BUTLER TWP.: Changes are coming to an Ohio state nature preserve.
Fowler Woods north of Mansfield in Richland County is losing its ash trees. And that’s having a big impact on the 187-acre preserve, known for the colorful spring wildflowers that blanket its wet, swampy woods.
A total of 277 dead ash trees have been counted at the preserve entrance along the wooden boardwalk, said spokesman Ryan Schroeder. About 60 have been cut down along the boardwalk that begins near the main parking lot of the preserve, which is about 60 miles southwest of Akron and north of Mansfield.
Some of the felled trees are small, 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Others are larger, up to 8 to 10 inches. They are unsightly, but also a safety hazard, Schroeder said.
Additional trees will likely be felled by state crews in the coming years. A rare species of ash at Fowler Woods has also likely been wiped out by the pest, an invasive beetle from China, he said.
Dead ash trees are especially brittle and that makes them a hazard, he said. Once dead, most will be toppled within five years. They are prone to come down in storms, and that creates a legal liability and concern for the state. The state crews will do their best to remove as much of the dead ash trees as they can.
What’s killing the ash trees is a growing problem: the emerald ash borer. It is a problem affecting other parks and preserves across northern Ohio, in varying degrees.
Emerald ash borers are shiny greenish-colored beetles from China. They are a half-inch long and one-eighth of an inch wide. They fly from May to September. The rest of the year, beetle larvae burrow under bark, killing ash trees in three to five years.
The beetle was discovered near Detroit in 2002, believed to have arrived in the United States in shipping crates from China. Today, it is found in Ohio, 17 other states and two provinces. It has killed an estimated tens of millions of ash trees. Its spread appears linked to firewood shipments.
No broadcast insecticides kill the pest, though sprays are available to save individual ash trees.
Ash trees are facing a massive die-off, similar to what happened to chestnuts starting in 1904 and elm trees starting in 1928. Ohio has about 3.8 billion ash trees; they represent about 10 percent of the trees in northern Ohio.
From 2003 to 2006, Ohio cut down and ground up every ash tree within a half-mile of infestations to prevent the spread of the borer. It was a costly step, and after federal funds were no longer available, the insect moved across the state.
Removing dead ash trees in Ohio could cost as much as $3 billion, $261 for every Ohioan, according to some estimates.
At Fowler Woods, the downed ash trees are surrounded by oak, hickory, beech and maple. More sunlight is reaching the forest floor in areas where the ash trees have been removed. Signs posted at the preserve’s kiosk advise visitors of the tree-cutting action. Most affected are the preserve’s lowlands of elm-ash forests.
About 80 acres of the preserve are wooded; the rest is old farm fields. The preserve features more than 212 species of wildflowers and ferns, 58 species of trees and shrubs and maple-beech trees that are up to 300 years old. It is generally acknowledged as one of the Top 10 wildflower spots in Ohio; they appear in waves from mid-April through May.
It is a quiet, unassuming place with no stunning vistas or overlooks. Visitors may encounter some heavy equipment noises from the adjoining landfill. The preserve features a 1.25-mile wooden boardwalk that enables visitors to view the wildflowers.
Noteworthy are the marsh marigolds, a golden-colored member of the buttercup family that thrives in low-lying wet glades. It is also known as the cowslip or king’s cup, according to an interpretive sign along the trail. The golden flowers line the vernal pools and wet seeps in the preserve. It is an eye-popping sight and the preserve’s biggest attraction.
Also blossoming in April are the hepatica and spring beauties in whites, pinks and purples.
Later in May, the forest floor will be blanketed in trilliums, violets, Dutchman’s-breeches, jack-in-the-pulpit, cohosh, meadow rue, swamp buttercup, Virginia waterleaf and phlox.
The trillium with its three white petals is Ohio’s state flower. It is a favored food of hungry white-tailed deer.
Other species include watercress, beechdrop, yellow watercrowfoot, golden and swamp saxifrages, dwarf ginseng and royal fern, in addition to squirrel corn, trout lily and yellow mandarin.
Among the trees are old-growth beech and maple trees that are up to three feet in diameter and more than 250 years old. The most unusual tree found in Fowler Woods is the balm-of-Gilead, a member of the poplar family.
The pumpkin ash with orange paddle-shaped fruit was once thought to be rare in Ohio. It was found at Fowler Woods and in 16 other Ohio counties. Those trees have probably been eradicated by the emerald ash borer, Schroeder said.
Some of the wooded areas will be covered with water most of the year. There are several large buttonbush swamps on the preserve. It is also known for its ferns.
It is home to plenty of frogs and salamanders. That includes the 13-inch-long tiger salamander and the four-toed salamander that is rare in Ohio. You are also likely to encounter noisy green, leopard, chorus and gray tree frogs plus spring peepers.
What is now the preserve was settled by John Dobbin in 1832. Chester and Hettie Fowler purchased the land in 1917, and lovingly protected a 50-acre block of land from timber harvesting. Their descendants repeatedly declined timber offers, even though the property reportedly would yield in excess of 1 million board feet of lumber.
The family sold the land to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1971. It became one of Ohio’s first state nature preserves in 1972.
For more information, contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, 614-265-6561, www.ohiodnr.gov; go to Recreation. For questions about the emerald ash borer, contact Schroeder at 419-445-1775.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.