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Buckeye Lake's Cranberry Bog

by Steve Sterrett

A brief announcement last year in an outdoor column of a local newspaper was intriguing: "A lottery will choose the 480 people who will visit Cranberry Bog State Nature Preserve during the bog's annual open house June 22." The writer instructed readers to enter the lottery by sending a postcard to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.

I had no idea where Cranberry Bog was, but I figured if a lottery was required to visit the place, then I wanted to go there. I submitted my postcard, and in early June I was informed by mail that I was one of the lucky 480. The letter instructed me to present myself on Saturday, June 22, at the public dock on the north shore of Buckeye Lake for an 11 a.m. departure.

On the appointed day, my bird-watching friend Jeff and I drove the 30 miles east of Columbus to Buckeye Lake. The Natural Resources Department had brought staff from around the state to conduct tours of the bog. Members of the Greater Buckeye Lake Historical Society used their boats to ferry visitors to the nature preserve for a small fee donated to support the society.

Our tour guide was John McFadden, a district preserve manager from northern Ohio. We boarded a boat piloted by Ron Van Atta, a long-time resident of Buckeye Lake.

As we chugged onto the lake, McFadden explained that the melting of the last glaciers had left the area pocked with lakes and ponds, which had slowly evolved into a bog and forest swamp. Thick mats of sphagnum moss cooled and added acid to the water and still today preserve an environment for plants normally found much farther north in Canada.

Construction of the state's canal system resulted in the impoundment of the swamp in 1830 to create Buckeye Lake and a water supply for the canals. The new lake flooded and destroyed the swamp forest and bog, except for the youngest part of the bog mat. A 50-acre island of moss floated to the lake's surface.

"Cranberry Bog may be unique in the world because the mat of moss is surrounded by water," McFadden said, "rather than the mat surrounding a small pool of water."

Over the years, the island has shrunk to about 19 acres due to natural and human forces. Trees that sprout on the edge of the mat begin to sink as they grow in size and weight and can eventually topple over, breaking off hunks of the moss.

Van Atta recalled a storm about eight years ago which pushed a segment of the mat, trees and all, across the lake and against the far shore. "The people there went to bed in a lakefront house and awoke in the woods," he said.

Cranberry plants cover most of the island. From the boardwalk, McFadden pointed out two orchid species, calopogon in bloom and rose pogonia, and two insect-eating species, northern pitcher plants and round-leaf sundews. At one point, we stepped from the boardwalk directly onto the mat, which looked as solid as a farm meadow. Jumping up and down, however, we could feel the ripples in the cushion of moss and water.

Because Cranberry Bog is a fragile environment, the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves requires visitors to obtain a permit. For the permit form, call the division at (614) 265-6453 or download it from the department’s web site: www.dnr.state.oh.us/dnap. To arrange boat transportation to the bog, call the Greater Buckeye Lake Historical Society at (740) 929-1998.

The best time to visit the bog is during its annual open house on a Saturday in late June. Guides, such as McFadden, give fact-filled tours. The division in recent years has had a lottery in May to determine who can attend the open house. Call the division or check the web site for details.

Read more about Ohio's geology and glaciers >>