When Geauga County’s newest park, Blue Heron Preserve, opened last month, the land looked quite different than it once did when the Newbury Sand and Gravel Quarry occupied the space years back.
“If you imagine a sand and gravel quarry, it’s a big hole, it’s a big scar on the land,” Western Reserve Land Conservancy Director of Communication and Public Relations Jared Saylor said.
“To be able to take a property that was once a scar on the land and to turn it into a beautiful gem is something that our organization is proud of.”
Mr. Saylor said the Blue Heron Preserve, in memory of Janet Franklin Foster, is home to 27 acres of wetlands within the Cuyahoga River Watershed.
The 116-acre park, at 14757 Ravenna Road in both Burton and Newbury townships, opened on June 19.
“It is an absolutely gorgeous property,” Mr. Saylor explained. “You walk in, there’s a big wide path driveway, you drive in and immediately you’re just hit with this gorgeous lake and you’re seeing blue herons there, you’re seeing swans.”
Mr. Saylor said the lake also offers a perfect fishing opportunity; his twin 3-year-olds and 9-year-old daughter all made their first catches in the fishing hole, which is naturally populated with bass and blue gill. Steven Berk, conservancy director of public policy, said he and his family caught numerous fish when they visited the previous weekend.
“When COVID-19 hit and when we were all self-quarantined, we really saw a massive uptick in attendance to our parks and preserves,” Mr. Saylor explained. “For obvious reasons, it’s a great way to stay socially distant. So, our team basically said ‘we need to get Blue Heron open as soon as possible.’”
That, he said, is exactly what they did, accelerating preparations starting on May 20. Otherwise, the park wouldn’t have opened until this fall or next spring at the earliest.
Mr. Saylor said this park is the first of four properties that the conservancy plans to open throughout Northern Ohio in the coming weeks.The organization chose to focus on opening Blue Heron Preserve first because the property required the least work between Ashcroft Woods in Ashtabula County, the Oberlin Preserve in Lorain County and the Grand River Dead Branch Preserve in Trumbull County.
Since Western Reserve acquired the Blue Heron land in 2014, Mr. Saylor said, much work has been done in terms of clearing out invasive plants and animal species while welcoming native ones, as well as landscaping to clear trails and establish trailheads. “We’ve done some tree plantings at the property,” he added. Those trees are growing, they’re pretty small but they’re definitely doing well.
Ashcroft woods also opened on June 19, Mr. Saylor said, but without any kind of ceremony. Western Reserve is hoping to open the Dead Branch Preserve in the next few weeks.
As far as future plans for Blue Heron Preserve, Mr. Saylor said Western Reserve is going to remove a picnic table and the concrete slab it sits upon.
“We think it can be a lot more amenable for a more natural setting,” he said. “We just want to make sure that [the wetlands] remains wetlands, that there’s proper drainage. Keeping out invasive species is also a big priority for us, not only at Blue Heron but at all of our properties.
“Whether it’s a farm or 116-acre natural area or a couple of houses we demolished in East Cleveland, holding that conservation easement is our responsibility until the end of time to make sure that property is being maintained.”
Mr. Saylor, who is from Olmstead Falls originally, said even Geauga natives are surprised when they visit Blue Heron Preserve and see the previously-mined land for the first time. “My wife’s family is from here,” he said. “All of them were just shocked that there was this gorgeous place on the east side of Cleveland.”