I’m standing over a spread of large geological maps in the Eulett Center (above) with Chris Bedel, Edge of Appalachia’s preserve director. This is not how I usually start my hikes, but there’s a reason we’re looking.
The privately owned preserve’s precise location makes it something of a marvel. It sits in Adams County right where four geological systems converge, and just below where the glaciers stopped creeping south during the last Ice Age. That means exposed, rugged rocks remain (the Buzzardroost Trail takes you to one such overlook), and it offers a glimpse into the region’s unglaciated origins. Add in pH levels that change from 5.6 to 7.2 (that’s a 200-times difference) and you get astounding biodiversity: just 300 plant species fewer than in the Smokies, says Bedel.
The Nature Conservancy has acquired and maintains the 19,000-plus acres. In the past year, they’ve added a 460-acre piece that nearly connects the preserve to Shawnee State Forest—allowing them to extend the Buckeye Trail (off of the Portman Trail) to ultimately connect the two—and another 1,000-acre swath abutting the Ohio (river bluffs!). The Cincinnati Museum Center handles the education and stewardship side of the operation, including public workshops and events.
This time of year, the Lynx Prairie trail—Bedel calls it “an archipelago of prairie in an ocean of forest”—is at its best with prairie dock, blazing stars, purple coneflowers, asters, whirled rosinweed, many species of sunflower, and more in full bloom. You can count on an abundance of butterflies, too. Even without Bedel’s encyclopedic and passionate intel, the national natural landmark (that’s a big deal, by the way) manages to speak for itself.
Maintenance is a delicate balancing act; the prairies, and their many endangered species, can easily be overwhelmed by forest. “Every plant has things that feed on it,” says Bedel. When even a single plant species is lost, he asks, “What will happen to them?” That’s how ecosystems work, which he observes daily: “Nature’s got it all figured out.”