Nature preserve to open in ‘19

Group prepares donated land at Fairfield-Elk Run township line

This portion of Elk Run, a tributary of the Little Beaver Creek that runs through southern Fairfield Township, is part of a state-designated Wild and Scenic River and a nationally-recognized scenic river and is now part of the Elk Run Preserve, owned by the non-profit Western Reserve Land Conservancy. The WRLC said the creation of Elk Run Preserve will help preserve exceptional water quality in the tributary streams that feed into Little Beaver Creek. (Contributed photo)

FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP — The Western Reserve Land Conservancy is preparing to open a new 91-acre nature preserve in Fairfield Township in 2019.

Kendrick Chittock, project manager for the WRLC, said, “The vision for this project began with landowner Arthur Ziegler, who reached out to the land conservancy in 2014 to discuss conservation options for this area.

“Arthur was not content with only conserving his land and recruited his conservation-minded neighbors, Susi Thompson, the family of the late Alexander Shashaty and the late Belden Ham, to be a part of the project.”

It is called the Elk Run Preserve.

Chittock explained that in addition to the 17 acres made available by Ziegler, the Shashaty family added 31.5 acres, Ham added 31.1 acres and Thompson added 11.3 acres to create the new preserve.

The properties are located on the southern edge of Fairfield Township and adjoin one another moving north just north of state Route 517, on the western edge of Lower Elkton Road where the Fairfield and Elk Run townships meet.

The area is in Section 32 of the county maps and the Elk Run Preserve contains nearly one mile of Elk Run, a tributary of Little Beaver Creek, which is a state-designated wild and scenic river and a nationally-recognized scenic river.

Chittock said it’s one of the first preserves in this area and Columbiana County for the WRLC, a private non-profit organization headquartered in Moreland Hills in eastern Cuyahoga County.

The WRLC ranges in northeast Ohio from Lake Erie to Jefferson County and the Elk Run Preserve contains several diverse habitat areas including upland forest, old field, wetlands and floodplains.

Notably, the WRLC said, the property’s location in the upper Little Beaver Creek Watershed is home to critical habitat for several rare species including the endangered Eastern Hellbender, the largest salamander in North America.

The creation of Elk Run Preserve also helps preserve exceptional water quality in the tributary streams that feed into Little Beaver Creek, protecting the Hellbender habitat.

“It will keep the tributaries in good shape,” Chittock said, adding that’s a way to connect species to the land.

The property is tax free and was purchased with Clean Ohio Green Space Funds through the Ohio Public Work Commission along with individual donations.

“We secured the funds and paid the landowners and hold a conservation easement so it will still be a preserve and run with the land if it is sold,” he explained, adding that the property owners retained the mineral rights.

It’s a private organization, Chittock said, and not a park district with levy money supporting it, “but we share it with the local community.”

Chittock explained, “The project also includes a $20,000 restoration of the floodplain area that will remove invasive species, such as reed canary grass, and replace them with native riparian plant species.”

The land conservancy will manage the property as a nature preserve, working with the local community to provide nature walks and make the Elk Run Preserve available to local schools for study.

Once completed, possibly by the fall of 2019, it will be available as a “passive park” for scheduled free field trips and walking tours, while groups and organizations can also use it. The WRLC can have staff members available to guide groups and identify plants, trees and birds during the field trips.

Without Ziegler it couldn’t have been done.

“Arthur has become a champion for our work,” explained Chittock. “We are extremely grateful to work with him and plan to explore additional conservation opportunities in the area.”

The WRLC said it continues to provide the people of its region with essential natural assets through land conservation and restoration. It has preserved natural areas and working farms in more than 20 counties in northern and eastern Ohio.

It has an urban program called Thriving Communities, and it works statewide to clean and green urban centers devastated by the foreclosure crisis.

To date, the WRLC has permanently preserved more than 715 properties totaling more than 53,000 acres; created more than 150 public parks and preserves; led the efforts to create more than 50 county land banks across Ohio; as well as planted and distributed more than 12,000 robust trees in Cleveland.

For more about the WRLC, visit, www.wrlandconservancy.org.

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