The segment of the Ohio-Erie Trail known as the “Prairie Grass Tail,” begins at the trailhead in London and extends southwestward through South Charleston to Cedarville.
Bikers exploring this narrow swath, once occupied by a busy railroad connecting Columbus with Cincinnati, can enjoy the beauty of plants such as Royal Catchfly, Queen of the Prairie, and Prairie Coneflower; or tall grasses like Big Bluestem and Indiangrass. These and many other plant species once graced the pre-settlement Ohio landscape, which was a patchwork of old growth forest interspersed with open prairie grass communities.
When the railroad was active, frequent fires and routine maintenance of the right-of-way would keep out the trees and shrubs, which allowed the prairie plants to remain. However, when the railroad was abandoned, woody plants like Shrub Honeysuckle and invasive weed species, such as Garlic Mustard and Poison Hemlock, began to take over.
About 10 years ago, citizens, educators, and government leaders, started working together to help these native Ohio plants to make a comeback. Management efforts, such as fire and brush clearing, were needed to stave off the encroachment of trees and invasive shrubs.
Now, the Prairie Grass Trail provides a narrow slice of our Ohio heritage that allows bikers, botanists, and beautiful-plant enthusiasts to step back (or “cycle back”) in time and to reconnect with this important part of our historical roots.
The Friends of Madison County Parks and Trails (FMCPT), in cooperation with the Madison Soil and Water Conservation District, are hosting the Prairie Appreciation Bike Ride on Saturday, July 29. The annual bike ride was started eight years ago by botanist and prairie enthusiast, Jack McDowell. He was one of the early “discoverers” of the remnant prairies of Madison and Clark counties and has assisted Wayne Roberts and the FMCPT in efforts to manage these prairie treasures in the midst of threats from invasive woody plant and agricultural weed species.
McDowell passed away in 2012, but his dream to inspire others to preserve the Ohio prairie is not forgotten. The ride will be co-led by botanist John Silvius, professor emeritus of biology at Cedarville University; Julia Cumming, Program Administrator with Madison Soil and Water Conservation District; Matt Silveira, Corporate Environmental Manager, CEMEX US; Karen Stombaugh, Madison County Master Gardener; and Amber Huffman, an Earth Team Volunteer with the district.
Bikers who plan to join this year’s Prairie Bike Ride should meet at the Prairie Grass Trailhead, 280 W. High St., London, by 8 a.m. The event is scheduled for a 2 1/2 hour period with two scheduled stops to enjoy the prairie landscape along the bike trail. Those desiring a less rigorous experience will have opportunity to return to the trailhead from the first stop for a round-trip distance of approximately six miles. Those wishing to continue to the second stop will have approximately an 11 mile roundtrip distance.
At each stop, bikers will have opportunity to view, photograph, and discuss prairie botany, ecology, and Ohio history. Silvius, Cumming, and Miller are planning an interactive format in which questions arising from the inspiration and imagination of bikers will be discussed.
To view photos of common prairie wildflowers, visit http://johnsilvius.cedarville.org/prairie/bikeprairemnant.htm
For further information about the upcoming Prairie Appreciation Bike Ride, contact Madison Soil and Water Conservation District at 740-852-4003.