Saving Killbuck Swamp 

Priority Wildlands Acquisition to Found a NEW preserve 157-acre Wetlands in Holmes County, Ohio

Total Project Cost: $715,000 
Campaign Completion: 87%
Balance Remaining 08/04/2022: $89,546


Into Northern Appalachia. Killbuck Swamp presents an extraordinary opportunity to save an intact wetlands ecosystem in Ohio. Only a remarkable project could have urged the Arc of Appalachia to cross Interstate 70 into northern Appalachia to do our wildlands preservation work. The wildlife alone on the site was spectacular enough to do just that. Killbuck Swamp’s vast expanse of flooded waters, speckled with a mosaic of spatterdock and button bush, are 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. Killbuck Swamp is further enhanced by being embedded within the timeless pastoral beauty of one of Ohio’s oldest and largest Amish communities. Holmes County is a compellingly attractive corner of the world.

The Arc of Appalachia is working in tight partnership with Killbuck Watershed Land Trust (KWLT) to save Killbuck Swamp. Over the past two decades, the Arc has created a 7000+ acre nature preserve system across southern Appalachian Ohio in over 20 locations. Arc preserves serve as a refuge for 86 rare and endangered state-listed plant species and several rare birds and mammals, as well as providing Forest School educational courses and over 50 miles of hiking trails for the public. In regard to Killbuck Swamp, the Arc has taken primary responsibility for raising the funds for site acquisition and visitor service development. A Clean Ohio grant has already been approved for the project, bringing in substantial awards that are already accounted for in the Progress Bar balance (shown right). We now seek funds from the general public to bring the project to completion. If successful, this won’t be the end of our wildlands preservation work in the Killbuck.

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 preserve will be co-owned by both the Arc and KWLT and will be protected with strong and enduring natural area covenants.

Site of State-wide Significance. Wetland ecosystems are credited with being the most biologically productive communities in the world. They act as important filtration systems for floodwaters, greatly enhancing the water quality of the watersheds they serve. There is no better wildlands preservation investment we can make in biodiversity and water quality protection than the buying of wetlands.

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.

Ohio used to be VERY Wet.  Long before most of us were born, Ohio was an extremely wet state. Vast expanses of wet prairies, marshes and swamps covered as much as 20% of the state and wetlands were prominent landscape features in every quadrant of Ohio. Beginning in the mid-1800’s, farmers labored to create rich agricultural fields by lowering the water table in wetlands and getting newly fallen water off the land fast. This feat was accomplished by straightening and deepening creeks and streams, digging out deep drainage ditches, and burying thousands of miles of clay tile, turning rich wetland soils into croplands. We were ambitiously thorough.

Ohio’s Vanished Wetlands. Today Ohio has a higher percentage of tiled farm fields than any other state in the nation. An astonishing 90% of Ohio’s wetlands have completely disappeared, and a much higher percentage of wetlands larger than 50 acres have been lost as well. The two states in the nation that have lost the greatest percentage of their wetlands are California, and perhaps surprising to most readers, Ohio. Even though wetlands are now one of Ohio’s most endangered ecosystems, there are no laws protecting even the ones that remain, so long as they are being drained for agricultural purposes. The only conservation practice that preserves wetlands in Ohio is to buy them and protect them under natural area covenants.

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. If this Killbuck Swamp is enthusiastically supported with private donations, Killbuck Watershed Land Trust and the Arc of Appalachia will continue our partnership work in the region with additional acquisitions. If you love swamps, this is the time to show your hands.

Planned Visitor Services. Killbuck Swamp calls for the purchase 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. All three tracts have been awarded partial Clean Ohio funding.

As luck would have it… Missing in this acquisition suite of properties was a site flat enough to develop a small parking lot to serve as the trailhead to the forested hillside’s trailhead. As luck would have it (and luck does seem to precede our work in many cases), a small residential tract boasting an abandoned house (in very poor condition) came up for sale immediately adjacent to the forested hillside, but arriving too late to add it to our Clean Ohio grant application. We immediately made plans to purchase it, since It will serve our trailhead plans handsomely. Its cost of $20,500 is included in the Arc’s fundraising balance. KWLT is seeking both funds and volunteers to help with removing the old buildings from the site, and funds for the construction of a visitor parking lot at a cost of $26,000.

Mixing Like Oil and Water.  The wetland region of Killbuck is strongly associated with an oil field that has been actively tapped for generations. Looking at a topographical map of the site you will see the iconic symbols of oil fields throughout the wetlands, which runs true for most of the county. Oil drilling is big business in Holmes County and you can count off the wells in high numbers as you drive the backcountry roads, many of them just inches above the water level of the region’s wetlands. With these oil fields’ diminishing yields coupled with low oil prices, oil wells are no longer the lucrative enterprise they were back in Holmes County’s oil boom. The Killbuck Swamp acquisition project includes one active well right on the edge of the marsh. Funding is included in the Arc’s acquisition budget to dissolve the oil leases on the property and plug the well. We wish to commend the local oil well owner and operator for working so cooperatively with us, and for providing us with such a reasonable cost for the closure process. The industry is filled with good people and we want to be as good of neighbors to them as they have been to us.

How do we know our Donation will go toward this project?  Even though a significant amount of monies still need to be raised to complete this project, sufficient funds have been borrowed in the meantime to ensure we won’t lose this land. If our loan can be replenished quickly, then we will have the confidence to continue to acquire other high-quality wildlands that come up for sale on the public market. If the fund is not replenished for months or worse yet, years, our good work is stalled until the project is completed. Whether this project is inspiringly fast or painfully slow depends on the speed and volume of the public’s response.

Questions? Call the Arc of Appalachia at 937-365-1935 or email Register for emailed progress reports on the Subscribe button on the top right hand corner of your screen.