I kept my eyes roaming from sky to land and discovered the first wildflowers of an early spring: skunk cabbage! (And I am thankful I did not discover them the hard way — underfoot.) The path continued along the wetlands, but when it climbed a hill away from the fen, I found a helpful educational sign that explained how the glaciers’ advance and retreat formed the kames (hills) and kettle lakes that over millennia filled in with peat and plant life to form bogs and fens. Very useful information!
When the trail descended, it led me to a thinly-frozen lake and pond at the edge of the preserve, a beautiful setting lit by the morning sun. Turning back, I followed the trail back to where I had started, promising myself to return in another season to explore some more.
Trail #2 called to me from the south side of Kent: the Tom S. Cooperrider-Kent Bog State Nature Preserve. The trail here, a 0.5-mile loop entirely on a recycled plastic lumber boardwalk, took me through what I learned is the largest, southernmost stand of tamarack in the continental United States. Thanks to a couple of information pamphlets I picked up at the entrance, I focused on finding different species in this bog than I did at Herrick Fen: leatherleaf shrubs (shown here), blueberry, wintergreen, and winterberry holly.
My favorite species from this preserve, though, was represented by the many tall, slender grey birch trees I found along the path. This, too, is a species generally found in more northern climes but appears to be thriving in this bog environment. While the sun shone brightly on my hike here today, I imagine those birches will provide more shade and shelter in just a few more months.
From here, I headed east to my third and final bog of the morning: Triangle Lake State Nature Preserve. Only a third of a mile in length, the trail here led me into the woods and then onto a boardwalk, winding through the bog at the edge of Triangle Lake. Here the many bog species crowd close to the boardwalk, including large clusters of pitcher plants and lots of low cranberry bushes.
The path branches off to an observation deck where you can see how the bog opens up into the lake. In today’s sunshine, the frozen water gleamed a richly vivid blue, with faded gold sedge for contrast. It was difficult to tear myself away and finish the trail, but I managed it.
Though you would think that three wetland areas in close proximity would be much the same, each of these three state nature preserves had a different feel and character, and each one featured different settings and different species to admire. And though I remember learning about the glaciers and their impact on the Ohio landscape, the lessons in class were never as detailed or as fascinating as actually getting out and exploring these areas.
Apparently there are other bogs and wetlands on the list of state nature preserves in this part of the state. I can’t wait to explore and discover even more new species and settings!