Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve

Headlands Dunes is a 25-acre preserve just to the east of Headlands Beach State Park. When I’m here I can hardly believe that I’m in Ohio… it’s such a unique place. The sand dunes just off shore of Lake Erie are rare in Ohio because most of the area adjacent to the lake has been developed. Surprisingly a number of plants that originated on the Atlantic coast grow in this small nature preserve. It is thought that they reached this far into the continent thousands of years ago when the immense weight of ice-age glaciers made this part of the continent sink downward. This allowed seawater to reach into Lake Ontario (the Great Lake just to the east of Lake Erie). The Atlantic coastal vegetation followed this ocean incursion into the continent and eventually spread to the shores of Lake Erie. It’s hard for plants to live in drifting sand. As the wind blows the sand around, there’s the risk that they’ll be completely buried. However a couple Atlantic coastal plants are able to keep growing up through the sand: Beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). As their roots grow, they stabilize the dunes and stop the dunes from drifting. Once these botanical pioneers have achieved a foothold, other plants move into this sandy habitat. Because so many rare plants live in the preserve, it is important for visitors to stay on the marked trails. The sign in the above photo says: Attention: Many of the specialized grasses and other plants that hold these dunes together are quite rare. They are easily destroyed by human traffic. Please help protect Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve. Do not walk or sit on the dunes. Let’s take a look at what the trails are like. Once you exit the stand of trees, you see sand paths heading out in two directions. The one to the left leads more directly to Lake Erie. The one to the right approaches the treeline that separates the preserve from the harbor on the other side. On the way we saw what’s known as scouring rush because pioneers used it to scour pans. It is a primitive, spore-bearing plant. At the shoreline we saw two of Ohio’s most common gulls. The first one, the ring-billed gull, is one that I often see in central Ohio where I live. The second species looked like it was wearing earmuffs. This is what Bonaparte’s gulls look like when they aren’t decked out in their breeding plumage. If you haven’t been to the shorelines of the Great Lakes, it’s amazing how much it feels like being on a seashore. This large, commerical vessel near the horizon reinforced that feeling. We then headed north on a trail toward the Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. As we approached a treeline on the eastern end of the peninsula, we were surprised to see a deer browsing on grass. Our path joined up with another path that followed the … Continue reading Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve