Nathan Johnson, Director of Public Lands, June 23, 2016
Snuggled in the southern hills of Adams County lies one of Ohio’s most remote and wild forests: the Rock Run Watershed. The streams here wind and impress themselves on the local topography, and on hikers and explorers who venture to this far corner of the state. Trickling, pouring, running waters have through generations sculpted steep reliefs and interesting sights.
This small, yet picturesque and biologically significant forest is haven and home to rare and threatened species. Healthy populations of bobcats and a large variety of salamanders and other amphibians live here, including the rare four-toed salamander and the state-threatened mud salamander. Occasionally, one can see a patch of the fairy-like flowers of spotted mandarin — a state-threatened member of the lily family.
Much of this area is owned by you and me, the citizens of Ohio. Most of the watershed falls within the Shawnee State Forest and is managed by the Ohio Division of Forestry (DOF). The lower portions of the watershed are preserved and protected from heavy logging and human disturbance — through both DOF protection and inclusion in a not-for-profit preserve system. The entire Rock Run Watershed should enjoy this level of special protection, including the upper headwaters.
Preserving this area is important for many reasons. Not least of which is the fact that the upper watershed is one of the nicest areas still remaining in Shawnee. It has many large oak trees that are probably a hundred years old or more. Trees of this age and size are exceptionally hard to find in Ohio and in the Shawnee State Forest. This makes Rock Run perhaps the best place in the Shawnee State Forest (by far Ohio’s largest state forest) for the recovery of old growth habitat.
Old growth forest is a vital habitat type that provides superior ecosystem services and aesthetic value. It once dominated the state, but is today virtually completely missing. According to DoF, there is no old growth (140-160 years and older) in the entire state forest system. Less than 0.4% of forest stands in the entire state of Ohio are over 140 years old. In its 2010 Forest Resource Strategy document, DoF notes that the lack of old forests in the state “is a threat to biodiversity.” The upper watershed of Rock Run should be preserved as a space for mature forest and flourishing wilderness.