Park District to create a new nature reserve enhanced by a colony of herons

LIBERTY TOWNSHIP – The Fairfield County Park District has acquired a 160-acre property, which includes a heron colony, which will become a nature reserve.

The property was purchased on Monday with a combination of financing. Ohio Public Works Commission, Project Grant, Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, provided $ 951,007 for the acquisition, while an additional $ 350,000 came in contributions. The district itself paid $ 51,743, according to a press release.

Improvements to the site, located in Liberty Township south of Baltimore and immediately south of Liberty Union elementary and middle schools, could begin as early as November.

The highlight of the site is the Heron Colony, which is one of the largest colonies of great blue herons south of the Lake Erie watershed. There were an average of 50 nests per season at the site along Walnut Creek.

“The focus of this long-term project is to protect the habitat of rare, threatened and endangered species and / or the preservation of high-quality viable habitat for plant and animal species,” said the park district in the press release.

According to the park district, the site includes two Category 3 and seven Category 2 wetlands.

“Often disparaged, wetlands are beneficial for flood storage during high flow events, protection against sedimentation and nutrient runoff, not to mention the myriad and diverse habitat opportunities they provide,” says the press release.

The district has entered into a habitat improvement agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A USFWS assessment has found critical habitat for countless species, including state-listed freshwater mussels, macroinvertebrates, and the state-threatened Popeye Shiner.

Work will need to be done on the site as two-thirds of it is currently agricultural land. USFWS will provide labor to remove terrain tiles that have altered the natural configuration of the terrain, restore subsurface hydrology and wetlands to support the various species on the ground.

“In 2020-2021, their work will include establishing 50 acres of wetlands in lowlands and 50 acres of various warm-season native grasses at higher elevations,” the statement said.

They will also provide technical assistance for 10 years at an estimated total cost of $ 11,206.

Other benefits of the project are that the site will be designated an Important Bird Area in central Ohio by the National Audubon Society. Educational opportunities will be provided through its direct connection to the 90-acre Liberty Union-Thurston Local School District land lab. In addition, the Fairfield Soil & Water Conservation District will expand its environmental education program to this property.

It will be open to the public once the restoration and installation of infrastructure is complete and a wildlife observation trail has been built. Updates will be available at fairfieldcountyparks.org.


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