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Gabby Hayes hikes into Thunderbunny Trail, part of Mary Beth Zak Lohse Preserve in Strouds Run State Park on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019.

Local conservancy provides recreation and outdoor education

Athens is surrounded by countless parks and natural wonders, but behind some of those is a cause bigger than a gorgeous place for a picnic: nature preserves and their work in conservation efforts. 

Nature preserves are vital parts of the environment and promote recreation in a way that protects wildlife. In Athens, there are many preserves under the protection of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, as well as the Athens Conservancy, people can check out.

“Nature preserves are necessary not only to educate those who don't have easy access to wilderness, but also the opportunity to work in and around nature,” Isaiah Lyle, a sophomore studying journalism, said.

Athens Conservancy is a non-profit organization that prides itself on controlling and protecting hundreds of acres of land in Athens County, a place with a distinct combination of scenery,  biodiversity, history, geographic location, local economy and local culture, John Knouse, a board member for Athens Conservancy, said. 

“We have a particular interest in preserving our environment on a larger scale,” Knouse said in an email. 

The Conservancy does numerous things to try and accomplish this goal, from controlling invasive plants to public education. It also limits hunting on its properties and prohibits littering and smoking to allow for wildlife growth in the area. 

“As pollution continues to displace species and even drive some of them toward extinction, by preserving what we can, we attempt to help some species of flora and fauna from being so affected,” Julie Trouten, a sophomore studying journalism, said. 

One of the biggest questions raised regarding nature preserves is the difference between them and places like state parks. Nature preserves are privately-funded and focus solely on conservation while also limiting or prohibiting the public from using the land. State parks, although still very concerned about conservation efforts, are government-funded and used primarily for outdoor education and recreation. 

“(State parks) often are designed to give people more access to the outdoors as well as preserve natural populations of plants and animals,” Kelly Johnson, associate professor of biological sciences, said in an email. 

Nature preserves like Athens Conservancy allow the public to access many of its nature preserves and engage in several recreational activities such as hunting, birdwatching, hiking and biking to promote a healthy relationship between people and the nature it is attempting to preserve. 

The Baker Preserve, owned by the family of former Ohio University President Dr. John Calhoun Baker, has several hiking trails and access to the Hocking River. It also allows for bow hunting with permission from the Conservancy for deer only along with Tucker Run and Skunk Run preserves. 

The Conservancy also controls the only backpacking campsite, Chestnut Grove Camp, located on the Blair Preserve. This preserve also piques the interest of many bird watchers in the area.

Several of the Conservancy-controlled preserves feature wetland areas and provide a habitat for many amphibians, according to the Athens Conservancy website. These preserves are the Brookville, Poston and Tucker Run preserves. The nature preserves and Athens Conservancy also engage with local high schools. The Plains preserve, which serves as the linking bike path between the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway and The Plains, also provides a land lab for Athens High School. A land lab is an area set aside for biological research.

It is also taking on the massive project of connecting Belpre to Athens with a bike trail, using pieces of the old B&O railroad corridor. The eventual goal is to connect Athens to Parkersburg, West Virginia, where existing bike trails connect to Washington, D.C. 

While these recreational activities are an important part of the Athens Conservancy’s efforts, its mission still stands: to protect natural areas in Athens County and neighboring counties. 

By supporting and visiting local nature preserves, anyone can play an important role in the protection and conservation efforts in the town they live in. 

“We're here in Athens, Ohio. We're doing things here that wouldn't be getting done otherwise,” Knouse said in an email. 


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