Do-it-yourself oriole feeder

If you build it, they might come

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 07.39.41For years, I tried to lure Baltimore orioles to the feeders. One year I got a pair to stay the summer but, for the most part, a few orioles would stop by, wet their beaks at the nectar feeder and press on. They either moved on to “oranger” and “purpler” pastures down the road where people offered oranges and grape jelly, or continued on their northward migration.

After I retired and had way too much time on my hands, I resolved to go all out to keep the orioles at the feeders. At the first sighting, I ran out to Kroger and stocked up on oranges and grape jelly.

I crammed orange halves into suet cages and hung them out. I dabbed the grape jelly into recesses around the rim of a nectar feeder that we’d put out for them earlier in the spring.

It didn’t take long to see that simply putting nectar out for the orioles had been woefully inadequate — like trying to keep a free agent ballplayer from bolting to another team by offering him minimum wage. Within two days, the feeders were ablaze with flashes of bright orange plumage. About a half-dozen male orioles and two or three females converged on the feeders, jockeying for position on the improvised orange and grape jelly feeders.

It was obvious that, if I was going to make the jump to the big leagues of oriole-feeding, better accommodations were in order. A quick Internet search turned up a simple two-station feeder with an orange half and small cup of jelly at each perch. It was a basic design, requiring three small hunks of wood, deck screws and a couple pieces of dowel rod. It was simple enough that even an “unhandyman” like me could do it. (I have been called the Anti-Villa because I sorely lacked whatever talents do-it-yourself guru Bob Villa possessed.)

I went out to the barn, pried a white oak plank off the side that nobody ever sees and went to work. Within two hours, I had a serviceable Baltimore oriole feeder. It didn’t matter that it ended up looking an awful lot like the woodshop project I brought home from middle school. My parents proudly displayed my handiwork on the living room mantel, where they would entertain house guests by having them guess what it was supposed to be.

It was meant to be a shoeshine box — with a compartment below to stow polish and brushes and a sole-shaped appendage on top, where you were supposed to prop your shoe to polish it. My project looked more like a dresser drawer that had fallen off the back of a moving pickup truck, careened down the pavement for 50 or 60 yards and ended up in a contorted heap along the berm.

The orioles proved less judgmental than my parents and our house guests. They gave the feeder rave reviews, squabbling over spots on the perches, where they devoured the orange halves and emptied the jelly cups in a matter of hours.

After the orioles migrate south, I’ll take down the feeder. Maybe, during the winter, I can use it as a shoeshine box.

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Jonathan Livingston Sequel

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At the risk of seeming sacrilegious, I have long wanted to write a satire of Jonathan Livingston Seagull entitled Jonathan Livingston Sequel.

Written in 1970, Richard Bach’s iconic novella captured the essence of post ’60s optimism. Jonathan Livingston Seagull gave us hope that our newfound idealism could lead to an age of self-realization and enlightenment. But, in the decade that followed, all that crashed and burned.

That’s where my book would come in. In Jonathan Livingston Sequel, my protagonist would be a ring-billed gull, scavenging parking lot wastelands and subsisting on stale French fries.

In researching my novella, I’ve come across a few interesting tidbits on the ubiquitous parking lot gull.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, most the gulls you see strutting around fast food and shopping mall parking lots or soaring overhead and pooping on your car are ring-billed gulls. Not surprisingly, many of them have never seen the open bodies of water from whence their ancestors came. Nor ever will.

Like humans, they have adapted to a decadent world and thrive — more or less — in an artificial habitat.

Being opportunistic omnivores, it’s what they do. Them and us.

Not that these gulls subsist solely on stale French fries and other food scraps. Their diet might also include fish, insects, earthworms, small rodents, grains and pretty much anything they can swallow. They are not above swiping food from other birds. Cornell and other sources, including the New York Times and Matt Soniak, writing for Mental Floss, report that ring-billed gulls also are attracted to parking lots because the grassy areas harbor insects and worms.

Parking lots also mimic their natural habitat in that these wide open spaces allow them to watch for would-be predators and scatter if need be. Strong and acrobatic flyers, ring-billed gulls can snatch morsels of food in midair and reach speeds in excess of 40 miles an hour.

Low vegetation around parking lots and landfills, another habitat to which the gulls have adapted, provide breeding habitat for these ground nesters. They also have been known to nest on flat rooftops. An interesting aside from Cornell: Ring-billed gulls have been known to add pebbles the size and shape of their eggs to their nests. Cornell also reports that their colonies include a small percentage of two-female couples. These pairs mate with opportunistic males and combine their eggs in the nest, producing “super clutches” of five to seven eggs.

