Otter Banks at the Highlands Nature Sanctuary

66.476 acres in Sanctuary West


Filling in the gap on the west end of the Sanctuary. The Arc of Appalachia just recently completed fundraising for the acquisition and stewardship of Otter Banks, which will protect an entire mile of frontage on Rocky Fork Creek in the area known as “Sanctuary West.” (Click on the map to the right to enlarge it.) The name for this tract comes from a visit by Arc Staff to the property, when we did in fact see otters swimming in the creek below the wildflower-laden banks! The riparian corridor is covered with an intact hardwood forest of medium age that has very few invasive plants and shelters the most beautiful and dense wildflower display in the entire ten mile stretch of the lower Rocky Fork, putting it among the most outstanding floral displays in the state. The property also shelters stunning rock formations, springs and waterfalls.

Best Wildflower Display in a Rich Floral Region. The karst/cliff ecosystem of the bluffs of Otter Banks is outstanding – with a classic karst assemblage of Large-flowered and Snow trilliums, Large Flowered Bellwort, False Rue Anemone, and Miterwort. The forest includes the limestone-loving chinquapin oaks living among a rich mesic forest assemblage of tree species. We are accustomed to showy floral displays in the Highlands’ karst region. The best display we have ever seen, before now, is the stretch along the Rocky Fork known as Barrett’s Rim, an area we refer to as “jewel of the gorge” in reference to his petal-to-petal wildflower showcase. We were astonished to discover that Otter Banks’ riparian corridor boasts a floral display even showier than Barrett’s Rim. For unknown reasons, despite the fact that the farm has been farmed for generations and not lightly used, most of the riparian corridor has retained its native richness and has resisted the entry of invasive plants. We were awed to see waves of trilliums pouring out of the woods and right into the ditch bordering farm lanes – the type of place one would expect to see tangles of multiflora rose and bush honeysuckle. Otter Banks is a natural floral treasure of state significance.

Otter Banks: Intact Karst Bluffs Forest. The mixed mesophytic hardwood forest at Otter Banks is comprised of medium-aged hickory species (Carya sp.), oak species (Quercus sp.), Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra), blue ash (Fraxinus quadrangulate), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), and other hardwoods. This habitat occupies nearly all the slopes on this parcel. Most of the slopes are steep and scattered with boulders creating complex woodland habitat features. Rocky dolomite outcroppings rise above the slopes in many areas with numerous waterfalls, providing for quality habitat for ravine-dwelling salamanders and other fauna. An abundant diversity of native woodland flora, such as wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), hepatica (Hepatica nobilis), etc., is the typical cover over much of this habitat. The condition of the forest ecosystem at Otter Banks is excellent, and it is a splendid example of the karst bluffs habitat.