Saturday, August 6, 2016

Cedar Bog State Nature Preserve (Blog Hike #599)

Trail: Ralph Ramey Boardwalk Trail
Hike Location: Cedar Bog State Nature Preserve
Geographic Location: south of Urbana, OH
Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2016
Overview: A boardwalk double loop through Ohio’s first state nature preserve.

Directions to the trailhead: From Urbana, take US 68 south 4.1 miles to Woodburn Road and turn right on Woodburn Rd.  Drive Woodburn Rd. west 1 mile to the preserve entrance on the right, which is reached just after crossing a railroad track and the Simon Kenton Trail, an asphalt bike trail.  Park in the preserve’s only parking lot.

The hike: Consisting of 427 acres in southern Champaign County, Cedar Bog State Nature Preserve protects the remnant of what was once a vast wetland that stretched from Springfield to Urbana.  Like most of Ohio’s wetlands, Cedar Bog originated at the end of the last ice age, when melting glaciers left behind water and plant seeds they had transported from points further north.  The “bog” in the preserve’s name is technically a misnomer: the wetland on these grounds is not a bog with acidic soil but a fen with alkaline soil.
The rare plant communities supported by the soil’s unusual pH led the State of Ohio to purchase this wetland in 1942, thus making Cedar Bog Ohio’s first nature preserve purchased with state money.  In the 1970’s, an upgrade of US 68 to 4 lanes was proposed to come through the bog.  The preserve would have been destroyed if that proposal had been accepted, but fortunately state leaders saw the value of the unusual wetland and nixed the highway project.  In fact, US 68 through southern Champaign County remains only two lanes wide today.
            The preserve has only one trail, a 1 mile boardwalk that forms a loop with shortcut option through the heart of the wetland.  I have actually hiked the boardwalk’s main outer loop twice, once in 1995 before I started this blog and again in 2016 to form the basis of this trail description.  In between my visits, a new entrance boardwalk was built in 2006 to replace a mulch path, and a new Learning Center was built in 2009.  The preserve’s $5 entrance fee has remained constant, however.
            On a personal note, I was delighted to learn on my most recent visit that the bog’s boardwalk has been renamed the Ralph Ramey Boardwalk Trail.  As I wrote under the “About This Blog” tab, Ramey’s classic book 50 Hikes in Ohio inspired me to write about hikes, and therefore he is the main inspiration for this blog.  A former director of Ohio’s Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and a former site manager at Cedar Bog, Ramey has done more for conservation in Ohio than anybody else in this era.  All Ohioans owe him a great debt of gratitude for the fine state nature preserve system Ohio has today.
Start of boardwalk at Learning center
            From the back of the Learning Center, the boardwalk heads south before taking a 90-degree right turn to head west into a sunny prairie.  The preserve’s dedication marker sits at this turn, and numerous interpretive signs correspond to a brochure available for purchase in the Learning Center.  This boardwalk was built in 1986 at a cost of $72,500, and some side rails attached to the boardwalk ensure that wheelchairs stay on the wood.
After passing through a narrow sedge meadow, the boardwalk crosses the East Branch of Cedar Run before splitting to form its loop.  I chose to turn right here and use the left boardwalk as my return route, thus hiking the loop counterclockwise.  The northbound boardwalk winds first through shady swamp forest and then through sunny, grassy sedge meadow.  Some areas of the bog are completely submerged, while other slightly higher areas appear only muddy.
Sedge meadow

Cedar forest
At 0.2 miles, the boardwalk briefly passes through a cedar forest, a plant community that rarely lives this far south, before curving left to head back through the sedge meadow and then the swamp forest.  Large quantities of skunk cabbage live in the swamp forest, which also features many ash trees.  Next comes the driest part of the bog: the slightly higher savannah traversed on the northern edge of the loop.  Back in the swamp forest, the boardwalk curves left again as it approaches the West Branch of Cedar Run.
Hiking along the West Branch of Cedar Run
For the next 0.2 miles the boardwalk parallels the creek, which flows on your right.  Just past 0.5 miles, the shortcut boardwalk exits to the left.  Continue straight to hike the full loop.  A bench made out of wood from the boardwalk that preceded this one sits at this intersection.
The remaining southern part of the loop stays entirely in the swamp forest.  A woodpecker drilled into a tree above me as I hiked here on a warm summer afternoon.  More left turns take you away from the West Branch of Cedar Run as the boardwalk heads east.  The shortcut option enters from the left just before the outer loop is closed.  Angle right to walk back up the entrance boardwalk to the Learning Center and complete the hike.

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