May 2007 Issue
Bog in Bloom
Once a year, Buckeye Lake's Cranberry Island invites visitors to view its unique - and disappearing - ecosystem.
A bog meadow in full bloom unfolds just steps down the island's boardwalk. Here a deep green carpet of lush sphagnum moss is accented in bold and pale pinks from rare calopogon orchids and flowering cranberry plants. Visitors linger knowing the spectacle will last scarcely one month and may only recur for another 20 years on this diminishing island.
The 10-acre Cranberry Island, a national natural landmark and state park preserve near the north shore of Buckeye Lake in Licking County, is eroding, and according to experts will disappear in the next 20 to 30 years. Yet Ohioans have the extraordinary opportunity to tour the permit-protected island and see its rare orchids in peak bloom at the state's annual Cranberry Bog open house on June 23.
"It's a phenomenon that's not going to last forever," says J-me Braig, director of the Greater Buckeye Lake Historical Society. "So, we appreciate it the best we can now."
20,000 years in the making
Cranberry Island began during the ice age as its Canadian bog habitat was transported via the Wisconsinan glacier to Ohio. As the climate warmed, a block of ice melted to form a glacial lake where a host of the bog plants, including sphagnum peat moss, grew along the shoreline. Eventually, the lake became filled with the encroaching peat and sediment until it evolved into a swampy depression known to the early settlers and Native Americans as the Big Swamp.
Unlike the eventual demise of most of the area's sediment-filling, glacial lakes, the Big Swamp's natural progression was artificially interrupted by the building of the Ohio & Erie Canal in 1825. The young state and its government sought to improve shipping by building a canal from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. The Big Swamp was chosen as a source for sorely needed water to lift canal boats over the divide between the Licking and Scioto river basins.
In 1830, a four-mile dike was built along the west end of the swamp, and the reservoir was filled. As the water backed up behind the dike, all of the swamp was flooded and destroyed, except the very youngest, most buoyant segment of the bog mat. Instead of disappearing, a 50-acre upper segment of the bog mat rose 8 feet like a giant waterlogged sponge.
Today, the island has undergone considerable changes but still offers visitors a fleeting habitat where alien plants and ice-age relics such as insect-eating pitcher plants and rare pink orchids cover a matt of sphagnum peat moss and its namesake cranberry plants.
According to preserve manager Greg Seymour, there are no island bogs within the United States that have this unique assemblage of plants.
As Seymour guides visitors down the island's boardwalk, he highlights its many natural treasures. He begins his tour with a tutorial on sphagnum moss, the most abundant and important member of the bog community. Seymour says the growing sphagnum releases acid critical to maintaining the bog's harsh environment. He points out that the long, thread-like leaves are only alive at the tips, hence the need for the boardwalk to protect the fragile plants from visitors' footsteps.
Dead sphagnum stems create a tightly woven mat making up the remainder of the island, which reaches nearly 45 feet into the basin of the lake. Seymour demonstrates sphagnum's sponge-like characteristics as he picks up a handful of the dead moss and squeezes out water. He says the absorbent moss was used in Civil War times to bandage wounds and unknowingly prevented infections with its acidic qualities.
Adorning the sphagnum carpet, the threatened calopogon ("grass-pink") orchids put on a magnificent display for the June open house. The clusters of flowers remain in bloom through July. Seymour also spots a few of the threatened rose pogonia ("snakemouth") orchids. The plant's mid-June solitary blooms only last for a week and emit a raspberry scent.
Next, Seymour points out two carnivorous plants that have adapted their insect-eating characteristics to gain nutrients absent from the soil-less bog environment. The northern pitcher plants' blood-red blooms peak in May, yet the remaining colorful, pitcherlike leaves lure insects and trap them on the bristled lining. The round-leaf sundew plants, resembling the more notable Venus Fly-traps, trick their insect prey with dew-like nectar. Their prey becomes entangled in the sticky bait and is digested inside the plants' club-shaped, enclosed leaves.
Another plant on Seymour's bog checklist is the arrow arum. Related to the woodland jack-in-the-pulpit, the arrow arum grows in freshwater cracks in the bog mat and curls its arrow-shaped leaves around a clubbed spike.
Finally, Seymour highlights the cranberry plant and its petite, pink flowers resembling the silhouette of a crane's head and neck, which
CRANBERRY BOG OPEN HOUSE
When: Saturday, June 23, 8 a.m.â€“4 p.m.
Where: Buckeye Lake State Park, located 1/4 mile south of I-70 on St. Rte. 79, 28 miles east of Columbus. At the parkâ€™s north shore boat ramp, the Greater Buckeye Lake Historical Society will offer pontoon boat rides to and from the island (suggested donation of $10 per person).
Event Lottery: Because of the eventâ€™s increasing popularity, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has created a lottery for tour times. To enter, submit a postcard (one per family) to ODNRâ€™s Division of Natural Areas & Preserves, 2045 Morse Rd., Bldg. F-1, Columbus, OH 43229. Postcards must be received by May 31 to be eligible. Include a contact name, address, daytime phone number and total in the party (no more than four unless immediate family members). Successful lottery participants will be notified by mail in early June. For more information, call 614/265-6453.