Mankind facilitated some of these adaptations. By the same token, humans nearly annihilated ring-billed gulls. Like other species, they were hunted nearly to extinction in the late 1800s for their plumage, which was used to adorn hats. Colonies recovering from that onslaught were decimated in the mid 1900s by exposure to DDT and other pollutants.

Thanks to environmental regulations, many of which were enacted in the heady days when Jonathan Livingston Seagull was written, populations have recovered. One estimate put the breeding population at 1.7 million. Ring-billed gulls are protected in the U.S. and Canada under migratory bird laws.

Like humans, parking lot gulls have become a bit of a nuisance. Shooting them or throwing stones at them is frowned upon, so we’re pretty much limited to taunting them. Apparently, that applies to humans as well.

Speaking of verbal abuse, if you want to avoid the wrath of ornithologists, never use the word “seagulls” in their presence. They will enthusiastically remind you that these birds are called gulls, not seagulls. If you persist in using the wrong term, ornithologists will flail their arms menacingly and squawk at you.

In my research, I came across a private contractor with a few suggestions on how to rid parking lots of gulls. A California outfit called Cleaning & Maintenance Services recommends having parking lots professionally cleaned on a regular basis. It just so happens that this is a service they offer.

The company also recommends not littering — fat chance of that happening — and covering trash receptacles. Other remedies include rooftop bird spikes, ultrasonic repellants and something called gullwire, which discourages landing or nesting on the ground.

On the other hand, there is in Scotland a gull advocacy organization. Seagulls Are Not Evil strives to raise awareness of prejudice against gulls. The organization encourages people to engage in educational activities and lobby elected officials to live and let live when it comes to gulls. If you’re interested you can receive a Seagulls Are Not Evil sticker through their website https://www.seagullsarenotevil.info/.

In researching my novella, I also found there were at least two bands named after parking lot gulls. One of the bands, Parking Lot Gulls, is based in Worcester, Mass. The other band I found, Parking Lot Seagulls, is based right here in Ohio.

The Medina-based band’s name might not be politically correct, but I admire their attitude. In fact, pessimist that I am, a message posted on their Facebook page gives me hope for the future:

“The Parking Lot Seagulls are loyal vigilantes of Bird Law. Bird Law surrounds us, speaks to us, guides us. It is the song of the universe, the blood of the cosmos. Bird Law is eternal. Long live the birds.”

Maybe I can get them to do the music for the movie based on my novella.

 

(This was written for the Greater Mohican Audubon Society spring 2018 newsletter.)

 

 

 

 

 

Algonquin it ain’t – Charles Mill Lake canoe trip, part 3

You are NOT alone

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One of two bald eagles that watched me break camp.

There was no one else around at my Muskrat Bay campsite, but I was not alone. Lucy kept me company all evening and, when I crawled out of my tent in the morning, she was still there.

Lucy was a Canada goose. She appeared to have been injured and unable to fly. She swam around in front of my campsite, constantly positioning herself so she could keep an eye on me. It was sad to see goose couples come and go. Lucy watched them helplessly, perhaps longing for a life she’ll never have.

She wasn’t the only company I had. As I prepared breakfast and ate it, an osprey looked on from a tree across the bay. It flew off as I broke camp and, moments later, a bald eagle landed near where the osprey had been and stayed there until I slid my loaded canoe into the lake and paddled off. It was joined by a second eagle.

I began a day of exploring the lake north of the SR 430 bridge. Along the way, I saw a mallard, an egret and a plastic goose. I also rousted thousands of cormorants, which have become something of a plague on Charles Mill Lake.

There are suitable Islands for camping and a site — complete with a picnic table — on a peninsula at the southeast entrance to Big Turtle Bay. The downside is they’re situated between US 30 and SR 430 and the sound of traffic never stops.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon paddling along the shoreline on the northern end of the lake. Because of the highways, Eagle Point campground, a boat ramp and houses, it’s less appealing than the southern part of Charles Mill Lake.

In short, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to stay there.

In Camp Harbor on the west side of the lake, I came upon what I hope wasn’t a familiar sight — a scuttled dredge. Years ago, while working as a reporter for the Ashland Times-Gazette, I wrote an article about the naming of a new dredge. It was dubbed “Sedimental Journey.” Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District had purchased the dredge. The plan was to dredge the channel under the SR 430 bridge, which separates the northern and southern parts of the lake, then take it to other MWCD lakes.

