Hidden gem shines among the hills of southern Ohio
|Along the limestone gorge boardwalk
|Sullivantia and the bulbet fern
Almost everything in the state lies north of Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve
, tucked as it is among the Appalachian foothills of southern Ohio. With its unique geological formations and botanical oddities, it’s one of those hidden gems that outdoor enthusiasts love to discover.
Located in northeastern Adams County, this preserve’s unpaved trails wind through an enchanting 167-acre woodland, revealing natural wonders such as limestone cliffs, rare plants, sinkholes and caves.
What makes Davis Memorial so unique? As they say in the world of real estate: location, location, location! The preserve sits astride the boundary of two distinctly different physiographic regions, creating a habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species. In fact, many of the plants found here rarely grow elsewhere in Ohio.
The preserve’s two loop trails the Sullivantia and Agave are each about a half-mile long. Additionally, a section of the 1,200 mile Buckeye Trail runs the length of the preserve just follow the trees or posts painted with small blue blazes.
I recommend starting your adventure on the Sullivantia Loop Trail, located off Davis Memorial Road (three miles south of S.R. 32). At the trailhead, you’ll find a small stone shelter with a map and information about the preserve. The trail begins just below at a narrow footbridge, which crosses a tributary of the meandering Cedar Fork before entering a small gorge.
Once inside, a 360-foot boardwalk leads past a cliff of Peebles dolomite a type of magnesium-rich limestone. Large white cedars, remnants of Ice Age-era trees, protrude from the gently curving cliff face, which rises some 15 feet above the walkway. Also thriving on this stony surface is rare, pre-glacial rock plant, sullivantia, and its self-cloning companion, the bulblet fern.
As you hike up out of the gorge leaving behind one rock strata for another the rock and plant life noticeably change with every step. Slabs of greenfield dolomite replace the older limestone cliff wall. Maple and oak trees cover the hillside, and wildflowers such as purple coneflower and tall larkspur grow along the trail. From September through December, the hardy stiff gentian brings color to the woodland with its upright pale blue flowers. Also found here is the rare Walter’s violet, which grows in just a few scattered locations in the region.
A variety of wildlife also lives within the preserve. Numerous songbirds as well as woodpeckers and bobwhite quail can be heard. Other common inhabitants include fox and gray squirrels, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and woodchucks. Keep your eyes peeled as well for the five-lined skink, which inhabits the bark of decaying logs, in stumps and rock piles.
Natural sinkholes are also part of the area’s geological makeup. Sinkholes occur as surface water seeps downward, eroding soft rock such as limestone. Eventually, the hole becomes large enough that the land on top collapses, creating an opening in the ground. As water that funnels through sink holes, it form underground passages, natural springs and caves.
In fact, Ohio’s fifth largest cave, Cedar Fork, is located on the property. According to preserve manager Martin McAllister, it is a cold, wet, belly-crawler of a cave, which is accessible by permit only. Rest assured that observing it from the outside is in itself rewarding.
It would be easy to simply admire this preserve for its subtle beauty. But knowing its history also adds to the reason why Davis Memorial is so special. During the early to mid-1800s, southern and southeastern Ohio felt the heavy hand of the iron-ore industry. Millions of trees were cut down to fuel continuously burning furnaces that processed the iron. Eventually, the scarred land began to recover. As it did, the region’s ecological and geological diversity was explored, leading conservationists of the day to push for preservation.
Davis Memorial was created in 1962, and named for Edwin H. Davis, chairman of the board of Davon, Inc. the quarry company which donated the site. Since then, the preserve has grown from its original 88 to 167 acres, and stands as a testament both to nature’s fragility and durability.
Another great thing about Davis Memorial State Nature Preserve is its accessibility. From its junction with S.R. 41, follow S.R. 32 east about one mile to Steam Furnace Road then turn right. About a half-mile down, turn left on Davis Memorial Road. Drive another 2.5 miles to the preserve’s entrance on the right.
While in the area, it’s worth taking time to visit nearby Serpent Mound, believed to have been built by the Adena Indians, sometime between 800 BC and AD 100. Considered the finest serpent effigy in the country, it’s just a short 15 minute drive up S.R. 73.