Turning off the road, I drove into a mowed grassy area between a field of soybeans and a forest. There I parked, got out and joined several other people standing behind their cars and pickup trucks. Another car arrived, and three more people joined the group. Then the leader of the group, the director of ACRES Land Trust, called for our attention.
ACRES Land Trust is an organization dedicated to acquiring and preserving natural areas or to restoring areas to a natural state. Natural state is described as unchanged by the activities of man, of people. There are no such areas truly. People have cleared, plowed, built houses and barns and roads, cities and towns. They’ve channeled and dammed rivers. They’ve changed the air, the atmosphere, and by that everything on earth. But areas that have not been changed drastically, that have not been cleared, farmed, dug up, built on, are accepted as natural.
The area where we were, now the Blue Cast Springs Nature Preserve, looks natural. All but the grassy lane we drove in, the area where we parked and the soybean field. The rest of the preserve is forest, a mature stand, as far as we could see, of tall oak and hickory trees with smaller trees growing beneath them.
This property, the ACRES director told us, was once cleared and farmed. But farming wasn’t productive. The farms were abandoned and the land reverted to a natural state, to a mature forest.
The Maumee River runs through the property, the director said, and we’ll see it when we go for a little walk. That’s another feature, a springs. Water from that springs, called blue cast, why the director didn’t say, was claimed to benefit human health and has been bottled and sold. Once there was a sanatorium nearby, and people came and stayed to “take the waters and get a cure.”
The present forest is mature, but it is not a climax forest. A climax forest is self-maintaining. As trees die or are cut or blown down, they are replaced by trees of the same species. But acorns do not sprout and oak trees grow beneath oaks. Oak trees need sunlight to grow. The same is true of hickories. Growing in the shade beneath the oaks and hickories of the Blue Cast Springs Nature Preserve, the director pointed out, are beech and maple trees. Before clearing and settlement this was a beech-maple forest. Gradually the oaks and hickories will die, unless they are uprooted by a tornado, and they’ll be replaced by the beech and maple trees now in the shade beneath the oak-hickory canopy. Some day the forest will again be a beech-maple forest.
Some day it will be a beech-maple forest again now that it’s a nature preserve, a property of ACRES Land Trust, a property to be kept in a natural state. There will be some development. Already there are paths. The parking area may be improved, for parking. There may be efforts to keep out non-native plants such as garlic mustard. And the soybean field? That may be left to the natural succession, as the present oak-hickory forest was and is, or ACRES may get trees planted where soybeans grew this year and hurry the succession.
After telling us the history of the preserve and plans for its future, the ACRES director led us on one of the paths into the forest. The path led to the edge of a bluff overlooking the Maumee River, then looped around and returned to the parking area. The director stopped several times and told us more about the trees of the forest, the plants growing beneath the trees and about ACRES.
I trailed along, stopping when the director stopped, listening as he spoke, and, of course, looking and listening for birds.