Join experts on prairie appreciation bike ride

(Posted July 25, 2017)

The segment of the Ohio to Erie Trail known as the Prairie Grass Trail begins at the trailhead in London and extends southwestward through South Charleston to Cedarville.

Bikers exploring this narrow swath, once occupied by a busy railroad connecting Columbus with Cincinnati, can enjoy the beauty of plants such as royal catchfly, queen of the prairie, and prairie coneflower; or tall grasses like big bluestem and Indiangrass. These and many other plant species once graced the pre-settlement Ohio landscape, which was a patchwork of old growth forest interspersed with open prairie grass communities.

When the railroad was active, frequent fires and routine maintenance of the right-of-way would keep out the trees and shrubs, which allowed the prairie plants to remain. However, when the railroad was abandoned, woody plants like shrub honeysuckle, and invasive weed species, such as garlic mustard and poison hemlock, began to take over.

About 10 years ago, citizens, educators and government leaders started working together to help these native Ohio plants to make a comeback.   Management efforts, such as fire and brush clearing, were needed to stave off the encroachment of trees and invasive shrubs.

Now, the Prairie Grass Trail provides a narrow slice of Ohio heritage that allows bikers, botanists and beautiful-plant enthusiasts to step back (or “cycle back”) in time and to reconnect with this important part of our historical roots.

The Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails (FMCPT), in cooperation with the Madison Soil and Water Conservation District, is hosting a Prairie Appreciation Bike Ride. Jack McDowell of West Jefferson, a botanist and prairie enthusiast, started the ride several years ago. He was one of the early “discoverers” of the remnant prairies of Madison and Clark counties and assisted FMCPT in efforts to manage these prairie treasures in the midst of threats from invasive woody plant and agricultural weed species.

McDowell passed away in 2012, but his dream to inspire others to preserve the Ohio prairie is not forgotten. The ride will be led by: botanist John Silvius, professor emeritus of biology at Cedarville University; Julia Cumming, program administrator with Madison Soil and Water Conservation District; Matt Silveira, corporate environmental manager, CEMEX US; Karen Stombaugh, Madison County master gardener; and Amber Huffman, an Earth Team volunteer.

Bikers who plan to join this year’s Prairie Bike Ride on July 29 should meet at the Prairie Grass Trailhead, 280 W. High St., London, by 8 a.m. The event is scheduled for two–and-a-half hours with two scheduled stops to enjoy the prairie landscape along the bike trail. Those desiring a less rigorous experience can return to the trailhead from the first stop for a round-trip distance of approximately six miles. Those wishing to continue to the second stop will have approximately an 11-mile round trip.

At each stop, bikers will have chances to view, photograph and discuss prairie botany, ecology and Ohio history. For details, call (740) 852-4003.

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