It was something 84-year-old Patty Forrest always wanted to do.
The outdoor-loving West Jefferson resident likes to walk two-miles daily along a stretch of her beloved Little Darby Creek. And, she aimed to make sure future generations could enjoy the creek and its wildlife as much as she does.
So in June, the Patricia J. Forrest Family Trust sold 138 wooded acres along the creek’s west side to the State of Ohio with the stipulation that it remain forever untouched by development or utilities.
“Mother wanted it set aside forever,” said Madison County Commissioner Mark Forrest, who oversees the family trust.
The land had been in the Forrest family for three generations and was eyed as a prize by the Scenic Rivers Program of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), as well as The Nature Conservancy.
Both agencies seek to preserve as much of the creek’s lush, wooded stream corridor as possible through purchase or conservation easement.
“Bob Gable (Scenic Rivers administrator) has been drooling at the mouth to get it,” Mark said.
Both Big Darby and Little Darby creeks are home to more than a dozen rare and endangered fish and mussels. Some are found nowhere else.
Both creeks were designated state scenic rivers in 1984. Ten years later, they were listed as national scenic rivers. The Nature Conservancy also considers Little Darby one of the “last great places” on earth.
TNC already owns 149 acres on Little Darby near its confluence with Big Darby. Prior to the June sale, Ohio Department of Natural Resources owned 808 acres along the creek with another 75 under easement.
Once a gravel quarry, the Forrest family’s parcel behind 1150 Taylor-Blair Road is chocked full of new-growth sycamore, maple, buckeye and box elder trees, making it ideal habitat for the endangered Indiana bat.
Coincidentally, the Ohio Department of Transportation was looking last year to acquire good bat habitat in mitigation for 11-plus acres impacted by reconstruction of the I-270 and U.S. 23 interchange north of Columbus, according to Nancy Burton, ODOT spokesperson.
Federal law required ODOT to acquire new Indiana bat habitat “in mitigation” for that destroyed between the months of April and September.
Burton said ODOT elected to clear trees on the 11-plus acres during summer months to avoid delaying the reconstruction project another year. She noted 150,000 to 175,000 motorists travel the interchange daily.
“Working with our sister agency (ODNR), we learned of the land owned by the Forrest Family Trust. The land is rich bat habitat and just happens to have a section of Little Darby Creek running through it,” Burton said. “ODOT bought the land on ODNR’s behalf in order to preserve it in perpetuity.”
ODOT environmental staff called the $1.064 million sale and subsequent transfer to ODNR a “perfect marriage” and “win-win” for all parties involved, Burton said.
Timing was also important.
“This transaction took approximately six months, while normal mitigation takes years,” she added.
Under the sale agreement, the Forrest family retains a 15-acre access to Little Darby’s east side so Patty can continue to walk the creek whenever she wants, Mark said.
Jane Beathard is a contributing writer for The Advocate.