The Kenyon Center for Environmental Study opened in October 1995. In 1999 it was renamed the Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College to recognize a generous gift from the Minigowin Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio to honor Robert Bowen Brown and family. The center covers approximately 380 acres with a visitor center, many gardens, and a variety of natural habitats.
This document describes what you might find while exploring the preserve, some geological history, and a seasonal guide of things to see to sharpen your observational skills. We hope it will encourage you to visit the center and discover the not-so-hidden world of the outdoors!
I. Exploring BFEC Habitats
If you begin your exploration near the old farmhouse, you can wander through a butterfly garden that was started in May 1996. The garden attracts butterflies with flowers that provide nectar and leaves and stems that are eaten by butterfly larvae. Caterpillars and pupae overwinter in woodpiles located at the far end of the garden. On a sunny afternoon, if you look carefully, you can find more than a dozen varieties of butterflies. Brightly colored tiger swallowtails and monarchs are often found sipping nectar from the purple buddleia near the entrance to the garden.
In the fall, green and white striped monarch caterpillars or the fuzzy black and orange caterpillars of the tussock moth can by found on the leaves of the butterfly weed that grows near the entrance. You might also find bright red milkweed beetles or black and red milkweed bugs. These insects feed on the milky sap of the butterfly weed, which contains a toxin that makes them distasteful to predators such as birds.
In the center of the garden is a small pond. In the spring, toads visit the pond to lay their eggs, which develop into black tadpoles and then small toads early in July. They can be seen hopping around the garden during the summer months. The waterfall provides a source of water and a bathing place for a variety of birds, such as the song sparrows and mourning doves that live in the adjacent field. Goldfinches commonly flit through the garden en-route to the feeders located near the house. They also help plant the garden. Most of the sunflowers seen in the garden came from seeds dropped by the birds. If you sit quietly, you may get to see ruby throated hummingbirds visiting bee balm and zinnias. Their wings beat so rapidly that you often can hear them coming before you actually see them. As you explore the garden further, you may notice that many of plants are missing leaves. The deer, rabbits and woodchucks that visit the garden early in the morning have eaten these.
To the west of the garden is a field that was used for agriculture until 1994 when it was last planted in corn. The plants that you will see as you walk through this field now are a mixture of successional plants and planted prairie species. Prairie grasses, including Indian grass, little bluestem, and switch grasses were planted in March 1995. Prairie forbs have been transplanted since 2000. Look for prairie dock, compass plant, and coneflower. As fall approaches the field becomes decked out in the brilliant yellows of goldenrod and the bright purple of ironweed.
The hill above the prairie is now grassland that has been reclaimed from an old pasture that was used for grazing cattle. The thorny vegetation that borders the field provides excellently nesting habitat for yellow warblers and catbirds (listen closely for the catbird's "mew"). From June through August a variety of berries become ripe in this area. Wild strawberries are the first to ripen followed by black raspberries and finally blackberries.
At the top of the hill you'll find a pine plantation. It was started in April of 1990 when Kenyon faculty and students planted 1000 pine seedlings that were donated by the Newark Audubon Society. This area is a nesting site for field sparrows. The pines also provide food and cover for deer that live on the preserve. In the winter when the ground is covered by snow and food is scarce, deer will eat the young buds of the trees. In the spring they use the trees as a place to rub the velvet off their antlers. If you examine the trees carefully, you will probably find signs of deer activity. A variety of insects also live in the pine plantation. It is common to find praying mantis, crickets and large black and yellow garden spiders.
A successional forest borders the pine plantation. It contains trees that can invade sunny disturbed locations. This includes young elms, maple and ash. Most of the trees in this forest are about the same diameter, suggesting they started to grow at about the same time from a pasture with a few scattered shade trees. A portion of this forest was fenced in the summer of 1996 to provide an opportunity to study how excluding deer will affect the diversity and growth of plants in the area. An adjacent unfenced plot will serve as a control.
The preserve is divided by the Kokosing River and State Route 229. On the north side of the preserve you can begin by exploring a mature deciduous forest with more than two dozen species of hardwood trees, including several species of oak, hickory, ash and maple. In the spring the forest floor is carpeted with wild flowers and in the fall it provides a brilliant display of color. One of the more common plants on the forest floor is the Christmas fem.
As you descend from the hillside toward Wolf Run you will move into a riparian forest, which is found along streams with trees that can withstand waterlogged soils during times of flooding. Early in the spring skunk cabbage can be found flowering along the edge of the stream and you are treated to the sounds of spring peepers which lay their eggs in the many vernal wetland pools that dot the grassland east of the stream.
The clear waters of the Kokosing River and Wolf Run (a tributary stream) support a wide variety of aquatic life. The rocks covering the stream bottom provide a solid surface on which caddisflies and other aquatic insects live. The rich diversity of insect life supports a diverse fish community that includes brightly colored rainbow darters, red-belly dace, big mouth dace and stoneroller minnows. Crayfish and yellow backed salamanders are also fairly common.
II. Geological History
Until 250 million years ago the preserve was under an inland sea. Sandstone and shale formed out of the deposits accumulating on the sea floor. Gradually the sea drained and the land was uplifted. The previous maritime history can still be seen in the high levels of silicon and carbonate in the soil. The major geological features of the area are the result of drainage by the Teays River and its tributaries. The Teays River System flowed from the Appalachian Mountains and north/northwest across Ohio. The action of this river system carved valleys out of the Allegheny Plateau on which the BFEC lies. The movement of the glaciers southward altered both the drainage pattern of the Teays River System and the surface topography of Ohio, creating the present day landscape.
Two major glaciers cover our area:
the Illinoisan 250,000 years ago and the Wisconsin 15-20,000 years ago. Deposits
left by the Illinoisan glacier has had a major influence on the types of plant
communities in the preserve. When glaciers expanded, they carried large amounts
of rock with them. Much of this rock was ground into small particles that
were deposited in valleys when the glacier retreated. These deposits contained
limestone and gave rise to very fertile soil. The melting of the glacier eroded
the local plateau, creating a valley along the Kokosing. Piles of glacial
till blocked streams and lead to the development of lakes. North of Mount
Vernon a gravel ridge created Green Valley Lake, although the natural dam
eventually broke and the accumulated water pushing gravel as far as Millwood.
The various plant communities found on the preserve reflect the fertility of the different soil types and their ability to hold moisture. Plants in riparian areas are typically fast growing and must be capable of tolerating frequent disturbances and waterlogged soil with little oxygen. One of the trees characteristic of riparian areas is the white and gray barked sycamore, although silver maple, willow, cottonwood and green ash are also dominant. Undisturbed glacial till is more fertile and supports beeches and maples. In areas with high levels of sand and gravel, such as along Wolf Run, ash and tulip poplar are more common. Oak and hickory are more common in dry upland areas.
Until the Greenville Treaty in
1798 the preserve was used by Native Americans as a hunting area with temporary
residences. Shawnee, Wyandot and Huron wandered through the area leaving a
variety of artifacts. Fertile flood plains were farmed as well.