New state forest a treasure, biologist says

McArthur, Ohio – The state’s planned purchase of nearly 16,000
acres of undeveloped woodland in Vinton County to create the Vinton
Furnace Experimental State Forest is a boon to hunters, wildlife
watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts, according to officials with
the DNR and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

The Division of Wildlife contributed $1.7 million to the $15.1
million purchase price. Ohio’s TNC chapter added another $1.5
million.

“There’s a wealth of wildlife (species) there and it gives us
opportunities for maintaining their habitat,” said Jim Marshall,
assistant wildlife chief at the Division of Wildlife. “Buying the
Vinton was a last great chance to acquire the largest privately
owned piece of forested land in the state.”

“When it was in private ownership, there was no guarantee of
future public access,” said Jim Hill, wildlife management
supervisor for the DNR’s southeast district. “This puts the
property in public hands forever.”

Stream Clean Up

To the TNC, acquiring the Vinton meant a chance to use
mitigation money from the Rockies Express Pipeline to clean up the
Elk, Flat and Pierce forks of Raccoon Creek. The creek flows just
east of the forest.

“Those streams are not in the best shape because of legacy acid
mine drainage,” said Josh Knights, executive director of TNC in
Ohio. “There’s a high potential for restoration in the future.”

Wealth of wildlife

DNR wildlife biologist Mike Reynolds hikes the Vinton in summer
months and hunts there in the fall.

“It’s a special place,” he said.

Reynolds noted the Vinton is where the DNR’s wild turkey
restoration project began in the 1950s. The state’s entire current
population grew out of the birds brought there from Kentucky and
West Virginia.

“Turkey hunters (from all over the state) could make a
pilgrimage here,” Reynolds said. “This is where it all
started.”

Reynolds noted there’s also a great population of ruffed grouse
and white-tailed deer on the Vinton, although it may be difficult
to sight a trophy buck.

“The deer have been there for a long time,” he said. “There’s a
good, aged population of bucks. But, they don’t necessarily have
big racks.”

A steady diet of acorns and other fare found in the dense forest
limits the size of whitetail antlers, said Reynolds. However, the
experience of hunting in a true back-country wilderness (where few
motor vehicles ever travel) more than compensates for the absence
of trophy deer, Reynolds added.

Return of roadside camping

The DNR Division of Forestry expects to close the Vinton
purchase by July. That means next fall, the property will once
again be open for roadside camping by hunters, according to Dave
Lytle, division chief.

The most recent owners, The Forestland Group, halted camping in
the forest.

Remnants of the historic Vinton Furnace ironworks lie within the
forest’s central research facility. History buffs will find the
path to these relics an intriguing hike, Lytle added.

Haven for birds and birders

Wildlife watchers, especially birders, will also find the Vinton
a “treasure,” Reynolds said.

“This forest is of global importance for some bird species,” he
added.

It’s in the Vinton that cerulean warblers nest in the highest
density of anyplace in the world. And that’s what attracted TNC
interest.

Although somewhat damaged and lacking in sport fish, the 15
miles of riparian stream corridor on the property remain rich in
aquatic invertebrates, Knights said.

“Migrating songbirds need those invertebrates to feed on,” he
observed.

Bears, bobcats and rattlesnakes, oh my!

Wildlife researchers know black bear and bobcat routinely prowl
the Vinton. And significant numbers of timber rattlesnakes are
concentrated in certain areas.

“It does have the second largest population of timber rattlers
in Ohio,” Reynolds said. “Only Shawnee State Forest has more.”

He’s hesitant to be specific about sightings of these endangered
and protected species for fear or poaching. He will say that the
Vinton “has it all” when it comes to wildlife.

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