Part of Darby Plains in central Ohio worthy of preservation

(Photo courtesy of Jane Beathard)

I learned something last week.

There’s a Columbus/Franklin County Metro Parks property less than 10 miles from my London home that is a rare and preserved piece of the historic Darby Plains.

I knew about other prairie remnants in Madison County – mostly the two pioneer cemeteries/state nature preserves that lie west of Plain City. But I was unaware of this closer property.

A Columbus Dispatch story says Metro Parks acquired the 20 acres in 2006 and has “managed” it ever since. Some neighbors would question the “manage” part since it appears it is only mowed now and then.

A sign erected by the Ohio History Connection calls the parcel the W. Pearl King Prairie Savanna. It is named for the man who owned it from the late 1800s to 1960.

Metro Parks now wants the Ohio DNR to dedicate it as a state nature preserve. Not a bad idea.

It’s a true oak savanna with trees that are 350 years old. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “an oak savanna is a fire-dependent ecosystem distinguished by widely spaced, spreading trees with a unique group of plants growing below.”

That is true of the King savanna. There are rare and endangered prairie plants growing beneath the ancient trees.

ODNR botanist Rick Gardner is quoted as saying the plot is the “best example of the oak savanna habitat left in the Darby Plains.”

He told me some of the plants in the King parcel like Prairie Dropseed grass are so rare that they are not even found in the other Darby Plains nature preserves – Smith and Bigelow pioneer cemeteries.

I have written extensively over the years about the Darby Plains. It once covered hundreds of square miles of what is now northern Madison and southern Union counties – between Big and Little Darby Creeks.

It was wet, mosquito infested, and virtually uninhabitable in pioneer times. But early settlers (at least the ones that survived malaria and everything else) learned to drain the water away, revealing some of the most productive farmland in Ohio.

Agriculture took over and gradually the prairie and its unique flora disappeared – except for remnants like the Bigelow and Smith cemeteries and the King savanna.

Many of the plant species in these places are typically found farther West – products of the warm spell that followed the retreat of the last great glacier. During that time, “fingers” of prairie sod and plants moved into Central Ohio from the West, leaving the land around the Darbies different from surrounding forests.

I checked out the King savanna after reading the Dispatch story. It is located at the intersection of the David Brown and Becker roads in Monroe Township. That is just a little east of Mechanicsburg.

Right now, it is impossible to access. No parking lot or walking trails.

Gardner hesitated to say whether that would change if the King savanna becomes a state nature preserve.

He said designation can take many forms. Metro Parks may continue to own the piece. Or, it could fall to the state to manage.

Regardless, it is a nice piece of Ohio nature that deserves more attention.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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