OHIO OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK
By Laura Jones, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Boardwalks are easy intros into some of Ohio’s most fascinating natural areas
Boardwalks are one of the most inviting avenues we can take into nature. In fact, there is something magical about the way they stir the imagination the moment we set foot on the first plank. Perhaps it is because they allow us to visit places we might not otherwise be able to experience without hip waders.
In Ohio, many of these elevated walkways meander through some of the state’s best wetlands, cutting across swamps, marshes and meadows each supporting a wide variety of animal and plant life. While some of these boardwalk trails are just a few hundred feet in length, others go on for as long as two miles.
To help identify some of our best boardwalks, I sought the help of Ralph Ramey author of several Ohio hiking guides and a former division chief for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“Boardwalks are just wonderful,” says Ramey. “They let us get up close to see, hear and smell the living things that makeup a wetland.”
His “favorite without question” is the boardwalk at Cedar Bog State Memorial in Champaign County. This 1.25-mile boardwalk takes hikers through swamp woods and wet prairie meadows. The preserve, just four miles south of Urbana, is home to the largest grove of white cedar trees in the state.
In early autumn, a mixture of wildflowers blossom here, such as Ohio goldenrod and the strikingly purple fringed gentian. Those who enjoy watching wildlife will appreciate the wide range of butterflies and songbirds that visit the preserve this time of year.
These man-made promenades are also appreciated for their ability to increase accessibility to the outdoors for a wide variety of visitors. Those using a wheelchair or parents pushing strollers will find the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park along Lake Erie a real delight. The two-mile walkway loops through a coastal wetland featuring all sorts of interesting birds and flowers. During the spring and fall, a wide variety of birds pass through the area as they journey to and from distant seasonal homes. While you’re there, stop in at the state park’s nature center where you can find out what birds have been spotted and which ones to keep an eye open for.
|Birders at Magee Marsh
|Easy for strollers and wheelchairs
Just around the corner, birding enthusiasts flock to the boardwalk at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area (.pdf map) in Ottawa County. The half-mile walkway traverses a swamp forest, offering occasional vistas into the vast Lake Erie marshes that surround it. Considered one of the top bird watching spots in the Midwest, the 2,000-acre marsh has been visited by well over 300 species of songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl.
Several boardwalks in northeastern Ohio made Ralph Ramey’s list of favorites. Thanks to Ice Age glaciers, this region is dotted with fens and bogs (a.k.a. wetlands). Some of the finest can be explored by boardwalks that lead back to glacier-formed kettle lakes and across deceptively deep bogs.
At Kent Bog State Nature Preserve in Portage County, the half-mile boardwalk navigates a former kettle lake created when a block of buried glacial ice melted away. Now, thousands of years later, peat has filled the kettle-hole to produce what is today a 43-acre bog meadow. Visitors to the boardwalk will encounter highbush blueberry, Virginia chain fern and sphagnum moss. This bog also supports Ohio’s largest stand of tamarack trees. These trees are unusual in the world of conifers because they are one of only a few that loses their needles every year.
For many of us, a favorite seasonal activity is fall color viewing. As summer’s leaves begin changing to the bright reds, golds and purples of autumn, consider a leaf-peeping excursion along the boardwalk at Fowler Woods State Nature Preserve in Richland County. A 1.25-mile loop highlights the 187-acre preserve’s old-growth woods of beech and maple trees as well as large buttonbush swamps.
Ohio’s boardwalks are beautiful complements to the vast trail system crisscrossing our state. To learn more about these and other boardwalks, or to begin planning a fall color outing, visit ohiodnr.com.
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