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Protecting Southwest Ohio’s Beautiful Prairies

Posted on 2/8/2016 by State Nature Preserves

Tax donations at work at Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve

Ohio State Nature Preserves are beautiful natural areas where many of the state’s endangered species are thriving and rare geologic features are protected, thanks to the generosity of Ohioans who have donated a portion of their state tax refunds to the State Nature Preserves Fund.

Donations to this fund protect the best of Ohio’s natural areas, including bogs and fens, prairies, old growth forests and rare geologic formations. The fund supports new land purchases, educational opportunities and scientific research. Tax refund donations are also critical for enabling preserve managers to battle invasive plant species threatening native habitats.

Across the state, 136 state nature preserves, totaling 30,000 acres, are open year-round for the enjoyment and benefit of all Ohioans. In southwest Ohio, donations help preserve remnants of Ohio’s unique and native lands owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

Prairies conjure up visions of vast grasslands stretching across the horizon, yet in southwest Ohio, there are pockets of rare, prairie openings among the woodlands. These unique prairies are home to some of Ohio’s most rare species and are among the “crown jewels” of Ohio’s habitats according to nature lovers, wildflower enthusiasts as well as bird and butterfly watchers.

Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve is a beautiful example of this unique landscape. This 130-acre preserve protects 36 acres of outstanding Post Oak Prairie Openings nestled within oak-hickory forests. Located near West Union in Adams County, the preserve illustrates the importance of tax refund donations in protecting Ohio’s natural areas.

This preserve was the first site purchased by the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves using only donated funds from the state’s new income tax refund program in 1985. Opened in 1987, the site still protects Ohio’s most extensive population of the rare prairie plant, rattlesnake-master.

Recent efforts to purchase a 60-acre parcel adjacent to Chaparral Prairie were made possible by a partnership with the Arc of Appalachia, a nonprofit conservation organization. Tax donations to the State Nature Preserves Fund made it possible for ODNR to provide the match funds for a Clean Ohio grant submitted by the Arc of Appalachia. Today, the site protects 130 acres of unique habitat.

Ongoing efforts to remove invasive species, such as autumn-olive shrubs, has enabled the native plant community to thrive. New native habitat has benefited rare wildlife species including Edward’s hairstreak butterfly and the state endangered unexpected cycnia moth. Donations to the State Nature Preserve fund also helped make possible the installation and grand opening of new hiking trails at Chaparral.

Lovely in any season, Chaparral Prairie is especially beautiful in late summer when rattlesnake-master, prairie dock, butterfly milkweed, grey-headed coneflower, black-eyed Susan, dense blazing star as well as sunflowers. Visitors will also see swaths of prairie grasses including little bluestem, and 10 species of state-listed plants, such as scaly blazing-star, prairie false indigo, pink milkwort and American bluehearts.

Visiting Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve is more enjoyable and accessibility is improved because of donations to the State Nature Preserves Fund. It’s easy to become a partner in future preservation projects at Ohio’s state nature preserves.

Ohioans can donate all or a part of their state income tax refund by making a contribution on line 26c of the 2015 Universal IT 1040 Income Tax Return. Learn more about becoming a partner in preservation or visiting any of Ohio’s 136 state nature preserves.