Nearly every day for the past 20 years, people have driven to Meloy Road in the south end of Kent to walk the scenic boardwalk and discover the natural sights at Kent Bog State Nature Preserve.
The tamarack trees are a large part of the attraction. The bog's stand of tamaracks is a remote outlier of the northern forest. Seeing a thriving tamarack population at this location, with its red cones in spring and golden splendor as the needles turn color in fall, is somewhat like coming upon a flourishing Aleut village with its residents all in native ceremonial dress.
The tamaracks and other features of the bog bring people back for a second or third visit, or more. The boardwalk takes the visitor into places where there are plants close at hand and on all sides. The dense vegetation gives the bog its character. In addition to the tamaracks, small birch trees, large blueberry shrubs, and tall chain ferns are the most common species. And there are unusual plants and animals, such as the small cranberry and the spotted turtle.
A carpet of sphagnum moss covers much of the bog's floor. Below the moss is a deep reservoir of water-laden peat. The boardwalk lies directly on the peat, and the peat's spongy structure gives the pathway a resiliency that makes walking an extra pleasure.
The bank surrounding the bog has its own native flora of non-bog plants. Beneath a canopy of oaks and maples grow such common species as sassafras, greenbrier, witch-hazel, dogwood, and wintergreen.
The bog site was purchased by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1985 and dedicated as a state nature preserve in 1987. In 1993, ODNR staff members aided by volunteers laid a half-mile boardwalk whose planks are made of "lumber" formed from recycled plastic. Since then, hardly a day has gone by when the preserve did not have at least one visitor, more often several.
What of the next 20 years? Visitors will continue to come and enjoy the bog throughout the year. A special Bog Day, celebrating several of Portage County's bogs, is planned for October. This fall event will complement Earth Day, Arbor Day and River Day, all of which occur in the spring.
And perhaps something new will be added to the region. Within its corporation limits the City of Kent has both a state university and a state nature preserve. It seems logical to expect that the two will form a working relationship. Many colleges and universities have an off-campus environmental field station. It would be appropriate for Kent State to establish such a field station adjacent to the ODNR's nature preserve. An environmental field station near the bog, devoted perhaps to wetland research and education, would be an asset to Kent State University, the City of Kent, Portage County and the State of Ohio. No harm in dreaming.
Tom Cooperrider is Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences at Kent State University and the author of "Botanical Essays from Kent," published by the KSU Press in 2010. The photograph of the boardwalk was taken by Guy Denny of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Green Portage is a monthly feature of the Record-Courier in cooperation with the Portage Park District.