I can’t imagine it would have been scuttled without being used more.The average depth of Charles Mill Lake is only five feet. That’s down three feet from the original depth. The bottom of the lake is covered with a gooey layer of silt, the byproduct of irresponsible farming, logging and construction practices. I’d like to think that this was another dredge, one replaced by Sedimental Journey.

Ironically, as I explored the lake for three days in April, 50,000 gallons of drilling clay had been dumped in a wetland upstream — a byproduct of the Rover pipeline project. It might not reach the lake, but the harm to wildlife and the wetland is disheartening just the same.

Here are a few photos from the final day of my three-day canoe trip:

 

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Lucy, my constant companion.

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A mallard duck doing some morning yoga, north of the SR 430 bridge.

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An egret looks for fish in the shallows along the eastern shoreline.

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A plastic goose lurks in a tree trunk near Sites Lake, a residential area on the north end of Charles Mill.

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A scuttled dredge in Camp Harbor. Note the disintegrated oil boom around it.

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The cab of the dredge. I was concerned that the interior of the hull reeked of oil.

Click on the link below for a map of the lake:

Charles Mill Lake Map annotated

 

Previous posts on this trip:

Part One

Part Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Haught be brought to naught?

My Haught Run campsite.

My Haught Run campsite.

The answer to that question is, “Most likely.”

Haught Run Campground on the Little Muskingum River isn’t the worst I ever stayed at. The Lane Farm Campground downstream might have earned that distinction, but I opted not to camp there.

At the latter, I clawed my way up a 25-foot bluff to the campground. Getting there was half the “fun.” Camping there would have been absolute hell. It was right off a busy state highway and strewn with litter and broken beer bottles.

In lieu of staying at the Lane Farm Campground, I paddled across the river, dragged my canoe and gear up an equally steep bank and dragged it 100 yards through the dense brush. My gut feeling about the campground proved right. As I finished my supper, a few pickup truck loads of people pulled into he campground. The sound of glass breaking was followed by gunshots. Nothing sinister, just a few harmless potshots.

I laid low and spied on them through the zoom lens of my camera. I took a few pictures of them and their vehicles just in case. None of the rounds came my way so I did nothing to alert them to my presence. Who knows what they would have done if they’d known I was there? Especially after they had a few more beers in them. They didn’t hang around long and I spent a quiet evening stealth camping on U.S. Forest Service land. Low-impact camping, of course. No fire, no trace, leaving it cleaner than I found it.

Enough about Lane Farm. As for Haught Run Campground, the U.S. Forest Service closed the campground soon after I stayed there. The riverbank was eroding and the campsites gradually washing away. It was only a question of time before a tent full of people would have ended up in the river.

Recently, the Forest Service announced a proposal to decommission the campground and asked for public input. I felt compelled to put in my two-cents worth.

Here, in italics, are a few passages from my input:

On my trip in April 2014, I spent two nights at Haught Run Campground because of heavy rain in the immediate forecast. Being retired, I was in no hurry to get to my destination — the Lafayette Park landing in Marietta. So I spent two nights there to wait out the rain.

River access at Haught Run Campground

River access at Haught Run Campground

River access was difficult because of the steep, exposed bank.

I’d have to give the campground mixed reviews. The ground was level, which helps for finding a suitable tent spot. The park was relatively clean except for overflowing trash receptacles. My only neighbors were a hunter using Haught Run as a base camp and assorted couples who came and went in lieu of paying for a motel room. During my stay, several parties of day hikers passed through. All were well-behaved and polite.

The campground is not without redeeming features.

The campground is not without redeeming features.

The wildflowers, especially along the hillside, were stunning, robins and other songbirds provided pleasant company. I enjoyed visiting the covered bridge and reading the historical plaques.

Unfortunately, there was an industrial installation across the river and upstream of the campground. I took it to be some sort of natural gas facility, a compression station perhaps. The noise coming from it made it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. That alone made it an unattractive campsite. If I were to canoe through there again, I would bypass Haught Run Campground and find a spot downstream beyond the noise.

My prediction? The forest service will decommission the campground. The alternative would be to put riprap along the bank and excavate a low-impact canoe/kayak access. But that would be costly.

