What is the role of the preserve manager? We two student field researchers, Frank Isabelle III and Dr. Anping Luo, spent three days in March 2018 with the ODNR preserve manager Josh Deemer traveling throughout southern Ohio as part of the Ohio Field School Initiative at the Ohio State University. Each morning, Josh pulled up to our cabin in his black GMC pick-up, and drove us out to different sites in need of attention. During our trip, we spent time in four different counties working in Scioto Brush Creek, Chaparral Prairie, Lake Katherine and Miller Sanctuary state nature preserves. While walking through the preserves, which Josh dubs "living museums", Josh and his colleagues taught us the ins and outs of preservation, from dumpsite cleanup and trail maintenance, to managing invasive species and other pests, all the while sharing with us the history and lore of the land.
In early March, severe flooding overwhelmed many parts of southern Ohio. On our first day with Josh, we drove up to Scioto Brush Creek in order to clean up some of the damage caused by the flooding. At the creek, we met Matt Taylor, Josh's colleague who was busy sawing off trees that had fallen in the path. We joined him at once and began to help clear the trail. Our harvest included several plastic bags, a tire, some styrofoam, a sofa cushion, and a laundry bin.
Walking along the trail, garbage in tow, the sunlight danced through the canopy as we gazed at the wildflowers blossoming along the crystal-clear creek. As we walked, Josh identified each of the flower buds poking up through the sandy soil. “In a few weeks, this place will be loaded with flowers. You can’t imagine how beautiful it will be.” Josh says.
Further up the path, we encounter an old tree along the creek with initials carved into its trunk. Josh tells us that he tries not to get dismayed and narrates a story about a time he found seventeen trash bags full of burned rubbish. He was so upset he went through each individual trash bag all the way up to the seventeenth where he found a seared paper ball. Cracking open the ball, he discovered a few yellowed envelops full of mail. Gotcha!
“Why are you so invested in preservation?” we ask.
"Well, it’s helpful to think of nature preserves like a living museum. My job is to protect our natural heritage, and to help others appreciate it as much as I do. Sharing my love of nature with others is what makes my job meaningful.” Josh says.