The Best Way to be Socially Distant During COVID-19? #GetOutsideOhio!

June 22, 2020

Edit 10.1.2021 – Blue Heron Preserve in Memory of Janet Franklin Foster will be closed from October 1, 2020 until further notice while construction is underway so that we may improve the amenities for recreational use. We are hoping to reopen the park in Spring 2022.

BURTON, Ohio – Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the largest land trust in Ohio, today announced their plans to open properties they own for public access. State and federal guidelines encouraging people to wear face masks and maintain social distance of at least six feet have led people to find outdoor spaces to explore and enjoy. The Land Conservancy is responding to this need by opening up privately-held properties for public access and launching a campaign to #GetOutsideOhio.

“The Land Conservancy has helped create more than 175 public parks and preserves across northern Ohio,” said Alex Czayka, senior vice president for conservation transactions at Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “During this global pandemic, we’ve seen attendance at some of these parks and preserves increase by more than 100 percent. Getting outside and enjoying all the beauty that Ohio has to offer helps mentally, emotionally and physically. We are responding to this crisis the best way we can, by making more land available for all to safely enjoy.”

Western Reserve Land Conservancy were joined today by State Sen. John Eklund (R-18th), Sen. Sean O’Brien (D-32nd) and State Rep. Diane Grendell (R-76th) at Blue Heron Preserve in Geauga County to announce the opening of this and other properties over the coming weeks: Ashcroft Woods Conservation Area in Ashtabula County; Oberlin Prairie Preserve in Lorain County; Derek Owens Memorial Park in the Woodland Hills neighborhood east of Cleveland; and Grand River Dead Branch Preserve in Trumbull County.

Blue Heron Preserve in Memory of Janet Foster – a former sand and gravel quarry – has been transformed into a beautiful 116.15-acre gem that straddles the boundary between Newbury and Burton Townships. The property is located within the Cuyahoga River watershed and contains approximately 27 acres of Category 3 wetlands that make up almost the entirety of the eastern half of the Preserve.

Senator Eklund presented Western Reserve Land Conservancy with a Senate Proclamation that said, “The fine individuals involved with transforming a former sand and gravel quarry into this noteworthy nature preserve have set a hallmark of dedication and responsible stewardship, and they are deserving of high praise for their efforts to serve their community to the best of their ability.”

As part of the #GetOutsideOhio campaign, Western Reserve Land Conservancy will continue to promote fun and exciting outdoor adventures for kids and parents alike. From virtual bird watching tours to scavenger hunts and coloring books, the campaign is designed to engage visitors, educate the public and encourage people to celebrate the beauty and wonder of our region.

“We know how valuable it is to get outside,” said Czayka. “The Land Conservancy has played a key role in conserving land for public use now and for future generations. During this time of crisis and uncertainty, being able to fish in a pond, go on a hike, study birds or just enjoy a quiet sunset is so vital to our health and well-being.”

For more information about #GetOutsideOhio, please visit

Here are descriptions of some of the properties that will become open to public access over the coming weeks:

Oberlin Preserve

Opening to the public in July, the Oberlin Preserve was acquired in 2015 by the Land Conservancy with funding from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund and the Oberlin College Green EDGE Fund. Prior to conservation efforts, the property had been owned by a series of developers and zoned for residential use.

The preservation of this property as a natural area will benefit the public forever by providing scenic greenspace, areas for groundwater recharge and flood mitigation, diverse habitat for plants and wildlife, and an area for passive recreation and education. This property sits at the head of a tributary that flows into Plum Creek and eventually into the Black River. Visitors have the opportunity to see woodcocks and other ground nesting birds in the spring, as well as bluebird boxes and migratory warblers stopping over before continuing on their journey.

The Land Conservancy began to restore the native prairie in 2017 with the help of many conservation partners. Prairie restoration and maintenance is an ongoing project and there is always work to do. We hope that in years to come, the Oberlin Preserve will be an outstanding example of a native tall grass prairie.

In addition to its natural resources, the Oberlin Preserve has historical connections to the abolitionist movement through its previous land owners, the Copeland family. Delilah Evans Copeland and her husband, John Copeland, Sr. came to Oberlin in 1843 to protect their children from slavery. Once in Oberlin, the Copelands were very active in the abolitionist movement and fugitive slave assistance network in the 1850s-1860s. Their son, John Anthony Copeland, Jr., became a member of the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society. He participated in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue in 1858, where a group of men worked together to free a runaway slave who had been captured under the Fugitive Slave Act. John Sr. signed on to serve with the 55th Ohio Volunteers in the Civil War in 1862, continuing his quest for an end to slavery. Various descendants of the Copeland family continued to live on the property until it was sold by Delilah and John’s granddaughter in 1925.

