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Photo illustration of a hiker backpacking to Blair Preserve at Strouds Run State Park.

Athens Conservancy protects land preserves

The Blair Preserve, located just outside of Athens, is 75-acres that boarders Strouds Run State Park and is protected by Athens Conservancy.

The conservancy, which was purchased in two pieces in 2004 and 2006, is able to protect the older growth as well as cultivate new flora. It has trails, streams and Tunnel Rock, which is a natural rock formation. 

“We monitor each preserve annually by conducting a site visit to identify any problems and our organization maintains a legal defense fund, as well as insurance that would help us defend preserves from encroachment or other problems that might crop up,” Donna Goodman, president of the Athens Conservancy, said in an email. 

The conservancy also uses volunteers to remove invasive plants from certain affected preserves, Goodman said.

The Blair Preserve is one of 10 land trusts the conservancy protects in Athens. 

Another preserve is Baker Preserve, which is named after the former Ohio University President John Calhoun Baker.

“We fund these purchases via donations of money and grant funds,“ Goodman said in an email. “We also protect open space via conservation easements . . . the land then remains in private hands and can be sold in the future but the restrictions will remain in perpetuity.”

These conservation easements protect the land from being harvested or developed, which preserves its natural elements, she said. Residents can also volunteer their own land for a conservation easement. 

Each area has unique attractions that makes what the conservancy protects important. The Bluebell Preserve, for example, is at its prime during the spring, where bikers can see the blooming flowers. Similarly, the Brookville Preserve offers a wetland habitat, according to the conservancy’s website.

The conservancy also promotes volunteer and donation opportunities through various events. One event is a restoration of a Baker Preserve trail for National Public Lands Day since it was damaged in a storm. 

National Public Lands Day is celebration is a way to promote the maintenance and use of local and national parks. In 2017, the conservancy collaborated with OU's Plant Club and organized over 50 volunteers to remove non-native invasive plants from the Blair Preserve, which has been heavily invaded by the landscaping shrub burning bush, Goodman said in an email. 

The conservancy is looking for new members from those who use the preserve, volunteer at the preserve, attend its annual hikes or events, Goodman said in an email. 

Ed Perkins is a volunteer at the conservancy’s sister organization Athens Trails and has been working there for about 15 years. Athens Trails is led by John Knouse. 

 “[Knouse] works tirelessly on the trails,“ Perkins said in an email. “The least I can do is help occasionally.”

Perkins’ past work includes trail maintenance — such as clearing overgrown brush or spreading gravel — but he has also built new trails. It’s hard work, but he is hopeful more volunteers will join soon since numbers have been declining. 

“When working on trails hikers passing by usually thank you for your work,” Perkins said in an email. “Our public lands with trails are a great asset to our community.”

@E_SkidmoreGS

es320518@ohio.edu

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