July 12, 2021
Local couple Tammy Miller and David Hague have made it their mission to protect endangered ecosystems within Violet Township. Their farm, “Coyote Run,” spans 920 acres from Hill Road to Allen Road and includes agricultural fields, wetlands and 300 acres of forest.
This spring, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) designated 230 acres of Coyote Run as the state’s 140th nature preserve.
According to ODNR, “The designation, ‘Dedicated State Nature Preserve,’ is the highest level of land protection afforded by the state of Ohio. Once public and privately-owned lands are dedicated, the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) is authorized to ensure they are permanently protected, while allowing for education, science and visitation.”
To celebrate the designation and to further introduce themselves to the rest of Pickerington, ODNR is hosting a community hike from 9 am to 1 pm on July 17.
“Come checkout Coyote Run!” ODNR posted. “We will be taking in all the beautiful scenery that Coyote Run has to offer while learning about Coyote Run’s history & restoration practices. Our naturalist will educate you on the importance of wetlands and introduce you to the native fauna and flora. Naturalist Meghan (Ellis) will also explain methods and useful guides to help you identify wetland species. Coyote Run has some amazing species, and we cannot wait to share this experience with you & are very excited to welcome Coyote Run to DNAP.”
The moderate hike will be approximately three miles long and is recommended for adults and children older than ten. To register for the program, please email Meghan at: Meghan.Ellis@dnr.state.oh.us.
Violet Township and many other areas are “at a crossroads as to habitat loss” and the community must “embrace natural area restoration and rehabilitation”.
“Very little of the original natural environment of Ohio remains intact,” Hague said. “In Violet Township nearly all traces of the original Ohio woodlands are gone. It is the goal of Coyote Run to restore many of the non-farmed areas of the property to be more like Ohio’s woodlands before European settlers arrived. We work hard to remove invasive plants and to minimize human impact. With care and a light human footprint, it is hoped that nature will reclaim and prosper in this corner of Violet Township for the next 500 years.”
Hague suggests that “both the City of Pickerington and the remainder of the unincorporated township put as much emphasis on natural areas/farmland as development. It is not too late to save the open areas we still have.”
Before settlers cleared trees to plant crops, a vast forest covered Ohio. Experts estimate that trees covered 90 percent of the land and that “a squirrel could cross the entire state without ever touching the ground.”
There are several species of trees that were in abundance in Ohio when the settlers arrived that have become increasingly less common and in some cases, nearly non-existent.
“The loss of these species is almost in every case linked to a non-native pathogen or insect, or even a combination of both,” said Don Karas at the Ohio Division of Forestry. “The species that have nearly completely disappeared are the American chestnut. butternut, American elm, and now green and white ash, once quite common, are becoming increasingly rare.”
Today the ODNR estimates that only 31 percent of Ohio is forested.
“Very little of the remaining forest may be considered old growth,” says Hague.
“Urban sprawl, development, fragmentation, and mismanagement are of concern,” Karas said, “However, the biggest threats to Ohio’s forests are more likely non-native invasive insects and plants. There are too many of them to list, and the list just keeps on growing due in part to our global economy and the importation of goods from other countries.”
Restoring Coyote Run has been a learning curve for Miller and Hague. Invasive flora that they spent the summer uprooting sprouted again the following spring and hungry deer ate the native saplings that were planted.
The couple needed to re-evaluate some of their beliefs and misconceptions. Hague now drives a pick-up in addition to a Prius and he understands that herbicide is the best way to eradicate honeysuckle and other invasive plants.
The couple were originally against hunting until they witnessed first-hand how without predators, hungry deer will overrun an ecosystem. They also learned that hunters are amongst some of the most ardent conservationists.
Coyote Run now has a nuisance permit from ODNR that allows for year-round deer hunting on the property. A few hunters have been given permission to harvest the deer in exchange for helping to identify and remove invasive plants.
While Hague and Miller are happy to spend their retirement caring for the forests and observing the animals who live there, the couple recognizes that they will not live forever. To continue their mission, Coyote Run must be shared with others who are passionate about conservation.
“If people love it, it is less likely that politicians will put a road through it or allow excessive development around it,” Hague said. “We are all used to and enjoy parks with ball fields and picnic tables and similar. Coyote Run is different in that people are the guests in the home of the skittish wood ducks, the elusive salamanders, and the majestic oaks. Protected ecosystems such as Coyote Run help protect the local watershed, enhance property values, and mitigate flooding.”
“We hope to preserve forever the land and habitat for all the animals and plants that call Coyote Run home,” Miller said. “We welcome birders, students, citizen scientists, and nature lovers to visit and to help share the joys of this special place.”
However, inviting visitors exposes the reserve to possible damage. Even well-meaning hikers could unknowingly damage an ecosystem with a misplaced step or a hitchhiking seed. Much of the preserve will be off limits so nature may recover.
Coyote Run partners with government agencies, schools and non-profits.
“Most public access is through the Fairfield County Park District,” Hague said. “These events range from vernal pool exploration to night hikes. Other events are butterfly/dragonfly walks, celestial programs, wildflower hikes, bird hikes, etc. We hope to continue our relationship for field education with local schools as well as OSU.”
In addition to public educational events, many government departments have been involved with the conservation efforts as well. Experts from the US Fish and Wildlife Service planted three acres of various grasses and flowers near the preserve with the goal to attract pollinators and restore previous agricultural ground. Agricultural use at Coyote Run and elsewhere in the Township is important to protect as well. Once paved over it is gone.
A conservation program administered locally by the Fairfield County Soil and Water District has helped Coyote Run with restoration and preservation of two wetland areas totaling almost 30 acres. Nesting boxes near these pools have been installed for wood ducks. According to Ohiobirds.org, in the 1900s wood duck populations in Ohio were decimated by overhunting but have begun to recover, especially in eastern portions of the state where beavers have returned. Male wood ducks sport brightly colored feathers with jewel-toned green heads, scarlet bills and metallic blue backs.
Coyote Run also has many vernal pools. Vernal pools are areas of shallow water in wooded areasthat may be completely dry during summer months. Vernal pools are vital to the survival of many amphibians which lay their eggs in the pools where there are no fish to eat them.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that “vernal pools are a valuable and increasingly threatened ecosystem. Great efforts are being made to protect the remaining vernal pools, as their disappearance marks the loss of rare and important habitat and some of the associated plant and animal species as well.”
More than 90% of Ohio’s vernal pools have already been lost.
“Having sufficient suitable forest surrounding vernal pools is critical for the animals that use the pools during the breeding season,” Hague said.
In addition to the vernal pools, the new preserve will protect upland forest, stream corridors, and oak-maple-elm forests. Coyote Run State Nature Preserve will remain in private ownership and management. Access will be limited to guided hikes and prior permission through Coyote Run, LLC.,” ODNR stated.
Coyote Run also has a strong partnership with the Fairfield County Park District (FCPD). In 2019, the couple donated a farmhouse on the property (9270 Pickerington Road Northwest) to the District, which uses the space as its northeast headquarters.
The Ohio State University has conducted capstone projects at the preserve and a few central Ohio high schools have visited for various projects. Hague hopes to someday partner with the Pickerington Local Schools. A good portion of Coyote Run is within walking distance of Pickerington High School Central.
“Our names are on the deed, but it feels arrogant to say that this belongs to us,” said Hague.
For those wanting updates on Coyote Run’s projects and programs, Hague encourages people to visit Coyote Run’s Facebook page, which he frequently updates. The page includes photos and videos of the wildlife as well as updates on the renovation of the 1889 barn. The barn, built from timbers harvested from the property itself, has been renovated to serve as a starting point for naturalist tours.