In an area south of the Michigan state line and just north of the Maumee River, lies a narrow finger of sandy land that is one of Ohios most ecologically unique regions the Oak Openings. Most of the Oak Openings lies west of Toledo in southwest Lucas County, with a small portion extending into southeast Fulton and northeast Henry counties.
An unusual blend of sandy and clay soils gives the Oak Openings its distinctive ecology. Ten thousand years ago, the region was on the southern edge of a great glacial lake. As the glacier melted and the lake's water retreated northward, it left deposits of sand five to 15 feet deep over the underlying clay. Where the sand was thin, the soil was left low and swampy. Where the sand was thick, the soil became dry and acidic.
White, black and pin oak trees, as well as some unusual shrubs and herbs, flourished in the high, dry areas, giving rise to the moniker "Oak Openings." The sandy, acidic nature of the soil discouraged early settlers from farming in the area. Consequently, the Oak Openings remained undeveloped and its unusual blend of flora and fauna preserved in the face of development.
Today, the Oak Openings region is home to the largest concentration of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals in Ohio. Both the yellow fringed and grass pink orchid flourish there, as does the prickly pear cactus - all in perfect ecological harmony. Other rare plant species native to the region include the sundew, yellow lady's slipper and birdsfoot violet. More than 1,000 species of plants have been documented to grow in the Oak Openings.
Irwin Prairie, the largest remaining
wet sedge meadow in Ohio.
"Nowhere in Ohio is there a place more ecologically different than the rest of the state," said Allison Cusick, chief botanist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Natural Areas & Preserves.
Endangered amphibians and reptiles like the spotted turtle and the blue-spotted salamander dwell in the marshy low areas of the region. It is the only place in Ohio where the blue-spotted salamander is found.
Fox, raccoon, weasel, mink, skunk and deer are abundant. In recent years, ODNR has successfully reintroduced endangered Karner blue butterflies to the Oak Openings. On an early summer day, they can be seen flitting across the sand dunes, displaying their vibrant blue wings against the varied vegetation.
Blue birds, indigo buntings, whip-poor-wills and more, nest in the woodlands. It is one of the only places in Ohio where the rare lark sparrow can be spotted on a nest.
ODNR manages two state nature preserves in the Oak Openings: the Louis Campbell Preserve and the Irwin Prairie. The Irwin Prairie is the largest remaining wet sedge meadow in Ohio. A boardwalk and trail system makes it an easy, delightful place to visit all year round.
Toledo MetroParks maintains more than 3,600 acres of the Oak Openings as a preserve with an elaborate system of trails, boardwalks and picnic areas. Additionally, the Nature Conservancy owns and manages the 575-acre Kitty Todd Preserve, providing visitors some spectacular bird watching and photography opportunities.