In my input to the U.S. Forest Service, I suggested that they take a cue from Lake  Metroparks and establish paddle-in campsites in remote spots along the river. It would be wonderful if that suggestion didn’t go for naught.

The Rinard Covered Bridge – part of the charm of Haught Run Campground.

The Rinard Covered Bridge – part of the charm of Haught Run Campground.

 

Looking for Melco

melcophotoCue “Twilight Zone” theme music.

Imagine, if you will, a sleepy little village named Lucas, Ohio. A stranger comes into town, looking not for Lucas but a place called Melco. But Melco doesn’t exist. Except in the twilight zone.

Nee nee nee nee nee nee nee nee …

Weirder still, two strangers had stopped by a junk shop on the edge of Lucas earlier in the day — asking for directions to Melco. They haven’t been heard from since. At least not in Lucas.

Melco is a ghost town. The coal-burning power plant that gave rise to the company town east of Lucas became obsolete in the mid 1950s, except to scavengers and vandals. And apparently strangers who straggle into Lucas looking for it from time to time.

All but a few traces of the 70-acre town were obliterated in the 1960s. A sign posted on a closed road leading into Melco warns intruders that their every move is being recorded on camera. Even if they were to ignore the warning and proceed to the site, they wouldn’t find much.

At one time, imposing smoke stacks rose from the power plant. The company built 10 houses to accommodate workers — along with tennis courts and a swimming pool to occupy them and their families. By some accounts, there also was a hotel, stores and an office complex.

Melco wasn’t exactly a resort town — being in the shadow of belching smokestacks. It wasn’t a particularly safe place to work either. Newspapers routinely published accounts of deaths and injuries at the plant. But, in its heyday, Melco produced electricity for Mansfield, Ashland and Loudonville.

Melco was built in 1917 by New York business magnate Henry L. Doherty, who combined electric streetcar systems, gas light and electrical power generating companies to capitalize on demands created by the quickly evolving industrial revolution. Quickly evolving by those day’s standards.

Doherty built the plant at the confluence of Black Fork and Rocky Fork of the Mohican River because of the availability of water. (Not at Black Fork and Clear Fork, as one historian wrote. She might have been confused by a 1950 Mansfield News Journal article that misidentified Rocky Fork.)

In no time at all, the plant was operating at full capacity, but the rivers weren’t. A few years later, after Charles Mill Dam was built in the mid 1930s, the company requested that flow be adjusted to provide more water for the steam turbines. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose mission was to prevent flooding downstream, accommodated Melco by letting more water out of Charles Mill Lake on an experimental basis.

It seemed to be working out. But, when the Corps of Engineers asked the company to help pay for the extra service, Melco officials balked. Melco built a small dam downstream of Charles Mill Dam. The company also persuaded government officials to deepen and straighten the Black Fork channel all the way to Loudonville.

In a clear example of creeping corporate socialism, the government appropriated gobs of taxpayers’ money to accommodate private enterprise. Channelization work continued until after World War II. The down side, other than sticking taxpayers with the bill to grease the skids for a powerful utility, was that the natural flow of Black Fork was negatively affected.

Fortunately, the project fell from favor and was officially abandoned in the 1960s — before Black Fork was completely turned into an open sewer between Charles Mill Lake and Loudonville.

Equally as fortunate was a development in 1961. Richard Frye opened Ohio’s first canoe livery at the confluence of Clear Fork and Black Fork near Loudonville. (Not to be confused with the confluence of Rocky and Black forks near Lucas.) Without imposing a burden on taxpayers or the environment, Frye’s enterprise launched a sustainable industry that brought tourism to the Loudonville/Mohican area.

Frye’s venture ultimately brought thousands of strangers into town looking not for Melco, but for an inexpensive place to camp, canoe, hike and otherwise enjoy nature.

On that note, we’re not out of the twilight zone by any means. Other strangers wander into town from time to time with big ideas for re-industrializing the Mohican River Valley — often walking arm-in-arm with our elected officials. And you can bet they all have their hand in your back pocket.

Note — This account is part of a work in progress on ghost towns of the Mohican River.

Getting there is ALL the fun

The hike’s the thing

Larry Smith standing on Thresher Rock

Larry Smith at Thesher Rock.

Note: Thanks to the vision, generosity and hard work of a lot of people, a new hiking trail will open this year. With the state of things in Ohio, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Here’s an article I wrote about it late last year. Hope you enjoy it. More importantly, I hope you’ll make the effort to become a part of this in whatever way you can — and enjoy it to the fullest. While you can. 

