Habitats of the BFEC
Habitats Near the Visitor Center - Seasonal Activities
The Brown Family Environmental Center opened in October 1995. It covers approximately 380 acres and has a small visitor center and butterfly garden. As you walk through the preserve you will encounter a variety of habitats. If you begin your exploration near the visitor center you can wander through a butterfly garden that was started in May 1996. The garden was designed to attract butterflies. The flowers provide nectar for adult butterflies and the leaves and stems of many of the plants are eaten by butterfly larvae. Woodpiles located at the far end of the garden are a place where caterpillars and pupae can overwinter. 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 buddlia near the entrance to the garden. In the fall, if you look closely at the leaves of the butterfly-weed that grows near the entrance you can expect to find green and white striped monarch caterpillars or the fuzzy black and orange caterpillars of the tussock moth. You might also find bright red milkweed beetles or black and red milkweed bugs. All of these insects feed on the milky sap of this plant. The milky sap contains a toxin that makes these insects distasteful to predators such as birds. In the center of the garden is a pond. In the spring, toads visit the pond to lay their eggs. These eggs develop into black tadpoles that become small toads early in July. They can be seen hopping around the garden during the summer months. As you explore the garden further you may notice that many of our plants are missing leaves. These have been eaten by the deer, rabbits and woodchucks that visit the garden early in the morning. The garden also attracts a variety of birds. The waterfall provides a source of water and a bathing place for the song sparrows and mourning doves that live in the adjacent field. Goldfinches commonly flit through the garden in 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.
Lying adjacent to the garden is a successional field that was used for agriculture until 1994. It was most recently planted in corn. The plants that you will see as you walk through this field are primarily weedy species that are not native to the United States. Winter cress, curly dock, Canada thistle, ox-eye daisy, several varieties of clover, and bladder campion are common in the spring and summer. As fall approaches the field becomes decked out in the brilliant yellows of goldenrod and the bright purple of ironweed. In the /Spring of 1997 this area was planted as a short grass prairie that contains little bluestem grass and a variety of native wild flowers.
The hill above this field is now a grassland that has been reclaimed from an old pasture that was used for grazing cattle. The thorny vegetation that borders the field provides excellent nesting habitat for yellow warblers and catbirds. If you listen closely you may hear the mew of the catbird. 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 is 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 not uncommon 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.
Habitats Accessed off Bishop's Backbone
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 over two dozen species of hardwood trees. There are 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 fern. The forest lies on a hill above the banks of Wolf Run. As you descend toward the creek you will move from hardwood forest into a riparian forest. Riparian forest are found along streams and rivers. Trees in riparian areas can withstand water logged soils during times of flooding. One of the trees characteristic of riparian areas is the white and gray barked sycamore. 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 pools that dot the grassland that lies to the east of the stream.
The clear waters of Wolf Run 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.
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.
Our area was covered by two major glaciers. The Illinoisan 250,000 years ago and the Wisconsin 15-20,000 years ago. Deposits left by the Illinoisan glacier have 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. Most of 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 formed creating a large lake known as Green Valley Lake. Eventually the dam could no longer hold the water that was accumulating behind it and the dam broke. Water rushed through the Kokosing valley pushing gravel as far as Millwood.
The various communities found on the preserve reflect the fertility of the different soil types and their ability to hold moisture. In riparian areas the communities are dominated by sycamore, silver maple, willow, cottonwood and green ash. Plants in riparian areas must be capable of tolerating frequent disturbance, waterlogged soil with little oxygen. Typically they are fast growing. Undisturbed glacial till is more fertile and supports beeches and maples. In areas with high levels of sand and gravel some ash and tulip poplar are more common. Elements of this can be seen along Wolf Run. In dry upland areas oak and hickory are more common.
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. There is a potential archeological site in the field that lies just south of Rt. 229.