By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Only 1 percent of Ohio’s native prairies remain intact. Remnants of those prairies exist along the Ohio-to-Erie bike path that runs through Madison County. Without maintenance, those remnants could disappear.
The Madison County Park District is working with government and non-profit groups to preserve and expand at least part of those remnants.
Julia Cumming of the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District serves as a consultant to the park district. On Dec. 16, she reported that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide free manpower and equipment to cut down invasive species, such as bush honeysuckle, that choke out prairie plants. The non-profit Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails will provide follow-up support, cutting down larger trees and spraying the downed invasive species.
The targets are eight sites totaling 10 acres along the Prairie Grass Trail, the portion of the Ohio-to-Erie Trail that runs west out of London along U.S. Route 42. The goal, Cumming said, is to get the clearing work done in January or February.
Previous maintenance in the form of clearing and controlled burns has been performed on eight of the 10 sites. Periodic burns not only combat invasive species, they also increase soil nutrients, expose the soil to the sun for a longer growing season, and allow more plants to flower and produce seeds.
The two new sites on the list are located at Florence Switch near Neil Road and at a turn-around spot a half-mile west of the trailhead at the Madison County Senior Center. The sites were chosen and prioritized based on research performed over several years by Dr. John Silvius, a professor at Cedarville University, and the late Jack McDowell, a naturalist with the Columbus-area Metroparks.
The 10-site project represents only a fraction of the prairie remnants that exist along the six miles of trail.
“It’s a start. The vision is to have prairie go from South Charleston to London,” Cumming said.
The challenges to realizing that vision are money and manpower.
“There is a lot of potential there we could save if we had more resources,” Cumming said.
At the Dec. 16 park district board meeting, Madison County Commissioner Paul Gross offered a possible solution. (All three county commissioners sit on the park district board.)
Gross suggested that Cumming or a member of the Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails contact the state office of Pheasants Forever, a national conservation group that preserves wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management programs. Gross is a Pheasants Forever member.
“Projects like these are their main reason for existing,” he said, explaining that the organization has funding set aside for preservation projects.
He said a pitch for financial support should encompass prairie maintenance and expansion along the entire six-mile stretch of trail, rather than one small part.
“I think they’d be more excited about a big project,” he said.
Cumming said she plans to make contact with Pheasants Forever at the state level.