I had heard of the Edge of Appalachia Nature Preserve in the past through my membership in the Nature Conservancy and when reading about Dr. E. Lucy Braun, a noted regional botanist. I had never pursued hiking there as the name implied that it was further from my suburban residence in the Cincinnati area than I usually went for day hikes. Turns out it is only 75 miles from downtown Cincinnati.
The Edge of Appalachia Preserve is a 20,000 acre preserve system that has been developed in stages since the 1950’s and sits at the intersection of the Appalachian foothills and the glacially contoured relatively flat farm lands of Adams County, Ohio. It is noted for its great biodiversity and a wide range of ecosystems. Despite its significant size, only about 11 miles of trails are developed within the preserve at this time; but based on my one exposure, what great trails they are.
We chose to hike the Buzzardroost Rock Trail because of the 2 to 3 inches of rain that the area experienced in the two days prior. Its trailhead is near the top of a foothill and therefore it was less likely to be affected by the rain. While the trail was wet, with sandy and rocky soil, it was not muddy and the Preserve has boardwalks over the wetter areas.
This trail is outstanding for the mix of natural lands it takes you through. Initially you wander in and out of prairie and younger woodlands, both with an outstanding display of fall wildflowers (see below: Aster, Woodland Sunflower, Great Blue Lobelia, Snakeroot, Mist Flower/Ageratum)
At times entry into a new prairie, frequently dotted with cedar trees, would reward you with peaceful views.
This late in the season the bluestem and other grasses were shoulder high.
As you wind your way around the hillside you enter more mature deciduous forests with Beech, Oaks, Tulip-poplar, and Hickories, as well as a scattering of Virginia Pine, which is at the northwestern limit of its range. One could understand why these same trails are reported to have great displays of the spring ephemeral wildflowers.
The trail crosses numerous small streams that, despite the recent precipitation, were flowing clear and clean, a sign of a healthy ecosystem. There were numerous well maintained bridges to assist in the passage.
The forested walk was also remarkable for the quantity and diversity of nuts or “mast” that were on the ground including Beech, Shagbark Hickory, Pignut Hickory, and acorns from the numerous varieties of oaks. At times the volume of nuts in a small surface area was shocking (see last photo below). The animals should eat well this fall and winter.
The understory of this forest consisted of a lot of paw paw, spicebush, sassafras, dogwood and ferns. Paw paws have fruit that ripens in September and they are fleeting. They go from unripe, to ripe, to gone in a matter of days. Despite being on the trail for hours and seeing numerous trees we only found one still in the tree, one partially eaten on the trail, and some seeds in some scat (poop) on the trail.
The trail reached the crest of the hill and then actually headed down to Buzzardroost Rock overlook, which is accessed by a recently added boardwalk and stairs that appear to provide safety from the ledges and fissures, as well as protect the fragile prairie ecosystem that is atop the precipice.
The views from the overlook were outstanding.
It was fascinating to watch the shadows from the clouds dance across the horizon on this blustery partly cloudy day.
The overlook area also features a very small, isolated, mixed prairie at the out cropping. Here grasses and small trees competed and battled the very demanding conditions of thin soils, little water, and high winds.
We ate lunch up at the overlook on a bench that was built into the boardwalk that led out to the overlook. The trail was lightly traveled that day so we had no competition for this prime location.
While this is generally considered an out and back trail there is a “Grassland” loop that you can take as you depart the hill top and I would strongly recommend it. Here we were met with heavier wind gusts and a barrage of falling nuts in a very mature oak and hickory wood. Interestingly, this point must bear the brunt of weather as noted by these photos of lightning struck oak trees. One has healed its wound amazingly, the other has exposed and decaying heartwood, resulting in a cavity, that will eventually lead to its demise.
While this part of the trail did take you through another grassland, the surprise was the exposed rock outcroppings bordering the trail.
The grassland loop eventually met up with the main trail and we descended back to the trail head. All in all it was an approximate 4.4 mile hike, 2.2 miles each way, and there are a couple of nice benches along the way.
The Lowly Fungi
One realization that I had while on this hike, and even more so since reviewing hundreds of photos for this post, is that the fungi of the world need better marketing. Sure they are living off decaying organic matter and they function as the ultimate recyclers, but it turns out that they add a lot of color and pizazz to the forest floor, especially in the late summer and early fall, before the colored leaves blanket the ground. In their own way they rival the spring ephemeral wild flowers for “wow” factor.
New Plant of the Day
White Rattlesnake Root – it took me weeks to finally identify this one as it is rare and the photos in the field guides were of poor quality and did not resemble what we were seeing in the field. Also there is considerable color variation along the spectrum from white to pink-purple. It gets its name from the Iroquois’ use of the root for a poultice to treat snake bites.
Odds and ends
See below: Milkweed pods, wild grapes, Sycamore Tussock Moth caterpillar, Fence Lizard on a Redcedar tree, Bulblet Fern, Dogwood berries, Sassafras leaf, Maidenhair Spleenwort, and Spicebush berries.
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – 75 miles east of Cincinnati, off of Route 32. Excellent road access.
Parking – large concrete and gravel lot at trailhead.
Facilities – Porto-let
Trail Conditions – excellent and well marked. Net elevation change over the trail is only 80 feet but there are many gradual ups and downs along the way so it is more demanding than it would appear at first glance
Benches – about every mile there was a bench
Kids – 7 and older should do well but keep in mind the overall length of the hike
Suggested Paired Hikes – see the link below for Edge of Appalachia’s three other trails