Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Autumn at 'the Edge'

Adams County preserve offers quiet and remarkable color

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The view from the ridge of Red Rock in the Edge of Appalachia Preserve.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        Chris Bedel must hear me panting. “It's not this steep all the way,” he says, trudging through dense forest in the Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve.

        Soon we arrive at Red Rock, one of four National Natural Landmarks in the 13,000-acre preserve, about 80 miles east of Cincinnati in Adams County.

        We walk to the edge of a cliff, where patches of ancient prairie cling. Below us, the rugged hills of the Ohio Brush Creek valley are resplendent in shades of russet, burnt orange, green and yellow. Monarch butterflies flutter across the landscape in their annual migration.

        “I don't know of any place with a view like this in the whole state,” Mr. Bedel says.

        The preserve is known simply as “the Edge.” I've come here in search of autumn.

        Autumn is orchard apples, haunted houses, Friday night football, farmers' markets and festivals. It's all that, but that's not the autumn I'm seeking this October day.

        Autumn is nature's time to prepare for the approaching winter. Maybe it's also the unspoken promise that springtime will someday return.

  Two areas of the Edge of Appalachia are open for public hikes:
  • E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie Preserve features a series of natural grassland openings in an otherwise forested area. Prairie blooms peak late July through September. Take Ohio 125 east nine miles from West Union; turn right on Tulip Road. Go half a mile and turn left into the parking lot of East Liberty Church. The trail starts at the eastern edge of the church cemetery.
  • Christian and Emma Goetz Buzzardroost Rock Preserve features a promontory rising 500 feet above Ohio Brush Creek Valley. Take Ohio 125 east eight miles from West Union; turn left on Weaver Road and look for a gravel parking area at the eastern end of the road. Round-trip hike is 3 miles.
  Cincinnati Museum Center also offers summer science camps at the Edge.
  Information: (937) 544-2880.
        Autumn at the Edge is “a time to stop and think and let the colors ooze into your soul,” says Mr. Bedel, the preserve director and my guide this day.

        Forty years ago the Nature Conservancy began buying land here to protect habitat that shelters more than 100 rare plants and animals. The non-profit group now owns and manages the preserve in partnership with Cincinnati Museum Center.

        The preserve is named for Richard and Lucile Durrell, who were early leaders in the effort to preserve the area.

        “What I find often,” Mr. Bedel says, “is that people who come to the Edge fall in love with it.

        It's not a park. You'll not find restrooms or water fountains or picnic tables here. Only two trails are open to the public: Lynx Prairie and Buzzardroost Rock. (A third trail will open next spring.)

        But you can find autumn here. At least, that's what I'm hoping as we trek through the forest.

        We pass many pawpaw trees. In fall, those exposed to sunlight bear fruit that offers a deliciously sweet, banana-custard flavor.

        Soon we approach a massive gray boulder — a chunk of dolomite the size of a small house — that long ago rolled here after breaking from a high cliff.

        Suddenly a commotion erupts in the woods to our left, and a critter scampers away. A grouse, Mr. Bedel says. We keep walking.

        At one point he stops, looks up at the trees and makes an unusual sound. Pishhh-shhh-shhh-shhh.

        If there are any migrating birds nearby, they'll investigate. The day before, he encountered waves of them: black-throated green warblers, summer tanagers, Tennessee warblers.

        Soon, birds are alighting on tree branches. A red-breasted nuthatch. A yellow-rumped warbler. A golden-crowned kinglet. In fall, they're not dressed in their breeding plumage, so they're harder to identify, Mr. Bedel says.

        They migrate at night, rest and feed during the day. Soon they'll all be gone, as will migrating monarch butterflies, which also wing through the Edge in autumn.

        We drive a few miles to the E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie Preserve. It's named for the University of Cincinnati ecologist who in the 1920s recognized the biological significance of the Edge.

        Mark Zloba, the Edge's environmental educator, says that in late summer, with flowers blooming among the tall grasses, the prairie “looks like somebody's garden, but out in the middle of the woods.”

        By early October, though, many flowering prairie plants, such as prairie dock and western sunflower, have faded.

        But for a bit longer, at least, the white flowers of Great Plains ladies-tresses still bloom, as does the purple flower of the obedient plant. The latter is so named because its flower can be turned in any direction, like a swivel, and will stay in place.

        Near the end of the day, I take Mr. Bedel back to his office and say goodbye. But I'm not ready to leave to the Edge.

        I haven't yet seen Christian and Emma Goetz Buzzardroost Rock Preserve. So I drive to Weaver Road, park in a small gravel lot, and hit the 3-mile trail.

        It's fairly flat at first. I cross a footbridge over a creek, its water as still as glass. No one's been on this path recently, I surmise, pulling a spiderweb out of my face.

        I pass a stand of cedars. Then the trail becomes steeper, and the sounds of the nearest highway fade away.

        I'm sweating, but I'm not hot in the cool woods. Only occasionally does a shaft of sunlight break through the forest canopy.

        Off to my left, I see a huge cliff. The section of trail ahead is the steepest yet, and I stop several times to catch my breath.

        I never see another person.

        The trail follows the spine of the hill. It leads to a boardwalk that stretches safely over dolomite. And then I'm standing on a promontory 500 feet above the Ohio Brush Creek valley. I'm at Buzzardroost Rock.

        If the hike doesn't take your breath away, the view will.

        To the north is pasture land, and maybe a half dozen farms. To the east, hills ablaze with color. To the south, more rugged ridges, equally brilliant.

        I do as Mr. Bedel had suggested. I let the colors ooze into my soul.

        Several turkey vultures, for which Buzzardroost Rock is named, circle overhead. Then the sun disappears behind a cloud, and the ridges grow dark. I try to imagine how spectacular sunset would be.

        Then I turn and head back down the trail, satisfied that I've found autumn at the Edge.


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