Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hellbenders and Hemlocks- Flora-Quest 2015

Flora-Quest is still a major topic in my conversations... mostly folks asking, "How did it go?"

Honestly, all the Flora-Quests in the last 9 years have been amazing, informative and fun, but this year's was almost magical.  Whether the  good fairy of ecology put us under a spell or we just had the precisely the right combination of people, presenters and places to go, the results were superlative.

Greg Lipps studies a "first capture" Hellbender. Photo by Jeff Belth
Seriously, it is a no brainer that getting Greg Lipps involved in any program means it will be informative and fun.  He is Ohio's #1 cheerleader and head scientist for all things amphibian (and reptilian.) He said he couldn't promise he would find Hellbenders, but instead he found two.

The aquatic team returns victorious. Photo by Jeff Belth.
Both aquatic teams had a session in the field with Lipps and Josh Dyer and a second session with Semroc and Rosche, the dragonflies experts from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Needless to say these folks couldn't have been flying any higher with their successes in the field.  The guides' ultimate goal was to convey an understanding of how Hellbenders and dragonfly larva are bio indicators,  creatures which monitor water quality in our rivers and streams.

The Clear Fork State Nature Preserve hike. Photo Michelle Goodman.
It is the flora of Mohican that makes all the difference: trees protect watersheds. The giant old-growth trees (some of them 300 year old!) in the Clear Fork Nature Preserve survived all those "bad old days" of deforestation and erosion.  Those were the days before the 1940's and the Civil Conservation Corps,  a government program set people to work during the depression, restoring the lands denuded by poor farming and forestry practices.

Cheryl Vargas, Chris Riley and Mary Lee Minor study the forest floor. Photo Michelle Goodman.
Steve McKee opened Flora-Quest with a program that discussed the uniqueness of the Mohican forest and its history of development, deforestation, reclamation and the ongoing efforts to protect Mohican from poor industrial practices and timbering.  Much of the story can be found in the excellent short video (15 minutes)featured during Steve's progam:  Mohican: The Long View.  

Mohican still has much to offer for nature lovers, and should be preserved for the Hemlock Forests, pine plantations, unusual breeding bird populations, mammals and all of the biota which occurs here.

Mohican's Little Lyons Fall of the Appalachia to Canada tour.  Photo by Mark Dilley
The best waterfalls in the area were featured on two tours: Appalachia to Canada and The Waterfall Tour.  The Little Lyons Falls is likely the most hiked trail in all of Mohican.  People love to see this well-known site, but our guides were able to show the lesser known botany and bugs on the trip in and out.

The Barn at Malabar served us well. Photo by Ed Lux
The second day of Flora-Quest convened at Malabar Farm State Park.  We gathered in the barn and split into groups for tours of the Big House, the Farm, the Doris Duke Woods and the wetlands at Junglebrook Trail.
Jim Berry speaks of the Bromfield family in the cemetery at Malabar. Photo by Ed Lux
We had the good fortune to have Bromfield historian and past Malabar Farm manager Jim Berry as a Flora-Quest guide.  Jim is recently retired from the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in New York. He is  an expert birder and excellent botanist and his love for the workings of Malabar Farm is well-known.
Steve McKee orients his Doris Duke Woods group on the steps to the Big House.  Photo Ed Lux
The Doris Duke connection to Malabar is a lesser-known story, but one of great interest.  In fact, Steve McKee's brother, Tim McKee, made a lovely short video about the woods and Bromfield.  You can find that story here:  The Woods at Malabar.
The Junglebrook wetlands in bloom. Photo by Mark Dilley
The little known Junglebrook wetlands at Malabar was one of our attendees' favorite sites. It was an explosion of floristic color and featured a wealth of Ohio's wetland experts and naturalists: Mark Dilley, Jim McCormac, Lisa Rainsong, Larry Rosche and Judy Semroc!  Everyone found something of interest on this trip.  I even learned later that a few individuals sneaked back for a second tour!

Thank you again to all the fabulous Flora-Quest guides and our patrons.  YOU made it magical by your attendance and participation.  Thank you, too, for all the wonderful photos provided to me by our talented attendees! It is said a picture is worth a thousand words- and what a story that first photo tells.

Let me leave you with one important thought: our watersheds matter.  Let us not be doomed to repeat past mistakes of poor farming practices and short-sighted forest management.  Let us cherish the surviving natural areas we have and reclaim more areas for nature, for the health of our watersheds and for future generations.

To learn more about the Hellbender- click on this link below to see an incredible video by the US Forest Service on their efforts to protect this prehistoric animal. It was the one featured by Greg Lipps in his program for Flora-Quest 2015.


  1. ...loved your phrase: "the good fairy of ecology." That has good bite! :-)
    Looks like such a fabulous time. I hope I can go to the next one.

  2. Thanks, Kelly. We would love to have you with us!