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Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Local land to become Ohio nature preserve

Wilson family sells 69 acres to state

By Nancy Allen

George Wilson rests against a tree on his land along the St. Marys River in this. . .

ROCKFORD - Sixty-nine acres of land teeming with unusual bird species and rare plants along the St. Marys River is set to become an Ohio Nature Preserve this fall.
The state last year purchased the land off the east side of U.S. 127 north of U.S. 33 from the George Wilson family. Wilson, a local conservationist and tree farmer named the 1991 Ohio Tree Farmer of the Year, died Oct. 3, 2009, at the age of 89.
Wilson's son Trevor, who handled the estate, believes his father would be happy.
"He would be very pleased the state has ownership of the land and that it will be preserved," he said. "It was very important to me to try to fulfill that wish for my dad."
Trevor Wilson, now of Chardon, said his father grew up when farming was done with horses and everything was grown organically. He felt doing things the natural way was important and operated his tree farm along the St. Marys River with the same philosophy.
"He felt trees should be an equal crop with others whether it's corn, soybeans, oats and wheat and felt trees could bring great value to others," Trevor Wilson said. "You have to care for and manage a wood lot, and when the trees are at the point when they are mature, they should be harvested."
His father welcomed conservationists, archaeologists, educators and school children onto the land over the years to share his treasure.
"He felt it belonged to everyone, and he let a number of professors come and categorize plant life and identified many rare plant species," Trevor Wilson said.
Checkoff funds from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Natural Areas Fund were used to buy the land. Taxpayers can choose to direct donations to the fund on their state income tax form or donate directly to the program, ODNR spokeswoman Stephanie Leis said.
Much of the land is swamp and home to rare species of plants and birds. It contains the maple-ash-oak and buttonbush swamp plants and rare catchfly cutgrass. The St. Marys River is the only place in Ohio where catchfly cutgrass is found, Leis said.
"Audubon Society volunteers have seen a species of special concern, the prothonotary bird (warbler), as well as wood ducks and red-headed woodpeckers," Leis said. "Other state-listed plants in the area include American sweetflag, raven's-foot sedge and lake cress."
The land also is part of a nationally-designated Important Bird Area, meaning it's an area where birds congregate in large numbers, species of high conservation priority live and rare or unique habitats and representative bird species are located. The St. Marys River Basin is internationally recognized as an area of critical importance to migratory birds. Land along the river is often a stop for a multitude of tropical birds that winter in warmer parts of the globe.
About the same time the nature preserve land was purchased, a 20-acre parcel to the north also was purchased from the family by a nonprofit called The Archaeological Conservancy.
Trevor Wilson and his sister, Victoria Bollenbacher, Celina, have fond memories of exploring that land even before their father bought it from a hunting organization. An artesian well and remnants of what is believed to be a building that used to surround Fort Adams are located on the land. The fort was built around the 1800s under the direction of Gen. Anthony Wayne.
Trevor Wilson said archaeologists who visited the site some years back believe the building was a stable used to house soldiers' horses.
"Before my father owned the land, we were always very interested in trying to find the exact location of the fort," Trevor Wilson said.
The nonprofit group now will have full access to the site and building remnants.
"We never played in it because dad was always like, 'don't disturb it,' " Bollenbacher said.
Fort Recovery area real estate agent Larry Keller aided the family in selling the land. The parcels sold to the state for $138,741 and to the nonprofit for $41,100.
"We might not have found The Archaeological Conservancy and the state's interest without the help of Larry Keller," Wilson said.
Avian education specialist Jim McCormac, who led a canoe trip of local science teachers and other officials on the Wilson land in 2010, called the river corridor a "jewel to be protected."
Now it will.
The only other Ohio nature preserve in Mercer County is the 47-acre Baker Woods near Coldwater, an old growth woods, donated to the state in 1992 by the Lela Mae Baker family.
The state plans to dedicate the area, recently named the St. Marys River Wetland State Nature Preserve, this fall. Initially, the public will be given access by permit only until facilities are established, Leis said.
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