Rare Forest along Grand River Protected

The Nature Conservancy and The City Mission work together to conserve rare forest habitat

Rock Creek, OH (RPRN) 7/02/2009–For generations of Clevelanders, it’s been a cool woodland retreat from the city’s summer heat. Conservationists know it as a rare swath of hemlock-yellow birch forest – perfect habitat for painted trillium, snowshoe hare, and other rare plants and animals normally found in more northern climes.

More than 200 wooded acres along the Grand River in Ashtabula County, operated since 1965 as part of a retreat camp by the Cleveland-based charity called The City Mission, this week became part of The Nature Conservancy’s Morgan Swamp Preserve. Located between Morgan Swamp and other protected lands to the south, the City Mission’s property presents an outstanding opportunity to help create a corridor of protected land along the Grand River, a state Wild and Scenic River.

“This property is a critical missing link that will piece together two decades worth of conservation work along the Grand River,” said Josh Knights, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. “Conservationists have been interested in this property for years because of its Grand River frontage, a number of exceptional high-quality wetlands and its ability to forge a link between areas that are already protected.”

Funds for the purchase were provided by the Kelvin & Eleanor Smith Foundation, ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, and private donors.

A swampy forest dominated by hemlock and yellow birch trees once covered about five square miles along the Grand River, arguably the cleanest river flowing into Lake Erie. The Conservancy and its partners have worked for many years to protect what is left of this forest, which is home to river otter, snowshoe hare and a number of rare plants, included painted trillium and bunchberry. It’s the only place in Ohio that this northern-style habitat is found – due primarily to the large amounts of lake-effect snow generated by Lake Erie, said Terry Seidel, director of protection for the Conservancy in Ohio.

“The City Mission property is one of those absolutely critical purchases because of the quality of the habitat, its size, and its connection to the Grand River corridor,” Seidel said. “This is a heavily forested river corridor still in its natural state, and that’s rare for Ohio.”

The recent purchase will extend the Conservancy’s Morgan Swamp Preserve, which is open to the public by way of a recently-constructed trail that meets ADA standards for accessible design. With the addition of this purchase and a conservation easement on another property purchased earlier this year, Morgan Swamp now protects nearly 1,300 acres – making it the largest privately protected wetland in Ohio. A recent survey of this preserve found 108 bird species, 24 fishes, 26 reptiles and 24 mammals – including evidence of a black bear.

To the south of the newly-purchased property, about 500 additional acres are protected by the Pallister and Rome state nature preserves, and by a conservation easement purchased in 2006 by ODNR’s Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, with the Conservancy’s help.

According to the City Mission’s web site, the Cleveland-based charity purchased the land in 1965, using money that came from second mortgages on the homes of their board members. It became known as the Grand Valley Christian Retreat Center. The city Mission will retain a portion of the property for continued use as a retreat center.

“I’m very impressed with the vision and purpose of The Nature Conservancy,” said Richard Trickel, CEO of The City Mission. “Entrusting the land to the organization’s careful stewardship is important to us.”

For more information about The City Mission, contact Richard Trickel at 216/431-3510.

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The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.

Contact Informaion:

Randall Edwards
614-339-8110
614-787-5545 (cell)
redwards@tnc.org

Photo credit: Grand River, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR)