Fern Gully in Hocking Hills

An 80-acre tributary of Clear Creek, surrounded on three sides by Clear Creek Metro Park

Location, Location, Location. Fern Gully is a tributary of Clear Creek in the heart of Hocking Hills – one of Ohio’s most stunning geological landscapes. Here several nature preserves and parks boast ecosystems of premiere state significance. Fern Gully is surrounded on three sides by the 5300 acre Clear Creek Metro Park  – Ohio’s largest dedicated state nature preserve and Franklin County Metro system’s second largest park — all in one contiguous block of land. To the south of Fern Gully is the 2000-acre Hocking Hills State Park, including Old Man’s Cave, Conkles Hollow, and Ash Cave. Cantwell Cliffs is less than five miles away.

Orchids, Ferns and Hemlocks!! Fern Gully’s beautiful hemlock-shrouded ravine is filled with unfurling ferns, both on valley floor and crowning its rocks. There are several species of native orchids, including the showy orchis and pink lady’s slipper, and an astonishing 43 species of fern and fern allies in the Clear Creek watershed – hence the site’s well-deserved name. The sheltered valleys of Fern Gully also shelter other showy wildflowers and majestic rock formations. With hemlocks dying from hemlock wooly adelgids across the Eastern United States, hemlock ravines are becoming a rare and imperiled ecosystem. Treatments have shown some promise of saving our hemlocks and we aim to save what we can of Fern Gully’s.

Significant bird life. The cool hemlock ravines of Fern Gully harbor over 100 species of breeding birds. These include Ohio rarities such as blue-headed vireo, blue-grey gnatcatcher, brown creeper, and hermit thrush.  As astounding 20 species of warblers breed in the Clear Creek watershed, including the black and white warbler, worm-eating warbler, cerulean, hooded, magnolia warbler and occasionally even the Canada warbler. A warbler commonly heard singing is the Louisiana waterthrush, an indicator of high water quality.

Habitat for Rare Dragonflies. The small headwater streams that flow into Clear Creek almost all contain breeding populations of the state-listed Tiger Spiketail Dragonflies. Tiger Spiketail larvae inhabit small forest streams and seeps, often with skunk cabbage and interrupted fern, a fern species which is present on the site. The clean stream that flows through the Fern Gully tract likely supports this species based on the exceptional habitat it provides.

Half of a Watershed. Fern Gully is the upper drainage of the clear stream that dissects Fern Gully’s ravine and winds its way down to its eventual confluence with the main channel of Clear Creek. The lower half of the stream is already protected within the boundaries of Clear Creek Metro Park. Saving Fern Gully resulted in the protection of over 90% of this crystal clear tributary’s watershed.

Created by benevolence, expanded by benevolence. A significant number of acres in Clear Creek Metro Park came from two benefactors. Allen F. Beck and Emily Benua families had been separately acquiring and preserving large holdings in the valley for decades. Their donations and bargain sales to Franklin County Metro Parks were in a large part responsible for the immense park that we enjoy today. When Fern Gully came up for sale, the park district was not in a position to buy the property outright themselves, so the Arc called on its donors and organized an emergency fundraiser. With half of the funds raised, and the other half pulled from our revolving fund, we went to the closing table on June 20, 2018. Then, through the summer of 2018, Franklin County Metro Parks pursued two grant sources in attempt to purchase Fern Gully from the Arc – one from The Conservation Fund through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and one from Clean Ohio. Both grants were awarded and the Arc turned the property over to Franklin County Metro Park District with protective deed restrictions. Fern Gully is now a permanent component of the 5300-acre Clear Creek Metro Park! The income was transferred over to leverage even more natural area acquisitions. It’s great to recycle plastics and metals, but it’s even more fulfilling to recycle dollars. For those of you who donated to the Fern Gully campaign, your dollars were stretched twice as far! Thank you for helping us save more of the awe-inspiring scenery of Hocking Hills.

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Showy orchis at Fern Gully. Photo by Andrea Jaeger.

Closing Day Celebration for Fern Gully in Lancaster, Ohio. Back Row, left to right. Matt Collins, Mossy Oak Sales Mgr.; Brian Blair, Arc Board Member and Director of The Forest Conservancy, LCC; Brian Bauer, Mossy Oak Seller’s Agent; Tom and Robin Ulrich, Sellers; Front Row, left to right.  Nancy Stranahan, Director, Arc of Appalachia; Rick Perkins, Director of Camp Oty’okwa and Arc Board Member.

Beautiful hemlocks and rock formations at Fern Gully.
Tiger Spiketail Dragonfly. A state-listed species likely found in Fern Gully's clean stream.
Cinnamon Ferns in Fern Gully
PInk Lady Slippers at Fern Gully