The region is known for its destination spots — Mohican and Malabar state parks, Mohican Memorial State Forest and Pleasant Hill Lake Park. The area’s newest addition, dubbed the Mohican Complex, will be more of a journey than a destination.

A 4.5-mile trail linking the Richland B&O Trail in Butler to Mohican Country parks and forestland will provide a venue for dedicated nature lovers to explore hundreds of acres of woods, prairie, streams and geological wonders.

It also will serve as a link through time, preserving the region’s natural heritage for future generations. That’s particularly important at a time when public lands such as Mohican Memorial State Forest, the state parks and Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District land — which includes Pleasant Hill Lake Park — could be subject to wholesale logging, mining and drilling for oil and natural gas.

Some 570 acres in southeast Richland County will be preserved through conservation easements that have been in the works since 1991. That includes spectacular geological formations, mature forests, vast prairie tracts showcasing native flora and one of the area’s best-known natural wonders, Hemlock Falls. All of this will be connected via a hiking corridor slated to open in 2015.

On a few segments of the trail, hikers will use short stretches of lightly traveled back road. However, most of the trail will meander through forests and meadows. The Mohican Complex corridor begins near the end of the 19-mile Richland B&O Trail in Butler, meanders northeast through Worthington Township in Richland County and ultimately connects to MWCD trails north of Pleasant Hill Road, where it crosses Clear Fork of the Mohican River.

The MWCD trails lead to connector trails linking Malabar Farm State Park to Pleasant Hill Lake Park, Mohican State Park and Mohican Memorial State Forest. In all, those parks and forest account for about 9,000 acres of public land.

Landowners, groups work together

So, with all that public parkland, why are the people behind the Mohican Complex determined to preserve acreage?

Recent logging at Mohican State Park and Mohican Memorial State Forest raises questions about the state's will to protect these areas.

Recent logging at Mohican State Park and Mohican Memorial State Forest raises questions about the state’s will to protect these areas. (Photo by Annette McCormick)

Much of their impetus comes from escalating efforts by MWCD and state government to capitalize on natural resources, opening public lands and parks to increased logging, mining and — more recently — extraction of natural gas and oil through large-scale horizontal hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.

To protect some of the region’s prized natural areas from commercial activity, the North Central Ohio Land Conservancy worked with landowners, organizations and volunteers to obtain and protect land permanently.

Those involved in the efforts or granting easements include Mohican School in the Out of Doors, Richland County Park District, Larry and Elaine Smith, First Congregational Church of Mansfield and Ohio Dreams.

“It’s ironic that a church, a school, a county park district and the Smiths are combining with a land trust to protect their land better than the state of Ohio protects public lands by granting conservation easements and legally binding themselves and their successors to protect the land forever,” said Mansfield attorney Eric Miller, a land conservancy trustee. “As more trails and protected lands are connected to Mohican by us and other organizations, perhaps the state will wake up to the importance of the Mohican Complex and take measures to protect it for the future by recording conservation easements on its land.”

Steve McKee, a naturalist who provides guidance for the North Central Ohio Land Conservancy, explained why it’s important to preserve forests.

“Timbering, including sustainable logging, causes a decrease in the amount of old-growth shaded forest and in the plant and animal species that require this fairly uncommon habitat,” McKee said. “Logging opens up more early-successional (developing forest) and edge habitat, which ultimately results in a net decrease in biodiversity for the area.”

Invasive species can take over

In logged and otherwise disturbed areas, invasive species quickly take over, crowding out native species. He went on to explain why undisturbed, mature forests are particularly important in preserving high-quality stream habitat.

“Timbering, especially in the vicinity or riparian areas, causes an increase in soil and water temperatures,” McKee said. “Most of the waterways in Ohio are already far warmer than in pre-settlement times. It is the cool, clear waters that contain the less common and rare species of fish, invertebrates and aquatic plants.”

Initially, Miller, the Smiths and others involved did not set out to create a cluster of nature preserves, much less connect them via a corridor to public parkland. That started to fall into place in 1998, when George Hammon contacted North Central Ohio Land Conservancy about donating about 200 acres.

The land, most of it mature forest, lies east of Clear Fork of the Mohican River off Benedict Road.

“When George Hammon said he was thinking of giving us land around Benedict Road, that’s when it hit me,” Miller said. “If I could get land along Benedict Road, I could string together a whole trail.”

