A short drive east of Cincinnati in Adams County is 20,000 acres of forest, canyons, prairies and breathtaking views of the Appalachian foothills. The Edge of Appalachia Preserve System is the largest privately owned natural reserve in Ohio and is the subject of a new exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.
A Year on the Edge contains nearly 100 photographs that catalog the seasons, plant and animal life, and the beauty of the reserve. There are also specimens, research tools, and a notebook from famous Cincinnati naturalist Lucy Braun, Ph.D. Braun was the third woman ever and the second in science to receive a doctorate. 1914 at the University of Cincinnati. Her life, including her groundbreaking 1950 book Deciduous Forests of Eastern Northern America and efforts to preserve forests like the Edge System, is described in the PBS documentary A Force For Nature.
The reserve, officially known as the Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of the Appalachia Preserve System, is owned and administered by the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) and The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. Chris Bedel is the reserve director. He describes the pictures as a spectacular collection of natural history.
“I like to call it our life support system – all the things that live in the forests that you may or may not know about, but they make up the eastern forest that supports life on earth,” he says. “A lot of these things are very beautiful, be it orchids or other plants, spiders, all kinds of insects.”
The nature reserve’s hiking trails, flora, and fauna are a popular day hike destination and are not often seen after dark. For a year, photographer Samuel James spent nights in the woods capturing everything from life in spring pools to dancing fireflies.
“Who doesn’t like lightning bugs?” says Bedel. “Everyone likes lightning bugs, and their photos of them are absolutely spectacular. There are 22 types of them out here, 14 of which are flashing.”
The exhibition also features photographs by TJ Vissing and Rick Conner.
A COVID-19 escape
For those who have not personally experienced the nature reserve, Bedel said the exhibition will help understand why the Appalachian fringes are so important and interesting.
“The Edge of Appalachia Preserve is special in the way the Smoky Mountains are special. It’s special in the way the Ozarks are special,” he says. “These are large swathes of land – I’m not going to say undisturbed because people obviously lived here – but they still have these clusters of creatures that don’t exist in other places.”
For example, in 2019 researchers discovered a cave of endangered and rare wood rattlesnakes (not near hiking trails, assures Bedel WVXU); The Carolina wolf spider was found in 2014 after a 60-year hiatus. and environmental efforts are being made to protect Allegheny Woodrat, a furry-tailed animal the size of a chinchilla and one of the rarest mammals in the state.
“When you sit in your snowy area, sit in your COVID office in your COVID apartment … to see all of these species … I think it will warm your soul and give you hope and hope the real feeling of Hope for humanity and for the world, because while COVID is all over us, it is really these things of nature that free our minds, “says Bedel.
The exhibition opens on February 5th at the CMC Museum of Natural History & Science.