PLAIN CITY, Ohio – The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) has partnered with the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Park District to dedicate W. Pearl King Prairie Savanna — a rare ecological landscape that is home to several threatened or endangered plant species — as the 137th state nature preserve and the first since 2013.
“W. Pearl King Prairie Savanna has long been known by Ohio botanists and ecologists as one of the best examples of oak savanna,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “Protecting the savanna and its rare variety of plant species is a priority, and we’re excited to have this area be the latest addition to Ohio’s state nature preserves.”
Oak savannas are extremely rare not just in Ohio but throughout the Midwest, and W. Pearl King Prairie Savanna is the best remaining example of oak savanna in the historical Darby Plains. The site was used for pasture in the past but has never been plowed. Old-growth bur, white, post and shingle oaks dot the landscape with a rare variety of prairie grasses and forbs, including the largest population of the state endangered prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis).
Metro Parks purchased 20 acres that included the oak savanna in 2006. Since then, DNAP botanists and Metro Parks’ staff have discovered additional state-listed species at the site including Bicknell’s frostweed (Crocanthemum bicknellii), Baxter’s violet (Viola baxteri) and inland rush (Juncus interior).
At the time of settlement in the 19th century, Ohio was 95% forested with clusters of tall grass prairie and oak savanna. The Darby Plains was Ohio’s largest prairie system covering tens of thousands of acres that included portions of Champaign, Franklin, Madison and Union counties. The prairie/savanna complex became some of the most productive agriculture land in the state.
“Metro Parks resource management efforts at W. Pearl King over the last decade have significantly improved habitat for wildlife, especially the pollinators,” said Metro Parks Executive Director Tim Moloney.
The new preserve will continue to be owned and managed by Metro Parks with the additional protection and recognition of being a state nature preserve. Metro Parks and the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves will continue to work together in ensuring this small piece of Ohio’s natural history remains a viable ecosystem through sound ecological management.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.