People are at the heart of the Arc of Appalachia preserve system. That may sound funny for a land conservation organization that acquires, stewards and protects wildlands in Ohio (and that has saved over 7,000 acres of land in its quarter-century of stewardship). It shouldn’t, though. Who else is going to donate, volunteer and spread the word about rewilding Appalachian Ohio’s landscape than the very people who interact with it? With this mission in mind, the Arc has 50 miles of trails on 11 preserves that are open to the public, free of charge, with 20 more miles in the process of development. Additionally, special programs invite you to engage with the preserves as well as meet other outdoor explorers. Here are five ways to experience some of these special places for yourself.
1. Go on a Wildflower Pilgrimage
Every mid-April, Highlands Nature Sanctuary hosts the Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage. Join other nature enthusiasts for guided hikes, presentations and camaraderie. Spring ephemeral flowers are the star of the show here. Expect to see several species of trillium plus bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, wood columbine, shooting star and dozens of other spring wildflowers. Highlands is home to a total of 16 miles of trails, so you’ll want to come back again. Want to get an earlier start? Then head south to the Ohio River Bluffs a week prior, also part of the Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage with its show of springtime ephemerals. Here you will see carpets of twinflower, Virginia bluebell, blue-eyed Mary, dwarf larkspur and wild hyacinth. As the name indicates, you’ll find yourself on a steep hillside overlooking the Ohio River. This 270-acre preserve is home to a 1.5-mile lollipop trail; you’ll be best served to take your camera, and your time.
2. See an Endangered Species
Head to the Gladys Riley Golden Star Lily Preserve in late March to get a glimpse of the state-endangered golden star lily (Erythronium rostratum). In addition to being extremely rare, this flower is a real beauty as well. Picture a common trout lily but with its yellow flowers facing upward instead of drooping toward the ground (so much easier to photograph!). Rare as this species is elsewhere, here the forest floor is covered with golden star lilies and the preserve has 3.5 miles of trails that get you up close to them.
If you haven’t had your rare-forest fill, head to the newly developed Kamama Prairie (scheduled to open in 2022 or 2023). The preserve is home to a whopping 24 state-listed rare and endangered plant species. Kamama is the Cherokee word for butterfly, and once you visit you’ll understand why. Go in June for the rarest butterflies, including several species of hairstreaks, and in July for the largest and showiest, like monarchs and swallowtails. Kamama is even home to a species of moth that is new to science. The preserve will close at dusk, but if you’re lucky you may hear the distinct call of a chuck-will’s-widow in May on your way out.