Wahkeena & Elias B. Wagner Nature Preserves – Then, Now, Tomorrow

Trail at Wahkeena Nature Preserve

June 6, 2021

By Kimber Caito, Media Coordinator,
Fairfield County Park District

This is the fifth in a series of articles about Fairfield County Park District properties that are open to the public.  Until now, only parks have been mentioned.  Now, we want to talk about:


Sshhh!  Be very, very quiet.  A nature preserve is not a park.  Its purpose is just that, to preserve nature!  The sole reason for its existence is to protect flora or fauna from decimation.  To accomplish that purpose, some are not even open to the public.  Those that are open often limit access and restrict human activities to passive recreation such as birdwatching and wildlife observation, nature study, photography, and hiking – all quiet activities that will not disturb resident wildlife.  The rules may seem strict, but they are made for the benefit of native plants and animals.

Lake Odonata

THEN.   In 1957 Wahkeena Nature Preserve was bequeathed to Ohio History Connection.  In 2011 a ten-year countywide levy was passed that provided funding for Fairfield County Park District.  It allowed FCPD to partner with OHC and take over management of Wahkeena.  Although capital improvements and major repairs would still be paid for with a stipend from OHC, the day-to-day operations and staffing would now be provided by FCPD.

Before the partnership was established in 2012, there was an admission fee.  Because of the new arrangement, visitors could visit the site without charge.  What a difference that made!  Since then, annual attendance has increased by about 300%!

NOW.   Work by staff at a preserve is a bit different from work at a park.  There is a greater emphasis on removal of unwanted, invasive species, allowing native species to thrive.  At Wahkeena, you will find magnificent native plants!  Great Rhododendron with beautiful white flowers bloom mid-June through mid-July.  Are you an orchid fancier?  There are twelve species of native orchids at Wahkeena.  The showiest is the Pink Lady’s Slipper, its large pink blooms that appear through May attract visitors from around the state!

Shelter Trail 

When visiting, you are not left on your own.  There are full time naturalists on site who can answer questions and provide information.  The long-time staff, with over 50 years of combined experience, also provides seasonal nature education programming.

TOMORROW.   Without our partnership with Ohio History Connection, the future of Wahkeena Nature Preserve would be unsure.  It is our desire to keep Wahkeena open and free to the public, groups, and local schools who have long used the preserve as an outdoor classroom.

Until now, Wahkeena has been the only preserve in Fairfield County Park District.  In July 2020, a heron rookery –the largest rookery south of the Lake Erie watershed– was acquired.  It will be known as:


Thanks to a Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant and a generous contribution, FCPD paid only 6% of the total cost to purchase the 160-acre property!  The emphasis of this long-term project is to preserve a high-quality, viable habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered native species of plants and animals including, of course, heron.  A future article will present the master plan for Wagner Preserve.

THANK YOU to Fairfield County residents, for supporting Fairfield County Park District!  We appreciate you and the trust you have placed in us, permitting us to care for the more than 1,046 acres of important and beautiful parklands in Fairfield County.

Get Outside to Explore & Discover your Fairfield County Parks!  Find these and other locations at fairfieldcountyparks.org.

And…watch for more ‘Then, Now, Tomorrow’ stories and browse previous articles below:

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