There’s no better time to explore Shawnee State Park & Forest

Art Weber

        Shawnee State Park and Forest, more than 64,000 acres of rugged land, hard on the Ohio River due south of Columbus, may be the largest remaining natural area in Ohio.  In spite of its size, finding the spring wildflowers is easy.
        More precisely, finding wildflowers in general is easy; finding a particular species is a more challenging thing. Either way, whether easy or hard, the search is beautifully rewarding in Shawnee’s hills and hollows, and along rushing streams.
        There’s no better time to explore it than now, with the bonus being that the huge state park and forest is a haven for migrating songbirds.
        Enjoy miles of trails or just drive any of the miles of dirt and gravel forest road up valleys and along high ridge tops and you’ll see them. All kinds, all colors, and it’s just about guaranteed you’ll see some you’ve never seen before. “Most of the wildflowers you can see from the road, but you have to know where to look,” said Guy Denny, a native Toledoan who is now retired as chief of Ohio’s Division of Natural Areas and Preserves. An effervescent and unabashed enthusiast of all things natural, Guy is always ready to bring his inexhaustible “Ohio is a neat, neat place” message to anyone who will listen.
        “That’s a big, big area, you know, and you have to keep your eyes open for places like the cemetery where all the Indian paintbrushes are,” he said.
        “And where you see the spotted mandarin, which is a disjunct – they are Appalachian Teays Age species – the next closest populations are in Tennessee. So, you have to know where to look for those things. There are so many exciting species,” he said.
        The Teays was a great prehistoric river of a size and influence, comparable to today’s Mississippi. Its waters not only refreshed Ohio but also brought our state the gift of southern species.
        Two factors combine to bring Shawnee its diversity. The area is unglaciated and it’s at the northern edge of the range for many southern Appalachian species.
        Shawnee is also a haven for many of the more typical Appalachian species, like the pink lady’s slippers and azaleas that like the acid soils typical of the southern Appalachians.
        “The adage that this is the Little Smokies of Ohio comes to life if you look at the species – the sourwoods, the pitch pines and the longleaf pines that are all native to Shawnee, and these are species of the Appalachian Mountains,” Guy said.
        “All along the approach to the Shawnee Lodge are huge native sweetgum trees. Shawnee is really nifty because it is basically the northern limit for an awful lot of southern Appalachian species, plus you get all these disjuncts. It’s a marvelous Mecca for botanists because you have so many state-listed species in a relatively small area that’s easily accessible,” he said.
        “All you have to do is drive the roads, stop, jump out, and there are all these rare species. It makes them easily accessible for a lot of people who might not be able to hike in any distance,” he said. “Not only are you seeing pretty flowers, you are seeing rare flowers right along the roadside. There are not many places in Ohio where you can do that.”
        While it’s the species diversity that excites Guy, the wider scenic beauty isn’t lost on him either.
        “It really is a favorite spot of mine in Ohio,” Guy said. “You get up on some of the ridges and can see the Ohio River and you can see the other side – Kentucky; you have a feeling that this is a whole different part of Ohio.
        “It’s very special,” he said.
        If you drive the area, Guy recommends that you start on Pond Run Road. “It’s the fire tower road and has the greatest diversity, in my mind,” he said. “If you take that road, you’ll see the big-leaf magnolias and, if you go up toward the fire tower, that’s where you see vernal iris, birdfoot violet, and an awful lot of diversity.”
        Pond Run Road is also popular with birders.
        “Particularly the neo-tropical warblers – the wood warblers – cross the Ohio River and then move up the valley, so, they accumulate along those ridge tops. It’s very good for early spring warblers.”
If you go
        It’s about a four-and-one-half-hour drive from Northwest Ohio to Shawnee, where you’ll find excellent campgrounds and cabins. Comfortable rooms and dining are available at the very scenic Shawnee Resort Lodge. Among the good sources for more information are and


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