FAIRFIELD – A 160-acre nature preserve is in the making! It is in Fairfield County, Liberty Township, south of the Village of Baltimore, immediately south of Liberty Union Elementary and Middle Schools.
Fairfield County Park District acquired the property July 28, 2020. It contains approximately 3,355’ of mature riparian corridor along the main channel of Walnut Creek and 4,300’ of smaller headwater tributaries. Beneficial features of the land are high-quality forested wetlands including two Category 3 and seven Category 2 wetlands. Often maligned, wetlands are beneficial for flood storage during high-flow events, protection from sedimentation and nutrient runoff, not to mention the countless and diverse habitat opportunities they provide!
The most remarkable feature of this preserve is the heron rookery. It is one of the largest Great blue heron rookeries south of the Lake Erie watershed. There has been an average of 50 nests per season in a relatively undisturbed section along Walnut Creek.
Ohio Public Works Commission, Project Grant, Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, is funding $ 951,007 for the acquisition of the property. Because of generous contributions totaling $ 350,000, just $ 51,743 was paid by the District. The emphasis of this long-term project is to protect habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species and/or the preservation of high-quality, viable habitat for plant and animal species.
Fairfield County Park District has entered into a habitat improvement agreement, Partners for Fish and Wildlife (PFW) program, with US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). An assessment by USFWS discovered critical habitat for countless species including State-listed freshwater mussel species, macroinvertebrates, and the State-endangered Popeye shiner (fish).
Two-thirds of the property is now agricultural land. USFWS will provide the knowledge and manpower to locate and remove the field tile that greatly altered the natural state of the land, restoring subsurface hydrology and wetland areas to support migratory bird species, reptiles, amphibians, and the rookery. In 2020-21, their work will include establishing 50 acres of wetlands in the low areas and 50 acres of diverse native warm season grasses on higher elevations. They will also provide technical assistance for ten years. The total cost is estimated to be $ 11,206.
National Audubon Society plans to establish this area as a designated Important Bird Area in central Ohio. It will provide educational opportunities with its direct connection to Liberty Union-Thurston Local School District’s 90-acre land lab. Fairfield Soil & Water Conservation District will expand their environmental education programming to this property.
Although the pandemic has caused delays, those living nearby may notice activity at the site by the end of the year. Site improvements may begin as early as November 2020. It will be open to the public once restoration and infrastructure installation are complete and a trail for wildlife observation has been constructed. Updates will be available on fairfieldcountyparks.org.