A Growing Wetlands Preservation Project in Holmes County, Ohio
A Significant Swamp in Northern Appalachia. Killbuck Swamp’s vast expanse of flooded waters, speckled with a mosaic of spatterdock and button bush, is visible to everyone driving north into the historic small town of Killbuck. Even for passing motorists, the soaring of bald eagles high above rafts of floating ducks and geese are common feasts for the eye. Over 70 species of water birds, shorebirds, raptors, and songbirds have been recorded at Killbuck Swamp during the breeding season in the wetlands and woods. Sandhill cranes, a state-threatened species; trumpeter swans, common gallinule, sora rail, prothonotary warblers, and red-headed woodpeckers have all been observed – all of them state-listed bird species of concern.
Working in close partnership with Killbuck Watershed Land Trust (KWLT).
The lower half of the Killbuck had no protection at all until 2006, when Killbuck Watershed Land Trust (KWLT) purchased a small 27-acre tract on Killbuck Creek known as Baker Wetlands. Then, in 2021, the Arc partnered with KWLT to acquire Spatterdock Pond and Turtle Pond, initiating phase 1 of the Killbuck Swamp Nature Preserve’s formation! The preserve is co-owned by both the Arc and KWLT and is protected with strong and enduring natural area covenants.
Killbuck Watershed Land Trust manages 10,000 acres of conservation easements and two nature preserves in the multi-county region containing Killbuck Creek’s watershed. KWLT is assuming the primary responsibility for the day-by-day management of the new preserve and is seeking funding for Killbuck Swamp’s long-term stewardship. Click here to support KWLT and help build their Killbuck Swamp Stewardship Fund to sustainable levels. The Arc took responsibility for raising the funds for site acquisition and visitor service development at Killbuck Swamp. Thanks to a grant from Clean Ohio and from our supporters across the state and beyond, fundraising to save Killbuck Swamp is now complete! But it’s just the beginning of our wetlands preservation work in Holmes County. Click here to learn about the Crane Swamp campaign.
Quintessential Swamp. The dependably inundated spring waters of Killbuck Swamp supports tens of thousands of spring peepers, their collective songs drowning out all other sounds on warm spring nights. Summer days are filled with the croaking of green frogs, the booming of bullfrogs, the twittering of iridescent tree swallows, and the bold chatter of hunting belted kingfishers. These birds, along with red-headed woodpeckers, commonly utilize the dead snags of flooded trees poking up through still waters. Footprints of foraging mink and raccoon line the water’s edge, painted turtles sun on floating logs, and woodland vernal pools are brimming with spotted salamander and wood frog larvae.
Mecca for Birdlife. Breeding birds at Killbuck Swamp include the common gallinule, sora rail, least bittern, mallards, wood ducks, and Canada Geese. Willow flycatcher and swamp sparrow breed in the moist thickets, marsh wrens give their rattling calls from the cattails, and it is not uncommon at Killbuck Swamp to catch the stunning “Lantern of the Killbuck,” the prothonotary warbler. Other breeding wetland birds include such iconic signature swamp birds as the great blue heron, green heron, hooded merganser, great egret, spotted sandpiper, common moorhen, and American coot.
Threatened Species. Two state-threatened bird species breed in the Killbuck region. On our first canoe trip to the site, we were accompanied by a tightly bonded breeding pair of the state-threatened trumpeter swan, a bird that has become well established in the Killbuck after being extirpated from the state. The state-threatened Sandhill crane also breeds in the watershed and can be seen in the immediate region of Killbuck Swamp nearly every month of the year.
Rare Fish. The exceptional quality waters of Killbuck Creek proper that runs along the property’s boundary and the still waters of the swamp support a high diversity of fish species. Shallow wetlands are notoriously low in oxygen, sometimes at lethal levels. Many fish species are only temporary visitors to wetlands – scooting back to the better-aerated waters of the main creek when oxygen levels plummet. Thus, when a fish study was performed in the heart of the marshlands following ice thaw earlier this year, only two low-oxygen adapted species were found in large numbers: the central mud minnow and the handsome predator, the bowfin, also known as the mud pike and the dogfish. The bowfin is the sole surviving species of an entire order of fish that once flourished in the Jurassic. Both the central mud minnow and the bowfin have special anatomical adaptations that allow them to gulp and assimilate oxygen on the surface of the water. The bowfin is featured on the logo we designed for the new preserve.
State-threatened Lake Chubsucker. Closer to the main stem of Killbuck Creek, fish researchers made another exciting find – the fry of the state-threatened Lake Chubsucker. This fish species was once found in the shallow bays lining the entire south shore of Lake Erie. These population strongholds have vanished, and today, the Killbuck watershed is a critical refuge for this now rare fish.
Killbuck is one of the most intact wetlands left in Ohio. Killbuck retains thousands of acres of wetlands in private hands, as well as a 5000-plus acre state-owned Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area in the upper watershed in Wayne and upper Holmes Counties. It’s not that people didn’t try to drain the Killbuck. We gave it our best try, even channelizing sections of the river itself. It’s just that the Killbuck is remarkably resistant and resilient. The Killbuck Swamp project is one of the few preservation projects in the lower Killbuck watershed, where so much of the remaining wetlands are in private hands.
Planned Visitor Services. At present, Killbuck Swamp consists of four parcels. Two of them are almost entirely covered with emergent wetlands. A bird walk and bird blind will be developed in these parcels along Killbuck Creek proper. The third parcel is a very steep 22-acre forested hillside that rises high above the wetland tracts, providing stunning views of the marshlands below. A trail will also be developed on this site as well, leading to a long-abandoned stone quarry. Fundraising is underway for phase 2 of the preserve, which would connect the phase 2 acquisition (Crane Swamp) to phase 1’s Spatterdock Pond by way of an abandoned railroad corridor that will provide additional opportunities for hiking and birdwatching.