Service in the Preserves

Our Ohio Department of Natural Resources State Nature Preserves (SNP) are jewels that dot the Ohio landscape. Some are prairies, some are wetlands, some are forest, and some are gorges. Many of the preserves are open to the public and many of them contain sensitive habitat that require a permit for visitation. Columbus Audubon has the privilege of becoming uniquely acquainted with a variety of our preserves, both the open and permit-only ones.

Approximately monthly throughout the school year, Columbus Audubon visits different preserves and assists the Preserve Manager in service projects. These trips sometimes are called “work trips”, and yes, the participants do perform some essential maintenance, renovation and construction work. But that is only half of it.

Triangle Lake Oct 2020
Triangle Lake Oct 2020

We also have numerous “nature breaks” — such as the time we came across a skink at Rockbridge SNP, or the time we watched a Black Racer zip through the leaf litter at Whipple SNP. There’s always the pause to admire the pitcher plant in Cranberry Bog or the unique rock formations at Christmas Rocks. The participants are privileged to see the Nature Preserves from a different perspective and to spend the day with the preserve manager who can interpret what they are seeing. In exchange for a great day out in a beautiful area, they “give back” with a bit of their time and energy.

In past projects, the participants have done things like

  • built new trails in areas that are normally off-limits to visitors
  • removed invasive species that were choking out the native plants
  • built bridges and boardwalks over wet areas along a trail
  • walked the border of the preserve and posted State Nature Preserve signs (that project was mostly a just a pleasant walk in the woods).

On one overnight trip, to Halls Creek Woods SNP, we removed the highly invasive bush honeysuckle. We noticed several deer trails that wound their way though the area, with an occasional tree showing the mark of a “deer rub” where a buck had rubbed his antlers to mark his territory. The preserve manager said that our work would agitate the lead buck in the area. Sure enough, the following day we saw multiple, fresh, and obvious deer rubs where the buck was reclaiming his territory. He may have been disturbed that night, but now his food trees — oaks, pawpaws, beeches and others — can take back the forest instead of being shaded out by honeysuckle. Every service project has been a good day outside, usually with one or two of nature’s little surprises waiting for the participants.

Please consider joining us to help preserve Ohio’s natural areas for future generations!

Clifton Gorge Sept 2019i
Clifton Gorge Sept 2019

Since March 1982, the Columbus Audubon Society’s Service in the Preserves program has been maintaining and protecting Ohio’s nature preserves with a team of dedicated volunteers.  The following is an interview with Katryn Renard, who was the original driving force behind the service program.

Chaparral Prairie Oct 2003
Chaparral Prairie Oct 2003

Q.  How did the program originate?

A. As a member of Columbus Audubon, I kept going on fun field trips but wondered when we were going to do something to “give back.” While on a gunless pheasant hunt at the home of Louise and John Warner, I asked Jim Davidson, “When’s your next work trip?” His answer was, “When you start them.” So, Jim contacted Guy Denney, who was heading up the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, and the three of us started up the service program.

Q. Where was the first trip held?

A. We went to Clifton Gorge and planted trees. We had quite a few participants on that trip, and we stopped at Young’s Dairy for ice cream on the way home. A tradition was born – the work trips and stopping for ice cream on the way home.

Lawrence Woods Apr 2012
Lawrence Woods Apr 2012

Q. What’s a typical service trip like?

A. No experience is required, and you work as hard as you want. We build trails and boardwalks, and clear trails and invasive species. That’s what we’ve been doing all along. You don’t need any tools, the ODNR will provide them. And ODNR provides the transportation as well.  We take a lunch and are home by 5 p.m. the same day, except twice a year when we go for two days. The work is punctuated by nature breaks. Someone yells,  “Nature break!”, and everyone goes to see what’s been discovered. Recently at Rockbridge Nature Preserve, a beautiful skink was accomodating enough to stay put until everyone came by and had a good look. It’s a great learning experience to see what is out there through the seasons.

Q. What qualities do you have to possess to be service tripper?

A. We’re just people who like to be outside accomplishing something.  The group has changed over the years, with people coming and going. One family, the Smith’s, has grown up on the work trips. Mom and dad (Terry and Ann) and daughter Dori have been coming since Dori was a baby. Now the other children (Laura, Eileen and Ken) participate too. Some other long-time participants include Jim Davidson, Kathy Bruner, Doug Bliss, Emily Eby, Mark Baranowsk, and me of course.

Q. To what do you attribute the longevity of the Service in the Preserves program?

A.  I think it’s people with a common goal helping the preserve managers do what they can’t do alone. And traditions like nature breaks and ice cream stops help too.

Gallagher Fen SNP March 2010
Gallagher Fen SNP March 2010

Q.  Why should Columbus Audubon chapter members consider becoming work service volunteers?

A.  Because it’s fun working side-by-side to give something back, to help maintain our beautiful natural areas. There’s a difference between hiking through an area and actually stopping and working in the area to help maintain its natural state. Once at Lake Kathryn I walked back and forth carrying materials over the same carpet of fallen autumn leaves. I never tired of the sights and sounds. It just got better every trip.  And, it’s great to be able to go into state nature preserves that aren’t open to the public.

Q. Do you have anything else to add about the Program?

2021 Cardinal Award - Katryn Renard with volunteers

A. We have great news: in August 2021, Service in the Preserves received the Cardinal Award from the ODNR for outstanding contributions to natural resources conservation in the state of Ohio. We are both humbled and proud, somehow all at the same moment, to receive this award.

Contact the Service in the Preserves team by filling out the form below. We’ll get back to you quickly!