We did not plan on hiking Chapparral Prairie Nature Preserve in late October. We had driven to West Union, Ohio to enjoy the vistas of the Ohio River at Whipple Nature Preserve but precarious parking along a steep and winding country road, where we could not comfortably get our vehicle well off the road, led to a change in plans.
And I’m a sucker for the word prairie and drawn to them like a butterfly.
Chapparrall, consisting of 130 acres and over 2 miles of trails, was only 10 miles from Whipple so it became Plan B.
We were late to the party. All around us was evidence of a great floral celebration of this past summer in the form of spent flower inflorescences and seed heads. But luckily, as with all good parties, there were still a few stragglers partying on, looking no worse for wear this late in the season.
The trail at Chapparral meanders through prairie habitat interspersed with cedar barrens as well as White Oak, Red Oak, Post Oak and Blackjack Oak thickets. Due to poor soil, largely consisting of compacted clay, there are few large trees. This characteristic may have been what allowed it to remain a prairie as it was not good for agriculture.
Generally the grade was easy and there were only minor mud and puddles despite recent heavy rains.
The preserve is made up of three interconnecting loop trails (Hawk, Bald Hill, Cedar Barren) that take you through the various ecosystems, with about half the time being spent in prairie grassland. It is home to many rare plants including Prairie Dock, Prairie False Indigo, and Rattlesnake-master. My favorite stretch was the Bald Hill Loop which brought back images of the opening scene of Little House on the Prairie.
The surprising stars of the day were the various seed heads of the wildflowers, which I will refer to as “The Ghosts of Summer Past”.
Perhaps our favorite was the under heralded milkweed, the host plant for monarch larvae. Its seed capsules were just starting to release its winged seeds.
And this sighting intrigued us.
These are two different insects who have the rather unimaginative names of Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) and Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). They are eating the seeds of the milkweed here, but are rather dietary generalists and will eat Monarch eggs and larvae as well as larvae of other butterflies. By eating milkweed when it is green, they obtain a toxin that renders them distasteful to predators.
Fall color was present but generally on a small scale. That said, if you slow down, beauty will find you (Sumac, Sycamore, Blackberry, Red Oak, Blackberry, White Oak, Sumac, Sassafras, Red Oak, White Oak, and Sugar Maple).
Baby Photo of the Day (Red Maple)
Interesting Plant of the Day
Groundcedar (Diphasiastmm digitatum) – In fact, not a cedar at all but a club moss, which are relatives of the ferns. It is evergreen and very slow growing, and the forked spikes are the fruiting structure that will release spores for reproduction. In the past it was used for Christmas decoration which, when paired with its slow growth, greatly reduced its occurrence. Its spores are flammable and were used in early photography for flash powder.
One of the great things about this preserve is the diversity of things you see, including Reindeer Lichen. It is a symbiosis between an algae and a fungus, that benefits both, with the algae doing photosynthesis to provide nutrition and the fungus absorbing water and providing drought tolerance.
In one small section of a somewhat more mature wood we found an isolated Christmas Fern, which is evergreen, as well some larger Shagbark Hickories. The raised plates of the bark of the hickories provide winter homes for insects and bats.
In summary, Chapparral Prairie Nature Preserve is an outstanding, rather large tract of prairie with a wide diversity of plants including many rare ones. I’m looking forward to going back next June when the Prairie Dock will be at its peak, and in late July or early August when the many varieties of Liatris, also known as Blazing Star, will be blooming.
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Parking – Asphalt lot at the onsite Department of Natural Resources building.
Facilities – none
Trail Conditions – generally well marked but I would encourage a map since the loops branch off each other quite a bit.
Benches – two noted.
Kids – This would be a great hike for kids since much of the color of flowers and butterflies will be at the eye level.
Dogs – prohibited.
Suggested Paired Hikes – There are other state nature preserves nearby (Johnson Ridge, Adams Lake) but we have not hiked these.