MOUNT VERNON — Knox Woods State Nature Preserve became what it is now during the early 1970s, when a group of local leaders, including the Knox County Board of Commissioners, determined that the natural beauty of its 30-acre woodlands was worth preserving in perpetuity.
Forty-five years later, dignitaries including those from the Knox County Park District, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and others, came together Thursday for a special celebration and hike. The ceremony was held in the parking lot at Wolf Run Regional Park and was followed by a hike through the woods to nearby Knox Woods.
With park district director Lori Totman and ODNR’s Charlotte McCurdy offering comments before her, Joan Maloof described what it means to become part of the Old-Growth Forest Network and provided a dedication plaque.
Based in Maryland, Maloof is the network’s founder and director, a task she took on starting in 2007. She is also an author on the topic of old forest preservation, and noted that just 1 percent of forests in the eastern United States are “old growth” — meaning their trees have never been cut or, if they have, it was in long generations past. Out West, it’s 5 percent.
“So I realized there was no one specifically working on saving these last pieces of old growth forest that were left,” Maloof said.
One primary network goal is to create an least one “forever wild” forest in each county, and to educate next generations of Americans about the importance of preserving old-growth forests for their enjoyment.
“We can create state nature preserves,” Maloof offered. “But if we’re not also creating a generation of people who care about preserving them after us, they’re going to go away.”
One of the dignitaries attending Thursday’s dedication was Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis. His father, Harold, was a Knox County commissioner in 1972, the year he and fellow commissioners Harry Dailey and Charles Cole passed a resolution in December of that year to create Knox Woods.
About 30 years later, in the early 2000s, the county gave the Knox Woods land — and its assortment of old-growth sugar maple, black oak, red oak, hickory, black cherry and walnut trees — to the park district, Totman said. Walking and hiking trails connecting Knox Woods to Wolf Run Regional Park have been enjoyed by outdoor enthusiasts for more than four decades.
Mavis said his father and fellow commissioners knew in those early ’70s that the county-owned children’s home was being phased out, as that was the trend among states and foster children being placed under the care of other facilities. The children’s home property included a farm with untouched old woods close by.
Mavis said he was not aware until very recently of the Old-Growth Forest Network.
“To know that we would have one of those (members) here in our county is a special honor as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “These old, old trees create canopies where very little sunlight gets in. There are some very large trees. You just don’t see them that much anymore.”
Rest assured, Maloof told the gathering, Knox Woods is now preserved in perpetuity, as being part of the Old-Growth Forest Network is a dedication that brings support with it and strength in numbers as more members join. There are individuals dedicated to the natural world and preserving these old-growth forests on state preserves is an ongoing mission for them.
Totman gave special recognition in that regard to Lisa Bowers, an ODNR urban forester whose area served includes the Knox County Park District. It was largely her idea to propose inclusion into the Old Growth Forest Network, Totman said.
McCurdy, who is with ODNR’s Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, said there are 136 state nature preserves in Ohio. There will be no private developments or highways rolling through them because the state believes in prioritizing their care. That includes the reduction of invasive species such as garlic mustard plants, which overtake native wild flowers and must be culled. The Knox County Park District receives help to reduce these “invaders” from volunteers and interns who are part of the Ohio Natural Areas & Preserves Association.
There is also an Ohio tax check-off option that allows state taxpayers to help with the preservation of natural areas and preserves while acquiring more lands.
With Knox Woods becoming Ohio’s 12th Old-Growth Forest Network member, it leads all states in membership, Maloof said proudly. Pennsylvania is second with nine members.
About 30 people attended the event with dignitaries including current Knox County commissioners, members of the Knox County Park District Board of Commissioners, and other officials representing ODNR, the village of Centerburg, Mount Vernon Shade Tree Commission, the Ohio State University Extension, and Knox County Park District staff members.