Blue Heron Preserve in Memory of Janet Franklin Foster

Blue Heron Preserve is a beautiful 116-acre gem that straddles the boundary between Newbury and Burton Townships and is located east of SR 44 (Ravenna Road) and south of SR 87 (Kinsman Road). The property is located within the Cuyahoga River watershed and contains approximately 27 acres of Category 3 wetlands that make up almost the entirety of the eastern half of the Preserve. The wetland includes open water, emergent marsh, wetland scrub-shrub, and forested wetland plant communities and appears to have been formed by glacial activity. The wetland is fed by groundwater and a tributary to the West Branch – Cuyahoga River and is part of a large, interconnected wetland complex that includes the West Branch – Cuyahoga River and its tributaries and extends into the City of Akron’s 19,000-acre system of watershed lands.

The western portion of Blue Heron Preserve was used as a sand and gravel mine before the Land Conservancy purchased it from Newbury Sand and Gravel, Inc. and reclaimed the mine, restoring the property to a more natural state. A generous supporter of the Land Conservancy has underwritten the reclamation of the property and the improvements. Over the course of a few years the buildings and other mining infrastructure were removed, discarded materials and items were cleaned up, the steep edges around the pond were sloped and seeded with native grasses, the mining roads were converted into hiking trails, an agri-drain was installed to control the level of the ponds, a bridge was constructed by the Boy Scouts on the trail that extends through the pond, and native trees were planted throughout the areas most impacted by the mining.

The reclamation of the mine not only restored the beauty of the property, but also helped provide an inviting environment for many species of native plants and animals. You may be lucky enough to see a Blue Heron or hear loon or sandhill cranes in the wetlands, a bald eagle passing overhead, or many different seasonal warblers, including the yellow warbler, passing through. Be sure to check out the overlook that provides incredible views of the Preserve’s pond and wetland, the West Branch – Cuyahoga River valley to the east, and Burton hill on the horizon. The Preserve has been created to pay tribute to the late Janet Franklin Foster who would have wanted the public to enjoy this beautiful property.

Ashcroft Woods Conservation Area

Ashcroft Woods is a 379-acre property located in rural Rome Township in southern Ashtabula County. The property was originally purchased by Grand River Partners, Inc. (GRPI) in December of 2008. The property is dedicated to GRPI Executive Director, Charles J. “Chuck” Ashcroft, who passed away unexpectedly during the project phase of the land protection process.

The property has 178- acres of high quality wetlands, including 52- acres of open water submergent wetlands, 45- acres of scrub-shrub wetland, swamp forest, and isolated vernal pools. The Ohio State Designated Wild and Scenic River also flows along the approximately 1.2-mile-western property boundary and over 0.75 miles of headwater streams flow into the Grand River. Not to overshadow the 103 additional acres of the property that are composed of uninterrupted upland and floodplain forest. Ashcroft Woods is also home to a diverse and abundant population of state and federally ranked plant and animal species such as West Virginia white butterfly, black bear, bobcat, snowshoe hare, prothonatary warbler and nesting sandhill cranes among other endemic wetland and woodland species. Tree species include mature red oak, white oak, sugar maple, American beech, black cherry, black walnut, sycamore, black maple and silver maple. The beautiful heron rookery located in the northeast corner of the property once contained nearly 30 great blue heron nests.

Grand River Dead Branch Preserve

If you want to explore a wetland, this property is for you. Dead Branch Preserve was acquired by the Land Conservancy in 2013 with funding from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund. The preservation of this 151-acre property as a natural area will benefit the public by providing scenic greenspace, areas for groundwater recharge and flood mitigation, diverse habitat for plants and wildlife, and an area for passive recreation and education. Natural Resource surveys of the property have revealed populations of plants and animals rare to the area. The property is adjacent to the Grand River Wildlife Area (GRWA) and adds more conserved acreage and linear feet of stream to this important habitat. Come and explore one of the largest areas of semi-wilderness remaining in heavily populated northeast Ohio.

Officer Derek Owens Memorial Park

Vacant city lots are a stark reminder of the plague facing Cleveland in the years following the housing crisis. Thousands of vacant and abandoned properties lowered home values, increased crime and decreased public health. If we combined all remaining 30,000 vacant and abandoned lots in Cleveland into one space, it would be more than twice the size of Cleveland’s international airport. Each of these properties is a massive burden on neighbors, police departments, city agencies and more. And unfortunately, the cost of this blight is one we all are forced to bear.

The Officer Derek Owens Memorial Park on Parkview Avenue in Cleveland, created in partnership with the Cleveland Police Foundation (which owns and maintains the park), the Saint Luke’s Foundation, LAND Studios, neighbors and other partners, remembers slain Cleveland police officer Derek Owens, who was killed in the line of duty as he was investigating suspicious activity at an abandoned property at the site.

This park is a shining example of additional efforts underway in the city including the Hidden Garden space on Rosehill Avenue that serves as a community garden for the nearby Calvary Hill Church of God in Christ, producing peppers, green beans, corn, and much more during summer. The Garden of 11 Angels on Imperial Avenue memorializes 11 women murdered at that location between 2007 and 2009. Ubuntu, an African term meaning “humanity,” will be a gathering place on Shaker Boulevard for education and community outreach. The Thea Bowman site will be a green space managed by the Thea Bowman Center, which focuses on health and wellness, community education and youth programs for the residents of Mt. Pleasant. We need support to fund these important community greenspace projects underway.