Walk-Ins: Walk-in visitors are welcome to attend; however, they are not guaranteed a specific time slot.
Additional Tours: The historical society offers individual and group tours through the fall and operates a museum with interesting memorabilia and historic photos of the lake and surrounding area. For more information or to schedule a lake/bog tour, call the historical society at 740/929-1998. For individuals with boats, visit www.ohiodnr.com\dnap to download an access permit form.
explains the original name, "craneberry." Before the island became a preserve, lake residents would visit the island to harvest the tart, red cranberries in the fall.
Before stepping off the island, Seymour invites visitors to insert their hands into the bog mat and jump on it along the wooded circumference where the sphagnum is dead. They delight in seeing the smaller trees sway with the bouncing action.
Cranberry Island is disappearing. Over time, it has shrunk from about 50 acres to 10. While Seymour says the 3,200-acre shallow lake is prone to much erosive turbulence from storms, ice action and boat traffic, he says the No. 1 cause of the island's demise is the chemical reaction between the acidic bog and the alkaline lake.
"There's absolutely nothing we can do to protect it," says Seymour. "In another 20 to 30 years, it's probably gone."
Inverse to most bogs' doughnut-shaped design with the bog mat surrounding the lake's shoreline, Cranberry Island is a floating bog mat encircled by water. The highly acidic stagnant waters of bog lakes typically help perpetuate the sphagnum mat. However, the well-oxygenated, slightly alkaline waters of Buckeye Lake dilute the bog's acidity and accelerate the natural decomposition of the mat.
"The lake overpowers the bog and causes it to decay," says Seymour.
Seymour says the state strives to delay the island's decline by taking steps such as cutting invasive buckthorn trees that detrimentally shade the bog vegetation and posting no-wake zone signs around the island.
Buckeye Lake, rich in cultural history as well as natural history, is familiar with bygone eras. Touted as the "Playground of Ohio" in the early- to mid-1900s, Buckeye Lake once drew thousands of visitors to the Buckeye Lake Amusement Park and its infamous Dips water-striding roller coaster and 200-foot Crystal Pool.
The first influx of Columbus visitors arrived by the interurban train started in 1904. Visitors flocked to grand hotels and dance halls with big-band greats such as Benny Goodman. Skating parties and ice-boat racing were highly anticipated winter activities. Cranberry Island was an attraction, too, although more for its fall cranberry picking and trampoline-style bog hopping than for its unique habitat. Today, larger permanent lakeside homes are replacing summer cottages as residents still enjoy fishing, waterskiing, boating and swimming.
"Appreciate it now," says Seymour as he encourages others to build memories of this fleeting island. He recalls one of his favorite memories is fulfilling a terminally ill former resident's final wish to return to the bog. "It was really special because he had all these childhood memories, like collecting cranberries before it was even a preserve," says Seymour.
Enjoy this floating bog and its ice age remnants now before they disappear.
WHILE YOU'RE IN LICKING COUNTY...
Before or after an island tour, consider visiting other nearby natural treasures, including a 127-nest heron rookery (viewable from Hunts Landing Road; March through October) and the 63-pond Hebron State Fish Hatchery, which has a 2.5-mile nature trail. And relive the days of the Ohio & Erie Canal with a drive along Canal Road.
Licking County offers a number of other places to celebrate the outdoors. One of the premier public gardens in North America, The Dawes Arboretum (800/44-DAWES, www.dawesarb.org) contains more than 1,700 acres of plant collections, gardens and natural areas. Sunday wagon tours are a fun way to learn about the arboretum's history and growing season.
The splendor of ancient relics and American Indian culture is waiting to be discovered at the Newark Earthworks (800/600-7178, www.ohiohistory.org), which served as both cathedral and astronomical observatory to the Hopewell culture 2,000 years ago. In Glenford, Flint Ridge (800/283-8707, www.ohiohistory.org) honors the prehistoric people of Ohio who prized the colorful gemstone flint used to make tools and weapons. Upcoming programs include Native American storytelling sessions June 23, July 21 and 22 and August 18 and 19; and a July 7 workshop presenting the folklore, mythology and natural history of native trees.
At this time of year, wildflowers bloom among groves of Virginia pine, eastern hemlock and yellow birch in the 970-acre Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve (740/763-4411, www.dnr.state.oh.us/dnap/location/blackhand_gorge.htm). The preserve is filled with scenic spots and a 4.25-mile trail from which to bike or bird watch. Greater Licking Countyâ€™s 40.8-mile Rails to Trails network also offers recreational paths for enthusiasts of all skill levels.
The fresh taste of summer is replete throughout Licking County. The Lynd Fruit Farm in Pataskala (740/927-1333, www.lyndfruitfarm.com) is a favorite place to indulge in peaches, blackberries and plums. The areaâ€™s best homemade and homegrown products can be found at summer farmers markets open for business Saturday mornings in Granville (740/587-4490, www.granvilleoh.com), and Friday evenings in Newark (740/345-9757, www.lickingcountychamber.com) and Pataskala (740/964-6100, www.pataskalaohio.com).