The Conservancy worked with the Richland County Park District and other parties to secure easements and further protect land along the corridor. That includes two parcels that Larry and Elaine Smith purchased with the intent of preserving native plant species and creating prairie habitat to attract native birds, insects and other fauna.

One of the properties, about 27.6 acres, is at Tugend and Bunkerhill roads. The other, 78 acres, fronts to Cole Road and is connected to other properties that have conservation easements, including Hemlock Falls.

Effort by Smiths started in 2001

For the Smiths, their venture started in 2001 when they purchased the Tugend Road property, which had been mostly cropland. Since then, they have dedicated themselves to creating and maintaining prairie habitat with a variety of habitat-appropriate trees planted in the margins.

Among them is the offspring of the celebrated gigantic Jeromesville sycamore. They also created small ponds for aquatic habitat.

For the Smiths, it has been a labor of love — a lot of labor. Since their first land acquisition in 2001, they and a few volunteers have been busy planting native flora, making trails, erecting bird boxes and trying their best to keep invasive species at bay.

“This has pretty much been the equivalent of a full-time job,” said Larry Smith, a Mansfield native and a former park naturalist.

“I grew up loving nature,” he said. “When I was 5 years old, I remember playing in the driveway with pieces of gravel and wanting to be a geologist.”

When he was young, his family would go for Sunday drives in the Mohican area.

“I was in Boy Scouts and our troop camped in Mohican a lot,” Smith said.

Prairie habitat is not native to these sites, but Smith sees the value of preserving it.

“Once heavily-forested Worthington Township has probably not known any true native prairie landscape itself for thousands of years since just after retreat of the last glacier, if ever,” he said. “But a diverse, native prairie habitat is part of Ohio’s natural heritage.”

Portions of the properties the Smiths developed are forested and the Cole Road site includes a rock outcropping towering 300 feet above the Clear Fork Valley. It’s known as the Threshing Floor or Threshing Rock because it’s been said that, in pioneer times, people used the flat surface of the bluff overlooking the river to thresh grain.

High point offers panoramic view

The Cole Road site also features a panoramic view — during the winter months — rivaling that from Mount Jeez, part of Malabar Farm State Park. The high point on that property is about 40 feet higher than Mount Jeez.

The Smith’s prairie tracts feature footpaths designed to fit the contours of the landscape. Plans call for side trails on these and other Mohican Complex properties in addition to the 4.5-mile corridor trail.

Not all trails will be open to the public on a continuing basis. Some are situated in environmentally sensitive areas and special arrangements must be made to see them.

The Mohican Complex corridor isn’t intended for picnicking and casual use. It’s geared toward people with a deeper appreciation for conservation and preservation.

“The properties are open to informed people, such as naturalists and hunters,” said Miller of North Central Ohio Land Conservancy. “They won’t be open to the general public, like Lyons Falls (a popular landmark in Mohican Memorial State Forest). We don’t want to get to that point.”

Some of the land will be closed during hunting season. Limited hunting privileges will be granted to individual hunters under rules set by people designated to manage each property. This will help keep animal populations at manageable levels to limit damage to the flora.

Hikers will be allowed access to view Hemlock Falls.

Some lands will have limited access

“Protecting the rare plants around the falls will involve limited access to view, rather than hands-on,” Miller said.

In the early going, ample signage will be posted to discourage hikers from straying off the paths and damaging sensitive flora or wandering onto adjacent private property. Over time, once hikers become familiar with the trails, some of the signage will be removed for aesthetic reasons.

Meanwhile, volunteers will be busy establishing trails in anticipation of opening the corridor to hiking in 2015. Miller expects it to be a process of “trail and error” — trying to find routes to allow hikers to explore the best the land has to offer while protecting sensitive ecosystems.

“They will be three feet wide at the most,“ he said. “In some places, we’ll use existing gas company rights-of-way. In many places, we’ll use existing foot trails that are there from the property owners’ usage.”

But it’s about more than logistics. Ultimately, Miller, the Smiths, land donors and volunteers hope the Mohican Complex will connect people — and generations — with the land.

“Looking across even a small prairie evokes in one’s imagination a tiny glimmer of what the westward-bound pioneers once saw and felt as they set off into that new and different wilderness of the unknown, hopeful that a better future was out there, over the horizon,” Smith said. “Prairies, like each of the other native habitats, preserve a home for a unique segment of our priceless natural heritage, and offer powerful medicine for the urban-weary human soul.”