State dedicates new nature preserve near West Jefferson

Messenger photo by Jeff Pfeil
Signage for the new Little Darby Creek State Nature Preserve, located just outside of West Jefferson, is unveiled. On hand were: (from left) Heather Doherty, Central Ohio Scenic Rivers manager; Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; Jeff Johnson, ODNR division chief; Bob Gable, ODNR scenic rivers program manager; Dr. Ralph Rohner Jr.; Mark Forrest, Madison County commissioner; Mike Forrest; and Angela Fentress, environmental planner with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

(Posted July 3, 2023)

On June 28, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) celebrated the dedication of Ohio’s newest state nature preserve.

Little Darby Creek State Nature Preserve, located off of Forrestwood Avenue just outside of West Jefferson, is Ohio’s 144th state nature preserve. The site is comprised of 430 acres of high-quality stream corridor that feeds into the Little Darby State and National Scenic River. Land for the project was secured from the families of Cindy and Ace Forrest, Patty and Robert Forrest, and Dr. Ralph Rohner Jr.

“By preserving these acres along Little Darby Creek, we’re committing to permanently protecting both the land and the water in this area, as well as the rare and endangered species that live here,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “Nature preserves like this ensure that future generations have the opportunity to connect with Ohio’s natural heritage and explore its exceptional beauty.”

The site features a heavily wooded corridor along the river, as well as prairie remnants and wetlands. The federally endangered clubshell mussel is among the aquatic species that live in Little Darby Creek.

“As we dedicate Little Darby State Nature Preserve today, ODNR is honoring its commitment to maintaining healthy ecosystems on land and in the water,” said Mary Mertz, ODNR director. “The Little Darby State and National Scenic River symbolizes our mission of protecting the very best lands and streams.”

In addition to protecting riparian corridor, the preserve protects remaining vestiges of the Darby Plains prairie that once covered central-western Ohio in thousands of acres of tall grasses and oak savannah prior to pioneer settlement. In summer, a variety of common and rare prairie wildflowers, including the scaly blazing star, are scattered across the southern portion of the preserve.

In recent years, ODNR’s Division of Natural Areas & Preserves staff worked to remove non-native invasive species, restoring some of this threatened landscape. Staff will continue to assess the preserve to determine how to enhance visitor experience while providing habitat protection.

Messenger photo by Jeff Pfeil
Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, signs a proclamation dedicating Little Darby Creek State Nature Preserve as the state’s 144th nature preserve.

While the preserve is open to the public, it is somewhat difficult to access at this time, according to Bob Gable, scenic rivers program manager with the Division of Natural Areas & Preserves.

“We still need to develop access. The plan is to install a gravel parking lot and a trail system throughout the property. Those are in the planning stages now,” he said.

The preserve is intended for low-impact recreational use, including hiking, wildlife observation and photography, and fishing.

Gable grew up in West Jefferson and can’t say enough about the new preserve. He cited Little Darby Creek as one of the highest quality rivers remaining in Ohio. To have land adjacent to it that is special enough to dedicate as a state nature preserve takes it above and beyond, he said.

“It’s really amazing to have all of that together in one location,” he said.

ODNR began purchasing the land that now makes up the preserve in 2010 with funding from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program. Other partners, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ohio Department of Transportation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, have been instrumental in providing additional support for land acquisition and site improvements, including habitat restoration, tree plantings, and invasive species removal.


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