A short drive east of Cincinnati in Adams County sits 20,000 acres of vast forest, ravines, prairies and stunning views of the Appalachian foothills. The Edge of Appalachia Preserve System is Ohio's largest privately-owned natural area, and the subject of a new exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.
A Year on the Edge features nearly 100 photographs cataloguing the seasons, plant and animal life, and beauty of the preserve. There are also specimens, research tools and a notebook belonging to famed Cincinnati naturalist Lucy Braun, Ph.D. Braun was the third woman ever, and second in the sciences, to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati in 1914. Her life, including her groundbreaking 1950 book Deciduous Forests of Eastern Northern America and efforts to preserve forests like the Edge system, is detailed in the PBS documentary A Force For Nature.
The preserve, officially called the Richard and Lucile Durrell Edge of Appalachia Preserve System, is owned and managed by the Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) and The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. Chris Bedel is the preserve director. He describes the images as a spectacular collection of natural history.
"I like to call it our life support system - all those things that live out in the woods that you may or may not know about but they make up the Eastern forest that support life on Earth," he says. "A lot of these things are quite lovely, be they orchids or other plants, spiders, all sorts of insects."
A popular day hiking destination, the preserve's trails, flora and fauna aren't often viewed after dark. For A Year on the Edge, photographer Samuel James spent nights in the forest capturing everything from life in vernal pools to dancing fireflies.
"Who doesn't like lightning bugs?" says Bedel. "Everybody likes lightning bugs, and his photographs of them are absolutely spectacular. There's 22 species of them out here, 14 of them that flash."
The exhibit also showcases photography by TJ Vissing and Rick Conner.
A COVID-19 Escape
For those who haven't experienced the preserve in person, Bedel says the exhibit helps one understand why the Edge of Appalachia is so vital and interesting.
"The Edge of Appalachia Preserve is special in the way that the Smoky Mountains is special; is special in the way that the Ozarks are special," he says. "These are large tracts of land - I'm not going to say undisturbed because people have obviously been living here - but they still have these assemblages of creatures that don't exist in other places."
For example, researchers in 2019 discovered a den of endangered and rare timber rattlesnakes (nowhere near the hiking trails, Bedel assures WVXU); the Carolina wolf spider was found in 2014 after a 60-year hiatus; and there's a conservation effort underway to protect the Allegheny woodrat, a furry-tailed animal about the size of a chinchilla and one of the rarest mammals in the state.
"If you're sitting in your snowbound area, you're sitting in your COVID office in your COVID apartment... to see all these species... I think it will warm your soul and it'll give you hope and a real sense of hope for humanity and for the world because, while COVID is all over us, it's really these things of nature that free our spirits," Bedel opines.
The exhibit opens Feb. 5 in the CMC's Museum of Natural History & Science.