November 11, 2012

Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve

I have probably spent literally hundreds of hours with students of all ages in Big Darby Creek, studying stream ecology and just plain having fun. Oh—and I’ve had some wonderful kayaking and canoeing adventures too.

Big Darby Creek in central Ohio has been designated as both a State and National Scenic River, because of the diversity of plants and animals that live on, in, under and around it. The raccoons in the photo below (you might have to squint to see them) may not know it, but the creek also is one of The Nature Conservancy’s Last Great Places, so designated because healthy streams of this type, that originate as cold water seeps, are very rare in North America.

Big Darby, and its main tributary Little Darby Creek, run for 82 miles through several Ohio counties and drain a watershed of over 500 square miles. For much of their distance the creeks are lined with mature forests which keep agricultural and other pollutants out of the stream and feed the system with the leaves that drop each fall. 

Development pressure, farming, bridge and highway construction, and other disturbances have, however, threatened portions of the stream and require continuous monitoring.

The creeks support nearly 100 different species of fish, some endangered, and 44 species of mussels, which is truly remarkable. Some of my favorite Darby Creek experiences involved noodling around for different kinds of mussels, and one awesome day watching representatives of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employ a method of stunning fish to examine their condition and to inventory species.

But recently I had a different Darby Creek experience when we visited the new Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve just northwest of Marysville. This land not only preserves upper reaches of the creek's watershed, but it is also the site of an extensive stream restoration project. A segment of the stream that had been turned into a man-made channel along a highway has been transformed into a much more natural meandering configuration by a project sponsored by The Nature Conservancy. This new stream mimics the natural flow of the stream from its beginnings as a series of seeps and wetlands, and already has resulted in increased wildlife diversity in the area.

For the whole story, try to plan a visit to this preserve. Excellent interpretive signs introduce the creek and the restoration project. The 2.5 mile (round trip) trail is a wonderful hike of minimal difficulty through forests and abandoned farm fields which, when we visited, were lovely with goldenrod and purple New England Aster. 

This project will go a long way toward ensuring that the Darby continues to support diverse plant and animal populations and that it continues to provide excellent educational and recreation opportunities. I can't wait to get back into the creek!


  1. Beautiful pictures and equally beautiful narrative. I could barely make out one raccoon, but must have missed one. Thanks for the great piece on Darby Creek.

  2. I've never made it to the Big Darby Headwaters Nature Preserve. I thought it was just a short walk to an observation deck, but now that I know there's a 2.5 mile trail, it sounds more interesting. Maybe next summer...