From the Chagrin Valley Times
Posted: Monday, August 10, 2015 8:00 am | Updated: 5:07 pm, Mon Aug 10, 2015.
By RYAN DENTSCHEFF
GATES MILLS — Conservationists see the 92-acre Sherman Road Preserve as a way to keep its virgin forest and rare species flourishing.
“This is an important property, we’ve known that for a long time, and it’s one that we worked very hard (to obtain) for a very long time,” Joe Leslie, director of acquisitions for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, said. “The positive outcome is great.”
Mr. Leslie said the land attributes, the significant species found there as well as the topography made it worthy of preservation.
Efforts to obtain the land for the preserve, located at the southwest corner of Sherman and County Line roads, began in 2008.
The Gates Mills Land Conservancy acquired 41 acres to preserve on April 30, according to the Cuyahoga County auditor’s website. Of that, 38 acres made up of 11 parcels was bought for a total of $750,000 from Sherman Road, LLC and the remaining 3-acre parcel was donated by Hickory Nut Farm, LLC.
Gates Mills resident Evelyn Newell remains the owner of the remaining 51 acres, but donated a conservation easement shared by the Gates Mills conservation group and Western Reserve Land Conservancy, permanently blocking any future development. The value of the entire project, Mr. Leslie said, is about $2.1 million.
A piece of the purchase was funded through a Clean Ohio Fund grant, applied for through the Ohio Public Works Commission by the GMLC.
The rare wildlife found on the property played a role in the land conservancy receiving the grant, said Jim Bissell, curator of botany at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. One uncommon species that calls the property home is the bobolink, a bird with a dwindling population that uses grasslands to nest.
“It’s a great combination of habitats, having the open meadows and forest,” Dr. Bissell said. The variety in habitats is very important for sustaining a migrating bird population, because they follow the valleys in the spring and fall, providing them places to rest and feed, he said.
The virgin forests consist largely of American Beech, Sugar Maple and Hemlock trees, he said.
The term “virgin forest,” he said, means it predates settlement and is more than 200 years old.
“It’s got some of the coolest, nicest mature forests — as nice as anything in Northeastern Ohio,” he said. We haven’t recorded them yet, but based on their diameter, I am personally convinced that they are virgin.”
In the Chagrin Valley, virgin forests are relatively common, he said. The village of Hunting Valley owns 140 acres of virgin land along Fairmount Boulevard and has some of the biggest trees Dr. Bissell said he has ever seen in the area.
Much of the forested land in other parts of Ohio, he said, was razed in the 1930s.
“People moved out of Cleveland and bought those lands,” he said. “A lot of people further out, when the Depression hit, they cut down the virgin timber. But a lot of people in Gates Mills and Hunting Valley were able to afford not to do that.”
This enabled the recent discovery that northern two-lined salamanders live in the Sherman Road Preserve. These amphibians are rare due to their need for a high-quality, year round supply of wetlands.
“Northern two-lined salamanders are indicative of high quality forest springs,” Dr. Bissell said. “There are a lot of different ways to determine whether a stream or a forest wetland or forest is of ultimate quality, but if you get the northern two-lined salamander, it means it’s the highest quality.”
The conservancy often helps smaller organizations, like the group in Gates Mills seeking to acquire property, Mr. Leslie said.
To date the Gates Mills conservancy group has preserved about 11 percent of the land in the village, which is more than 550 acres. The Western Reserve conservancy has preserved more than 42,000 acres on more than 560 properties.
“There’s more Clean Ohio Funding coming and so we look forward to more local projects in the near future,” Mr. Leslie said.