Blue Heron Reserve in Sandusky County
Blue Heron Reserve is a 160-acre park in the Sandusky County Park District. It has 2.9 miles of trail including a handicap-accessible boardwalk that makes up 5000 feet of the trail system. Within the park is a fen; this is a type of wetlands in which underground water bubbles up through calciferous rock until it reaches the surface. The wooded area of the park has a habitat reminiscent of the Great Black Swamp. The area also includes a pond and meadows. The many different kinds of habitats in the park promote wildlife diversity, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has included the park among those in the Lake Erie area that are great birding sites. In addition to hiking and birding, visitors may forage for wild mushrooms. Cross country skiing is permitted in the winter when conditions are cooperative.
Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest
This forest also goes by the names “Vinton Furnace State Forest” and “Vinton Furnace Experimental Forest”. I decided to keep the word “Experimental” in the name for this article because it communicates that the forest has a research-oriented purpose. This research has been going on for over 50 years. The data collected here has been useful in gaining a better understanding of forest ecology, forest management, and the regional wildlife; this data has been cited in hundreds of scholarly papers. An area of particular interest has been to increase the prevalence of oak trees in Ohio forests.
The forest is 12,089 acres large and includes the state’s largest known population of bobcats. It also has timber rattlesnakes, cerulean warblers, and a number of rare plants. Radiating out from the Forest Headquarters are a number of forest roads that also serve as hiking trails. Hunting and fishing are permitted as regulated by the state’s Division of Wildlife. As the forest’s name suggests, the ruins of Vinton Furnace are located within its boundaries. In addition the forest contains the ruins of ovens used to purify coal into coke with the intent of using the coke as fuel for the iron furnace. The bricks used to make the coke ovens were made in Belgium and shipped over here as a sort of kit. Each brick was numbered to assist in assembling the ovens locally. According to OldIndustry.org, the Belgian coke ovens in Vinton Forest are the last remnants of their kind in the world.
A.W. Marion State Park in Autumn
A.W. Marion State Park is a 309-acre park in Pickaway County that I described after a previous hike in the spring (see here for description and photos). On October 29th we returned to the park to hike the Hargus Lake Perimeter Trail. We thought that peak fall color had probably passed, but when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised at how colorful the park was. As it turns out there are many maple trees in the park, and many of these were a brilliant red.
Wayne National Forest (Ironton Unit): Morgan Sisters Trail
The Morgan Sisters Trail System is in the northern, central region of the Ironton Unit of Wayne National Forest. It is a little over an hour’s drive northeast of Portsmouth, Ohio. It is comprised of three loop trails. According to the Forest Service, the Coal Branch Loop is 2.34 miles, the Ridge Loop is 1.88 miles, and the Schoolhouse Loop is 4.53 miles. There is a half-mile trail that connects the Morgan Sisters Trail System to the nearby Symmes Creek Trail System.
We went there for an afternoon’s hike in late October, and we restricted ourselves to the Coal Branch Loop and the Ridge Loop. Because we did the two loops as a figure eight, we ended up doubling the middle part of the hike. We also went the wrong way for a short distance at the farthest point of the Ridge Loop trail, so our mileage was greater than the 4.22 miles described at the Forest Service site. We hiked for six miles in all, with an elevation gain of 1077 feet, going from a minimum altitude of 561 feet to a maximum altitude of 1017 feet.
There are three river metroparks in the Toledo Metropark system, all of which lie along the Maumee River and are connected by the Towpath Trail. As the name suggests, the trail follows along the towpath of the former Miami and Erie Canal; this trail makes up a portion of the blue-blazed Buckeye Trail System. From east to west the three river metroparks are Providence Metropark, Bend View Metropark and Farnsworth Metropark. We decided to explore the Farnsworth Metropark by walking along the Towpath Trail starting near the Roche de Bout shelter in Farnsworth Park and walking eastward toward the Bend View Metropark.
Mill Creek Park: Lanterman’s Mill and Mill Creek Gorge
Mill Creek Park occupies 2,882 acres in Mahoning County. It is a green oasis bordering Mill Creek in the midst of the Youngstown metro-area. Lanterman’s Mill is located within Mill Creek Park. The mill is a fully-operational historic grist mill. Nearby the mill is a waterfall, a covered bridged, and trails that will take you along both sides of the gorge created by the creek. It was a sunny September day when we visited the park, perfect for hiking and seeing the sights.
Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve
The full name of this preserve is the Old Woman Creek State Nature Preserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve. The research center studies the local “estuary,” a word that usually refers to the region where fresh-water in a river mixes with the salt-water of an ocean. However in this case it is referring to a region where the fresh-water of a creek mixes with the fresh-water of Lake Erie.
The preserve is 572 acres in size, and it features hiking trails, an observation deck, and a handicap-accessible visitor center. The site is highly recommended for bird watching. Our hike last September was about 1.8 miles in length, but we didn’t hike every portion of every trail. I’m guessing that the total trail length is between 2 and 2.25 miles.
Earth Science Resources for Homeschoolers in Ohio’s Parks & Preserves
Ohio’s Parks & Preserves offer many excellent educational opportunities for homeschoolers and for parents seeking educational enrichment for their public school students. To locate parks and preserves near you, TrekOhio offers an on-line guide currently listing details of over 900 parks and preserves around the state. The guide is divided into five geographic zones that are listed in the tabs on the top of each of our pages.
In this article I’ll discuss resources for the academic areas of geology, paleontology, and astronomy. If there is sufficient interest, I’ll publish follow ups covering additional academic disciplines.