A visit to Kelleys Island North Pond State Nature Preserve
is an opportunity to view nature at its finest, a true unfolding of life’s
mysteries. The scenery and wildlife constantly change, are never dull and are
always colorful and exciting.
Two hundred years ago Kelleys Island was nearly all
forest. During the latter part of the 19th Century most of the island
trees were harvested for timber. The wood was used to run steamboats operating
on the Great Lakes or for construction in the fast-growing cities along Lake
Erie. The Kelleys Island North Pond State Nature Preserve, located within
Kelleys Island State Park, is a wonderful haven offering a glimpse back at how
the island would have appeared to its very first visitors and settlers—members
of Native American groups such as the Wyandot, Erie, Delaware and Shawnee.
The North Pond, a 30-acre sanctuary with forest, marsh and
hiking trail, is Ohio’s only state-managed, lake embayment natural pond. Lake
embayment ponds occur within the coastal zone of the Great Lakes. These ponds’
water levels rise and fall with the lake. Of the 12 original embayment ponds on
the Erie islands, North Pond is one of only three remaining and the most intact.
The others are on Middle Bass and North Bass Islands.
The North Pond State Nature Preserve features a mile-long
trail partially covered by a recycled plastic boardwalk and a raised observation
deck. A visit to North Pond any time of year offers colorful views of diverse
and beautiful species of trees, plants and wildlife.
While there are no ancient trees due to the deforestation
mentioned earlier, the North Pond provides a look at a wide variety of species.
One of the most abundant trees on Kelleys is the juniper, more commonly known as
the eastern red cedar. A robust tree able to thrive in the shallow limestone
soil of Kelleys Island, the juniper is a conifer with a blue, fleshy cone that
resembles a berry. This cone/berry is a favorite winter food for many birds. Red
cedars surround the North Pond parking area and are prominent at the trailhead.
Red cedars may live for 300 years.
The thin, twig-like growths forming nearly impenetrable
thickets throughout the island and at the North Pond trailhead is osier
drummondii dogwood. Its flexible twigs can be used in the making of baskets.
Also seen at the trailhead are sumac, redbud, blue ash,
hackberry, various oaks, red maple, red elm and beautiful wild flowers and
plants. Near the road nodding wild onions can be seen. These plants’ stems
form an "s"-curve when its fruit, a white flower, forms. Low-growing,
fern-like herb robert is a spring-blooming perennial geranium seen growing
throughout the trail.
Down the slope there is a definitive rock ledge. This was
the ancient shoreline which 2-3,000 years ago divided the island into two
islands, separated by a shallow water basin. The ancient shoreline runs from the
northern shore to the far western side of the island. This area, known for its
fertile though shallow soil, is called the Sweet Valley. Lighter colored rocks
laid along the ancient shoreline were placed there in more recent times when the
land was cultivated by island farmers.
The tallest trees in this area are cottonwoods. These
trees can attract nesting eagles. Several pairs of eagles have been spotted in
various locations on Kelleys Island. Wild grapes colonize where the trees fall.
The orange-flowered trumpet creeper attracts hummingbirds and insects and blooms
in August and September. The white-flowered thoroughwart or bone-set flower is
credited through folklore with curative powers including the setting of bones.
Throughout the island and the North Pond State Nature
Preserve is an abundance of poison ivy. Easily recognized by its "leaves of
three" and best avoided by people, poison ivy is one of the most necessary
plants for the many birds and deer who feast on its berries and vegetation.
Young box elders, which are also plentiful in this area, can be mistaken for
poison ivy, but are distinct in that they have five to seven leaflets per stem.
Trumpet creeper, a southern Ohio plant, is a non-native
plant that can become a pest. It can be seen along the trail blooming in June
A special feature of Kelleys Island North Pond State
Nature Preserve is the mile-long recycled plastic lumber boardwalk. Employees of
the State of Ohio’s Natural Areas and Preserves and volunteers, including
Audubon members, constructed the boardwalk. The boardwalk represents one of five
plastic lumber demonstration projects being implemented as part of a
multi-client research project. Project partners include: Ohio Division of
Recycling and Litter Prevention, Battelle Memorial Institute, The American
Plastics Council, the Plastic Lumber Trade Association, Louisiana State
University, Underwriter’s Labs, Engineering Mechanics Group, McClaren
Engineering, New York Department of Development, Rutgers University, and the
The boardwalk is needed because when the lake's water
rises the lower areas of North Pond can become drenched with up to 12 inches of
water. With the ongoing drenching and drying out of this area a variety of
plants can be seen depending on the moisture levels.
The boardwalk extension heading off to the right leads
hikers to the Kelleys Island State Park sand beach. The extension beyond the
observation deck loops around and directs hikers back to a dirt path which later
connects to the main entry path.
North Pond is a very healthy example of a natural,
undisturbed area, with distinctly zoned plant communities. Standing on the
observation deck is an ideal place to view these communities from the center
out. In the center/wettest area of the pond water lilies can be seen.
Straw-colored umbrella sedges lie closer to the bank. As the land becomes less
wet on the outer reaches of the pond, there are buttonbush shrubs, with round
button-like fruit. Continuing away from the pond are the ferns and shrubby
willows, followed by the swamp forest which includes several species along with
green ash and cottonwoods, the dominant forest species. There are a wide variety
of grasses, rushes and sedges throughout the North Pond State Nature Preserve.
When the pond is dry, swamp rose mallow, a native
hibiscus, grows in the pond area along with bur marigolds (the stick-tight
plant). Other plant life surrounding the pond includes smart weed, which is
recognized by its small pink spike that stands upright. This plant earned its
name because of a peppery taste that makes your mouth "smart." Willow
twigs, like those seen surrounding North Pond, were used by Native Americans as
a curative for headaches and later used in the development of aspirin. Red, late
summer-blooming cardinal flowers and the May-blooming wild blue iris can be seen
alongside the boardwalk.
When there is water in North Pond, mosquito fern covers
portions of the surface. Mosquito fern received its name because it may rapidly
cover ponds and has been mistakenly thought to discharge mosquitoes. In
actuality the fern is often introduced into ponds because it is thought to
control the amount of mosquito larvae. Mosquito fern floats on the top and
Birds in Abundance
Dozens of bird species have been sighted at the North Pond
State Nature Preserve. From chipping sparrows, purple martins, indigo buntings,
various warblers and even black-capped chickadees at the trail head; to an array
of waterfowl, herons, northern kingbirds and red-winged blackbirds nearer the
observation tower…more than a half dozen species not spotted elsewhere on the
island have been noted here.
From the observation tower hawks, herons and other aquatic
animal life have been seen. In addition, deer, muskrat, Lake Erie water snakes,
salamanders and squirrel have been spotted along or near the preserve’s trail.
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Last updated on
July 31, 2006