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Harpersfield Covered Bridge, Morgan Swamp among Ohio's Ashtabula County attractions

June 1, 2015

One trail at Morgan Swamp ends at an observation deck at Long Pond near Rock Creek. The Nature Conservancy owns about 1,400 acres.

Ashtabula County is Ohioís covered-bridge capital.

You can savor one of the countyís 18 covered bridges when you visit the Harpersfield Covered Bridge over the Grand River in Harpersfield Township. It is one of the most popular and most easily accessible covered bridges in the county.

It is three miles south of Geneva and close to Interstate 90 and state Route 534. It is also close to the countyís wineries and tasting rooms.

The bridge was built in 1868. It is on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. It was one of the longest covered bridges in Ohio at 228 feet.

The 1913 flood washed away land at the north end of the bridge, and a 140-foot steel span was then attached.

That leaves a covered and an uncovered bridge on Harpersfield Road next to the Grand River Dam.

Inside bridge clearance is 12 feet, 9 inches. There is also a walkway in the covered section of the bridge. The walkway was added in 1991-1992.

Itís a pretty spot with a park at the bridge.

For information, call 440-576-0717 or go to www.ashtabulacountymetroparks.org/harpers.htm.

The biggest covered bridge in Ashtabula County is also the newest.

The 613-foot-long Smolen-Gulf Bridge, lies just south of Ashtabula. It opened in 2008 and cost $7.78 million.

The wooden bridge over the Ashtabula River is widely hailed as the longest covered bridge in the United States and the fourth longest in the world.

Previously, the 450-foot-long Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge over the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont was the No. 1 covered bridge in the United States.

The longest covered bridge is a Canadian bridge in New Brunswick that is 1,282 feet long.

The Ashtabula County bridge is 51 feet wide and 37 feet high. It stands 93 feet above the stream.

It was built of Douglas fir and yellow pine with hemlock and yellow poplar for the siding.

Ashtabula County once had 53 covered bridges and Ohio had about 4,000, of which 140 are still standing. Nationally, there are about 1,000 covered bridges still standing.

Today, 17 of the 18 bridges in Ashtabula County still carry traffic.

Ashtabula County offers two driving tours of its covered bridges: one includes 11 bridges and covers 69 miles; the other has five bridges and covers 66 miles. For maps, call 440-275-3202 or go to www.visitashtabulacounty.com.

The county hosts a two-day Covered Bridge Festival on the second weekend in October with guided and drive-it-yourself tours from the county fairgrounds in Jefferson.

For more information, call 440-576-3769 or go to www.coveredbridgefestival.org. It provides a bridge map on its website.

One of the wettest attractions in Ashtabula County is little-known Morgan Swamp.

The 1,400-acre tract is one of the largest privately protected forested wetlands in Ohio. It is also one of the largest undeveloped interior wetlands in Ohio with its elevated hummocks and boggy lowlands.

It is significant for its size, its rare plants and its proximity to the Grand River. It is known for its swamp forests with yellow birches and Eastern hemlocks, a rare Midwest ecosystem.

Morgan Swamp is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy, the national land conservation group. It invested heavily since 1985 to purchase the wetlands. It has added and extended trails.

The preserve offers a rich diversity of plants and animals including black bears, bobcats, river otters and the Eastern massasauga rattlesnake. The snake, rarely seen, is 2 to 3 feet long. It is thick with a gray-colored body.

The preserve features plants and animals more typically found farther north in Canada. Most are at the southern edge of their ranges in North America.

The preserve, part of whatís called the Grand River Lowlands, features 115 species of birds, 24 species of fish, 28 species of reptiles and amphibians and 24 species of mammals. It is home to 60 rare plant species.

The snowshoe hare was reintroduced by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 2005. That effort is not doing well.

The preserve was opened to the public in 2006. Today there are now 2.75 miles of trails at Morgan Swamp and at the nearby Grand River Conservation Campus that houses the Nature Conservancy operations in northern Ohio.

Morgan Swamp features a 1.25-mile trail. The first quarter mile of that trail goes from the parking lot off Footville-Richmond Road (state Route 166) west of Rock Creek to a wooden deck.

It then becomes a more-primitive trail that drops by the edge of a beaver pond and climbs a short hill before cutting across a wooded plateau. It abruptly ends at a wetland called Long Pond with another observation deck. Then you must backtrack. It is mostly flat and is marked by red blazes painted on trees.

The Nature Conservancy obtained the 58-acre campus with two dozen buildings including two gymnasiums in 2011 from the Cleveland-based City Mission.

The facility, a onetime farm and later a hunting camp and lodge, includes a half-mile of frontage on the Grand River.

The City Mission had operated a Christian camp there starting in 1965. Prior to that, a Cleveland-based Jewish group also operated a camp on the site off Callender Road.

In 2009, the Nature Conservancy purchased 206 acres from the City Mission to add to Morgan Swamp.

On the conservation campus, there are three trails: the 0.2-mile Bliss Pond Trail with overlooks on the Grand River and an accessible fishing pier; the easy 0.3-mile Grand River Trail that connects the two other trails and runs along the river; and the moderate 1-mile Hemlock Swamp Trail. It starts near the river and winds through a unique hemlock-yellow birch forest and overlooks a beaver pond. The Hemlock Swamp Trail is the star and the trail worth hiking to get a glimpse of the interior of Morgan Swamp.

The Nature Conservancy-owned lands cover 70 percent of the remaining wetlands that once covered five square miles when the first settlers arrived.

The Ashtabula County wetlands were logged, drained, farmed and its peat was harvested and burned. But the wetlands have been largely untouched for the last 100 years and have recovered.

The wetlands are critical to the health of the Grand River that flows into Lake Erie.

A 56-mile stretch of the Grand River is part of Ohioís wild and scenic river system. It was designated in 1974. It is one of 16 Ohio rivers to be honored.

Today the greatest threats to Morgan Swamp are the destruction of nearby wetlands, logging within the Grand River watershed and invasive species, the Nature Conservancy says.

The conservancy has been working to fight those threats through wetland restoration, land acquisition and education.

Morgan Swamp and the conservation campus are open from dawn to dusk daily.

To get to Morgan Swamp from Akron, take state Route 8 north to I-271. Take that to I-90 and head toward Erie, Pa. Exit at state Route 534. Head south for seven miles. Turn left and head east on Footville-Richmond Road (state Route 166). Proceed for 3.4 miles. The parking lot for the Long Pond Trail is on the right.

To get to the conservation campus, head south from I-90 on state Route 534. Turn left and head east on Footville-Richmond Road (state Route 166) for two miles. Turn right and head south on Windsor-Mechanicsville Road for 1.8 miles. Turn left on Callender Road. Proceed to 3973 Callender Road on the left just before the bridge over the Grand River.

For information, call 614-717-2770 or go to www.nature.org/ohio/openpreserves. You can email ohio@tnc.org

 

 


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