Ohio’s earliest European settlers found the sandy soils of the Oak Openings Region to be unfit for growing crops, but it didn’t take botanists long to figure out that this ‘sand country’ was unparalleled in the state for the propagation of rare and wild plants.
The 130-square-mile Oak Openings Region is a complex of oak savanna and wet prairie that developed on sand and clay deposited by glacial Lake Warren, the ancient predecessor of present-day Lake Erie. The combination of porous sandy soils of the former beach ridges and an impervious clay layer beneath those soils creates an unforgiving environment that fluctuates from flooding in the spring to arid in midsummer.
The Nature Conservancy’s 1,400-acre Kitty Todd Preserve is a centerpiece of the Oak Openings Region and is a model of land management practices for the region. The Nature Conservancy is very active in the Green Ribbon Initiative, an important regional partnership of conservation groups working together to protect the natural beauty and biological diversity of the Oak Openings region.
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Current Conservation Work
Residential and industrial development in the area is accelerating, resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation. The region also has suffered from cessation of natural disturbances such as fire and changes in hydrology caused by drainage ditches and filled wetlands. The Conservancy has been working to combat these threats through land acquisition, education, and restoration efforts.
- In 2019, old sand borrow pits were retrofitted to create rare wetland and vernal pool habitat to benefit amphibians and reptiles. Staff transformed a series of these borrow pit ponds—areas where material was excavated for use elsewhere—by regrading steep banks and planting wetland vegetation. The project not only created high-quality habitat for native wildlife, but also promotes groundwater infiltration and helps to trap sediments and nutrients before they enter streams. Building on the effort, TNC partnered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to create a guidebook for private landowners that details best practices for pond restoration.
- In 2017, The Nature Conservancy completed its Salamander Flats Wetland Restoration Project, which returned former farm fields to a habitat type that ecologists call lake plain wet prairie. The project earned funding through the EPA's Great Lake Restoration Initiative because it not only provides habitat for rare species, but also captures and stores sediment and fertilizers. Within months of the restoration, species like western chorus frogs and marsh birds began visiting the property to use the space for breeding and foraging.
- In 2007 the Conservancy restored 100 acres of wet prairie at Kitty Todd Preserve.
- First published in 2004, and updated in 2016, "Living in the Oak Openings; A Homeowner's Guide to one of the World's Last Great Places" helps landowners restore unique habitats.
- In 2003, the Kitty Todd Preserve began taking part in a statewide butterfly monitoring program to identify the abundance of Ohio’s rare and common butterflies.
- In 1998 the preserve was selected as the first location for the reintroduction of the Karner blue butterfly, an endangered species whose caterpillar will feed only on wild blue lupine, which thrives at Kitty Todd.
- Because most Oak Openings species are dependent on frequent disturbance, especially fire, the Conservancy routinely employs specific management techniques such as prescribed burning and mowing to control woody succession.
- The Conservancy and the partners of the Green Ribbon Initiative educate the public and landowners through Blue Week, an annual spring event that offers hikes, lectures, and family events.