Building deep roots at the corner of Mumaugh and Reservoir
According to experts, it takes at least three growing seasons for a prairie to really begin to come into its own. In only its second season, the 19-acre site at The Ohio State University at Lima already has blooms popping up and deep roots that come from more than just the plants.
The prairie restoration project began as a tribute to Jay Smith’s son Samuel, who attended classes at Ohio State Lima before heading off to the United States Air Force Academy. Jay Smith collected the seeds from other northwest Ohio prairie remnants for the two-acre plot and has been coaxing it to life for several years.
“We lost Sam five years ago to cancer just as he was finishing his helicopter pilot training,” Smith said. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat if my grandkids could come out to some place and see a planting, something that will be here for years and years to come, and we can relate to them that those two acres were done in Uncle Sam’s memory.’ It has been a joy for me, kind of a labor of love to do that. It is really exciting to see plants blooming.”
In addition to the front two acres at the corner of Mumaugh and Reservoir roads, Smith has been acting as something of a prairie consultant for the other 17 acres of the prairie, working with Dr. Jackie Augustine, associate professor of biology, to bring it to life. He has been developing prairies across the county for more than 30 years.
“Prairie is a very unique and endangered ecosystem, not just in the United States, but worldwide. The tall grass prairie was the largest continuous ecosystem in America at the time of settlement,” Smith said. “Stretching from Illinois to the Rocky Mountains, from Texas on into Canada. It was practically unbroken tall grass and short grass prairie. We had remnants in this area called the prairie peninsula – little pockets of actual prairie that existed in the eastern deciduous forests.”
Smith was on campus for the dedication of an educational sign in the prairie from the Tri-Moraine Audubon Society that describes the restoration process and identifies important prairie plants and animals.
“Throughout our existence as Tri-Moraine Audubon Society, Ohio State faculty have been an active part of our organization, so we are excited to give back to the Ohio State Lima campus through the Ellen and Jim Wright Memorial Fund,” said Tri-Moraine President Cheryl Erwin.
According to son Dan, Jim Wright was a frequent visitor to campus during his retirement.
“My dad in his retirement, in addition to golf and tennis, started collecting aluminum cans. He’d sell them for scrap and donate the money to the Audubon Society,” Wright said. Ohio State was one of the institutions on his regular recycling route.
One of Samuel Smith’s Ohio State professors also attended the dedication and remembered him fondly. “He was such a great kid,” said Dr. Sabine Jeschonnek, professor of physics. “I really enjoyed having him in class.”
According to the elder Smith, Samuel’s experience at Ohio State Lima served him well as he worked his way through the academy.
“We went down on a parents’ weekend, sat in on his physics class. They ran it as a typical class. The instructor threw out questions. Sam answered one. He threw out another and the class starts looking at Sam. He answers another one,” Smith said. “We’re down the line and I thought, ‘It’s that physics class at Ohio State that prepared him so well.’ ”
Photos of what we've seen on the prairie summer 2018 (clockwise from top left): milkweed, cattails, butterflyweed, black-eyed Susan, the Wright family, Indian blanket flowers.