On June 16th of this year, an annual event took place- an open public tour of a very unique place. I drove out for the tour and stopped by some other places in the area as well. Here’s how the day went- Ohio history played a large role in this day trip.
My destinations were in east-central Ohio. That morning I headed out from Columbus along Route 40, which is the old National Road, the first major improved highway built in the US back in the early 1800’s. These days it is paralleled by a modern freeway, but I like back road driving! There’s a nifty online PDF publication about this road called A Traveler’s Guide to the Historic National Road in Ohio that I learned a lot from.
My first stop was Buckeye Lake. This is a popular summer recreation spot in central Ohio. The lake itself is not a man-made reservoir like many Ohio lakes, but was created by glaciers during the last Ice Age. Originally an area Native Americans called Big Swamp, in the 1820s it was formed into a full-fledged lake in order to feed water into the Ohio and Erie canal system that were being built at that time. When this was done, the water level rose, and 50 acres of boggy vegetation broke off from the shore and created a floating island- something very unique in the natural world. I was going to see this floating island.
The floating island in Buckeye Lake is known as Cranberry Bog. This island is made of peat moss (Sphagnum) instead of earth, and actually floats in the lake, an extremely rare occurrence, perhaps the only one of its kind in the world! Cranberry Bog is a state nature preserve- this PDF brochure is a very handy guide. It started out 50 acres in size, but has gradually shrunk (for various reasons, see the brochure) over the last 180 years. Eventually, it will disappear. Currently, it is somewhere between 10 and 12 acres in size.
I arrived along the shore at the dock area where a ferry boat would carry people- 30 at a time- out to the bog. Everything was run capably by volunteers from the Buckeye Lake Historical Society. I chatted with a few of these folks, and they were friendly, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. They made it a successful Cranberry Bog Day.
The ferry was a pontoon boat, the Queen of the Lake II. The weather was hot and sunny- I figured it was good to get there early.
The trip from the dock to the bog took about 10 minutes- it wasn’t very far. A pleasant ride!
Here’s the bog island- yes, those are trees growing on the peat moss, Red Maples mostly. Who’d have thought?
The island had boardwalks to walk on. It felt rock steady, as if it were land- though the sphagnum moss felt spongy when you stepped upon it. There was an area marked out where you could stand on the moss, otherwise the rule was stay upon the boardwalk. Amazing to think that myriad bits of tiny moss were keeping an entire ecosystem afloat. Interesting Sphagnum Moss trivia- it’s been used as a packing material and as a wound dressing (its acidic nature means it is antiseptic). It holds tremendous amounts of water, and is an efficient insulator. You tend to respect moss when you walk around on it.
A naturalist started off the tour by telling us about the unique vegetation that we were going to see. Essentially, except for the occasional invader or introduced species, this bog has Canadian-style foliage that existed in Ohio 11,000 years ago, during the time of the last glacier’s retreat.
It was hard to remember that you stood upon a floating mass of moss, really. All along the boardwalk, signs had been set up highlighting the various species of plants that were growing there.
Poison Sumac, Ohio’s most poisonous shrub / small tree, was there in force. Do not touch!
Ferns of several different species were common, and grew lavishly in the acidic bog.
Large Cranberry was also abundant on the island, giving the bog its name. Too bad the berries weren’t in season. Native Americans gathered them before settlers did.
Pitcher Plants are carnivorous plants that are simply amazing to me. They trap and dissolve insects in their pitchers, consuming their nutrition as a supplement to the energy photosynthesis produces.
Pitcher Plants have green flowers!
Round-Leaved Sundew, another carnivorous plant. These exotic bog plants almost made me feel like I was back in prehistoric times.
The Orchids were the most attractive plants on the island. From what I can remember from what the guides said, they were transplanted here around a century ago by a woman who enjoyed their blooms. Cranberry Bog only became a nature preserve in 1973. Before that time, what was then called Cranberry Island was a popular spot to pick wild cranberries.
On the bird front, I heard a Prothonotary Warbler singing in the trees on the island somewhere.
It was time to return to allow the next boatload of curious nature afficionados to visit the island.
I wanted to see the Buckeye Lake Museum before I left the area- they had a pioneer cabin in their parking lot.
Talk about a much simpler way to live…that took lots of work.
Next, I drove further east to a geographical area known as Flint Ridge. Back to Route 40…
Along the way, I stopped by a small old cemetery at Linnville Church- the tombstones dated back to the 1840s.
Tombstone artwork is an interesting field of study- tons of symbolism.
I believe that this is a Two-Flowered Cynthia- several of these plants were growing alongside the graves.
There was a road marker around Brownsville called the Eagle’s Nest, which marks the highest elevation of the National Road in Ohio. Imagine how rough the roads must have been a century or two ago.
I arrived at the Flint Ridge area. This is a region stretching 8 miles from Newark to Zanesville that contains a vein of flint– Ohio’s official gemstone- that is renowned for its beautiful colors. For 10,000 years Native Americans in the Ohio area worked the flint here, making large numbers of tools such as spear points, arrowheads and bladelets that were traded far and wide across the country.
Flint Ridge State Memorial is located in an area where excavated flint pits can still be seen today. There’s a museum on the grounds as well, containing many artifacts created in this area.
Here’s a flint boulder that’s been worked by artisans of another culture.
I had a long and interesting conversation with this gentleman, who is a flintworker. He showed me many examples of the beautiful flint that has been worked from this area. I studied anthropology in college, which first brought me out to this site on a field trip years ago. We discussed this early American industry, the different types of tools, and ways that they could be re-worked as they were broken or worn down. As we talked, he said that this area still attracts modern flintworkers, who get permission from nearby landowners to harvest flint- they aren’t allowed to take flint from the memorial area here.
Inside, I admired an actual flint pit that the museum had been built around. This very spot was worked by many generations of flintworkers for thousands of years, which is amazing to think about.
I took a hilly backroad westwards to Newark, where my last big stop was located. This was the Great Circle Earthworks, part of the Newark Earthworks, created 2,000 years ago by the Hopewell culture. This is the world’s largest geometric earthworks complex, which is amazing when you realize that this was accomplished with stone age technology. A fantastic website, The Ancient Ohio Trail, has great information on this site.
The Great Circle Earthworks are 1200 feet in diameter and are up to 14 feet tall. A park occupies the interior area now, which is thought to have once been an ancient ceremonial area.
Its hard to see the whole circle from inside or outside.
7 million cubic feet of earth was moved by hand to create this giant circle.
In the nearby museum, there was plenty of information on the culture that produced these lasting monuments.
It had been a full day, visiting many interesting places. Within a drive of 2 hours, I had visited the world’s only floating bog, the world’s largest geometric earthworks complex, and one of the richest veins of vital stone in North America. I’m sure that there are quite a few Ohioans who don’t realize what treasures lie within their state. Summer is a good time to travel and learn!