A century of conservation

By Dan Armitage, Buckeye Sportsman

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) marked 100 years of conservation in 2022, celebrating the anniversary of the creation of the Roosevelt Game Preserve. Known today as Shawnee State Park and Shawnee State Forest, the property was established in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1922. The area, now displaying a historic marker, was created to encourage the replenishment of natural resources and wildlife that had been depleted in Ohio’s past. 

From preserving the past to investing in the future, Shawnee State Forest was expanded by more than 1,200 acres thanks to a federal grant through the Forest Legacy Program. Visitors at Shawnee State Park will soon enjoy a new state-of-the-art campground, new bike trails, a splash pad, and dog park at the Shawnee Ohio River Park, Campground and Marina. The new and improved attraction is expected to be complete next year. 

Boaters and paddlers at Alum Creek State Park can now enjoy a brand-new marina building. The $4.6 million structure replaces the 50-year-old building that stood in its place. To better meet the needs of park visitors, the new building offers retail and boat rental space, food and beverage areas, accessible public restrooms and shower facilities, and a covered outdoor patio space. 

Alum Creek is home to ODNR’s first Storybook Trail, and this past year 10 more trails promoting literacy and healthy living were added across the state. ODNR invested in new, renovated, or upgraded nature centers at East Harbor, Hueston Woods, East Fork, Alum Creek, Deer Creek, Punderson, Burr Oak, Findley, Mt. Gilead, and Lake Hope state parks, which have interactive, multi-sensory displays to be explored. 

Of course, water quality is vital to the health of our lakes and waterways, and, most importantly, the people of Ohio. ODNR has been creating and restoring wetlands as part of Governor Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio initiative since 2019. In 2022, ODNR marked a milestone 100th wetland. Now, ODNR has more than 120 projects complete or underway that filter nutrients from the water and provide excellent habitat for wildlife to thrive.  

Increasing protected land is an important step to preserving our natural resources. This year, the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves’ Scenic Rivers Program purchased two properties along the Little Darby Creek State and National Scenic River in Madison County, bringing the total acreage of protected property to more than 1,100. Seventy-three acres along Little Beaver Creek State and National Wild and Scenic River near Lisbon were also purchased to protect streams and abundant plant and animal life.  

As an investment into the health, safety, and future of Ohio families, ODNR’s Division of Mineral Resources Management (DMRM) has made unprecedented strides to clean up abandoned mine lands. Federal funding through the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSMRE) Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) program helps to transform these areas into community assets. Most recently, ODNR joined The Wilds (part of Columbus Zoo) in Cumberland to break ground on a new 59-acre campground with spots for both RVs and primitive camping. 

Thanks to Ohio Sportsmen, and the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses, the Division of Wildlife is able to invest in habitat conservation and hunting/fishing resources. This fall, the Division of Wildlife reopened the renovated Indian Creek Shooting Range near Georgetown and Tranquility Wildlife Area Shooting Range near Seaman. The Division also partnered with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Toledo Zoo by awarding grants totaling $750,000 to be used for wildlife conservation.  

Ohio State Parks had a busy year and marked several major achievements. At Mohican State Park, nearly 6 miles of new trail was added to connect the Mohican State Park Lodge to the existing 24-mile EPIC-rated trail. There is also a new mile-long beginner course for bikers to learn and improve their skills. 

Near Xenia, ODNR broke ground on Great Council State Park — Ohio’s 76th state park. The area was once home to Oldtown, one of the largest known Shawnee settlements in Ohio. The park will feature a 12,000-square-foot interpretive center full of exhibits, a theater area, a living stream, and a gallery. 

The long-awaited Hocking Hills State Park Lodge and Conference Center opened this past October. It is built on the same ground as the old lodge, which burned down in 2016. Overnight visitors can enjoy a rustic, yet modern feel in one of the 81 guestrooms, the spectacular views of either the woods or tree-lined gorge, and access to the indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs. The latter of special interest to outdoorsmen and women plying those punishing hills in search of fish and game. 

Deer tally (already) tops 200,000

Gun hunters have checked 110,935 deer in the 2022-23 deer seasons, including 9,515 deer taken in the youth season, 71,932 deer taken in the seven-day gun season, and 15,163 deer taken in the two-day gun season. Ohio’s archery hunters had harvested 90,357 deer through Jan. 10, bringing the season total for all implements to 201,292. The 2022-23 season marks the first time since 2012 that the total deer harvest has gone above 200,000. Archery season is open until Sunday, Feb. 5.

Hunters checked 13,617 white-tailed deer during Ohio’s four-day muzzleloader season last month, including archery and primitive-arms kills. Over the last three years, an average of 11,429 deer were taken during the muzzleloader season. In 2022, hunters checked 12,912 deer in the same period.

Deer hunters found success in all 88 of Ohio’s counties during the “black powder” season. The top 10 counties for harvest were Coshocton (518), Muskingum (468), Tuscarawas (452), Knox (397), Licking (390), Guernsey (375), Washington (345), Carroll (338), Meigs (335), and Ashtabula (288). Coshocton County was top in the state during the 2022 season with 489 deer harvested. 

During the 2023 muzzleloader season, hunters took 3,154 bucks (23% of deer taken), 8,421 does (62%), and 1,532 button bucks (11%). Bucks that shed their antlers and bucks with antlers less than 3 inches in length accounted for 510 deer, or 4% of the total harvest.

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