Red Stone Farm’s Natural History

Every farm in Ohio has water resources in one form or another, and every farm in Ohio has stories hidden in the land. Red Stone has both in spades. If you linger awhile in this Pike County farm and scratch the surface of the soil, water will ooze out and puddle around your feet. So will the stories.

Once a Beech Flats Swamp. The first European settlers in this region encountered a formidable large swamp known as Beech Flats. The waterdrenched soils of Beech Flats were only barely drained by Baker’s Fork, a tributary of Ohio Brush Creek that continued on to run past Fort Hill. Responsible for the swampiness of the soil was a layer of water-impermeable clay left behind by a glacial lake a few hundred thousand years ago.

Significant Flora. The immense forested wetlands of Beech Flats, occupying a few square miles, presented a fecund if intimidating natural feature to indigenous people and early settlers. Giant beech trees rose above the water-logged soils like luminescent ghosts. Shallow waterways crisscrossing the peaty soils were lined with marsh marigold, purple cress, and colonies of skunk cabbage. Jack in the pulpits grew nearly waist high.

Significant Fauna. Co-mingling the beech trees were towering pin oaks, swamp white oaks, and shellbark hickory trees, the latter providing nutritious nutmeats. The vernal pools that flooded the swamp forest writhed with frogs and salamanders, and even a half mile away from the swamp’s periphery, the chorus of spring peepers was deafening in the spring. Beaver, otter, and muskrat flourished. In the fall, the skies filled with tens of thousands of ducks that dropped down into the swampy flats to restore themselves before they continued their journey southward.

Disappearance of the Swamp. Although the land resisted being drained for agriculture, it eventually did succumb to domestication. Today, nothing remains of Beech Flats except for an acre or two of primeval shellbark hickories and swamp white oaks that still stand at Red Stone Farm, a faint whisper of the land’s previous glory.

Although the entire swamp is now under cultivation, the water lying just below the surface doesn’t seem to miss a chance to test fate. Turn your head for a second and cattails, rushes, and sedges will erupt right in the middle of an otherwise well-mannered cow pasture. Willow-lined ditches fill to the brim with dark waters and leopard frogs. Chorus frogs chant from wet corners in the fields that the brush hog prudently skipped following the last hard rain.

Forested vernal pools and pin oak. Photo by Drausin Wulsin.
Skunk Cabbage
Egg mass