Hikers walk in the forest during a birding course

5 Things To Do on Arc of Appalachia Preserves

Photo: Arc of Appalachia Preserve System

People are at the heart of the Arc of Appalachia preserve system.

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. 

A woman studies plant life in an Arc of the Appalachia Preserve Photo: Arc of Appalachia Preserve System

3. Go Back to School

Take your naturalist skills up a notch by attending an Arc program that will help you better understand and appreciate your surroundings. Sign up for a forest literacy course (multiple locations) and learn to identify many of the 100 tree species that grow in Ohio. Alternatively, you can attend a weekend night course at Mothapalooza where you will see and learn about as many as 100 moth species. You can also check out an Ohio Heritage School course at Fort Hill, a preserve located an hour and a half southwest of Columbus, known for its prehistoric Native American hilltop enclosure. Here, learn to develop an outdoor skill like identifying edible and medicinal plants or making a haversack. Find up-to-date offerings on the Arc’s Appalachian Forest School page or Facebook page

4. Become a Trailblazer

Every time you hike a trail at the Arc, it’s because somebody built it. If you’ve ever wanted to get more involved in trail building or land stewardship, here is your chance. Join the Arc’s Biodiversity Brigade and experience the satisfaction of taking a pair of snips to a thorny multiflora rose, a handsaw to a honeysuckle shrub, or your bare hands to a patch of garlic mustard. You can also become an Arc Trailblazer by adopting a section of trail to independently monitor or maintain. Choose your level of involvement based on your time, skill and ability. Group work days can be arranged as well, so get the team together. Learn more about one-off and long-term volunteer opportunities on the Arc’s volunteer page

5. Visit Native American Earthworks

The Arc of Appalachia has been buying land for more than 25 years in order to protect the biodiversity of Appalachian Ohio forests. But several of the preserves also protect Ohio’s history, in the form of prehistoric Native American earthworks, most of which are nearly 2,000 years old. Fort Hill is home to a ridgetop earthen enclosure, 11 miles of trails (the 2.2-mile Fort Trail takes you to the earthworks) and also a biologically diverse, near-virgin forest with great spring wildflowers. It’s a good place to visit in the winter, too, where you can see the earthen walls more easily. Junction-Steel Earthworks preserve is home to 6.5 miles of trails, both forested and in a restored prairie where the ceremonial earthworks are made visible through selectively mowed paths. You’ll find the prairie in bloom in the summer—combine the half-mile Earthworks Trail and the 1.7-mile Tippecanoe Darter Trail, which take you through the prairie and then to Paint Creek.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.