Lost in Time at Cedar Bog

I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I’m pretty bad at doing things I want to do. For example, I’ve wanted to visit Cedar Bog, a nature preserve located in Urbana, Ohio, for months now. It’s not far from Columbus, and it’s an easy drive. It would have been feasible for me to make the trek anytime. But life kept getting in the way, and I kept inventing excuses.

Finally, on Friday, June 11, I decided that I was tired of putting off an adventure. So I packed my day pack, checked twice to make sure I had my Ohio History Connection Passport, and headed northwards towards the Bog.

The showy lady’s slipper orchid blooming at Cedar Bog

What is Cedar Bog?

The first thing you’ll learn upon arriving at Cedar Bog is that it is not actually a bog.

It’s a fen.

You’ll be forgiven for mistaking them: both bogs and fens are types of wetlands. The main difference is that “bogs clog” and “fens flush.” A bog has no way to drain its water apart from evaporation, so everything just kind of sits there for centuries. This is why bogs preserve things so well. Fens, on the other hand, have very slow moving water, and they have a natural cycle of filling and draining that bogs don’t have.

However, we humans are a stubborn lot, and the name Cedar Bog has stuck.

A handy infographic in the restroom at Cedar Bog

Apart from the whole “not a bog” thing, the name is pretty apt. The fen is characterized by its woods full of northern white cedars. These trees usually grow much farther north, so it is unusual to see them in Ohio.

The same can be said of many of the species of plants and animals that live at Cedar Bog. This is a highly unique environment. It was formed around 14,000 years ago as the glaciers retreated. To visit Cedar Bog is almost to walk backwards in time, as much of the life that is visible there today would have been around when the fen first formed. Many threatened or endangered animal species make their home here, including the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, the elfin skimmer dragonfly, and the spotted turtle.

The very specific environment also supports a large diversity of plant life, including an impressive cover of skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, as well as the carnivorous round-leaved sundew, Drosera rotundifolia.

One of the plants that Cedar Bog is most famous for is the showy lady’s slipper orchid, Cypripedium reginae. This is one of the largest orchids in North America. It is usually found much farther north, but it can be spotted at Cedar Bog when it blooms in May and June.

The blooming of the showy lady’s slipper was part of the reason why I decided to make the trip on this particular day. I had a Friday free, and I heard that they were blooming. So off I went!

A group of cicadas enjoying this one tiny tree

Getting There

From Columbus, I headed north on OH-33 to OH-161. Once I was on 161, it was a straight shot through flat, green farmland to reach the bog. It was a very pleasant change from driving on I-71 all the time, and I quite enjoyed the one-hour drive.

I passed through Plain City, which looked like quite a cute little town, and then back out into the farmland. I made a few more turns, and finally saw the standard Ohio History Connection sign marking the way to the preserve.

I heard the roar of cicadas as I pulled up to the nature center. I was pleased to hear it, since we don’t seem to have them in Upper Arlington. In Cincinnati, in contrast, they have been loud no matter where you are in the city.

I entered the nature center and paid the $4 fee for non-OHC members, received a brief orientation on the boardwalk and where to find the blooming flowers, and, most importantly, was directed to the bathroom. (It was a very nice bathroom after the hour-long drive.)

Before I headed out onto the boardwalk, I read the placards explaining the natural history of the bog and the endangered and threatened species that live there. I studied the map, deciding which way to go first. Then, I exited the back doors and began my little walk through this ancient landscape.

A sign in the nature center that explains the different types of habitats at Cedar Bog

A Bog Beginning

The boardwalk starts in the rear of the nature center and makes a roughly one-mile loop through the fen. It enters several different types of habitats at different points during the walk.

First, there is a field full of thick grasses and tall wildflowers. In this part, the sun was glaring and the cicadas were singing away. From there, the boardwalk enters a forest, then crosses over a savanna. In the shade of several small trees on the edge of this clearing, I got my first peek of the showy lady’s slipper orchid.

They are tall for orchids, and their white-and-pink blooms are shaped like a little shoe, the rim of which rubs against insects exiting the flower, leading to pollination. This particular group of orchids was too far from the boardwalk to get a good view, but fortunately, there were many other clusters at different points along the walk, and I was able to capture the flowers in detail.

A close-up view of the showy lady’s slipper orchid, on the edge of a sedge meadow at Cedar Bog

After the savanna, the boardwalk crosses a little creek. A sign near the creek indicates that if a passerby is quiet, they might catch sight of a rare spotted turtle meandering among the shallows. I didn’t see any, unfortunately, but I did enjoy the dappled sunlight coming through the leaves and falling on the flowing water.

I walked the outside of the loop first, making my way through the beech-maple forest, listening to the cicadas. I turned right, and came back to the same junction. By now it was lunchtime, and I was getting a bit hungry. I found a group of four benches, and sat down to eat my peanut butter sandwich and nectarine. It was very peaceful, and I got to watch some photographers as they spotted and photographed a click beetle on one of the benches.

Following the Fen

Feeling refreshed after lunch, I resumed my saunter around the loop. The beech-maple forest eventually gave way to a sedge meadow with another cluster of showy lady’s slippers, then grove of fragrant northern white cedars. I found myself wishing that I had pushed on a little farther before lunch. There was a cluster of benches right in the middle of this grove, and I sat down to breathe in the scent.

The beautiful-smelling grove of northern white cedars

I found it hard to believe how different each of the habitats was. Walking into this cedar grove had taken no more than five minutes from my lunch spot, but it felt like a whole different country. It was quiet by now, and some gray clouds had started to roll in. It felt less like a summer hike in Ohio and more like a jaunt through a Canadian forest.

Thunder began to roll softly in the distance, and I figured I should keep moving. I continued through the cedar forest and once again emerged into the sedge meadow. This was the place where the folks in the nature center told me I would find the sundew, a carnivorous plant. Try as I might, even after two laps back through this portion of the boardwalk, I couldn’t spot any. But I did see several beautiful dragonflies and one final showy lady’s slipper, blooming right next to the boardwalk.

Entering the forest on the boardwalk

Rained Out

The storm began to roll in more quickly. I was glad that I had brought a raincoat and my umbrella. Almost without warning, the sky opened up and a warm shower of rain began to patter to the ground.

The combination of the rain, the cedars, and the soil combined into a beautiful earthy scent. I breathed it deeply as I finished my walk, now under the cover of an umbrella. For a few brief hours, I felt like I had stepped many millennia back in time, to the age of the glaciers. It was quiet, unique, and peaceful, and I returned to the nature center feeling so glad that I had finally made the trip.

The rain continued for the first part of my drive home, but it didn’t last too long. I returned to my apartment with plenty of time to plan my classes and relax.

I don’t know why we often postpone doing the things we enjoy. I get into these mental ruts of thinking that I have to get so much work done, and I can’t afford the time to go and explore. But it is never a bad idea to go outside. It is never a bad idea to discover a new park. Whenever I go on a hike or a walk, I always return more refreshed and ready to face my tasks with energy and excitement. I’m so glad that I finally made this trip, and I know I’ll be back to Cedar Bog soon.

Returning to the nature center in the rain

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