Land Conservancy Opens Historic Preserve in Oberlin for Public Enjoyment

Prairie teems with wildflowers and wildlife, was once a stop along the Underground Railroad

Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Ohio’s largest land trust, is pleased to announce the opening of a new preserve in Lorain County, the Oberlin Preserve. As part of our #GetOutsideOhio campaign – an effort to increase available outdoor spaces for the public to enjoy during the global pandemic and beyond – opening the Oberlin Preserve for public access will offer tremendous health and social benefits to the local community and visitors alike.

In October 2015, Western Reserve Land Conservancy acquired this 63-acre property on the southern edge of the City of Oberlin in Lorain County. This property is part of what is considered the Oberlin Great South Woods. The site is on the south side of Hamilton Road, west of the Oberlin Ball Fields and the Lorain County Metro Parks-operated Splash Zone. The site is historically significant, having been a stop on the Underground Railroad and once owned by the family of John A. Copeland, Jr.

Copeland was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, to freed African American parents. In 1843 when he was a child, his family moved north to avoid racial persecution and settled in Oberlin. He later briefly attended Oberlin College. Copeland became involved in abolitionist and antislavery activities, and participated in the successful Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. Copeland also joined the raid on Harpers Ferry, was captured, convicted of murder and conspiracy to incite slaves to rebellion, and hanged on December 16, 1859. On his way to the gallows he reportedly said the now-famously inspirational phrase: “If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause. I had rather die than be a slave.”

“Oberlin Preserve offers so much to the people of Oberlin and northern Ohio,” said Andy McDowell, vice president of western field operations at Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “Its rich history, beautiful prairie, and diverse flora and fauna make this an ideal location in Lorain County. We are proud to have played an important role in making this property open for the public to enjoy.”

With few prairie areas in the region, the property provides a special glimpse at native grasses, forbs, shrubs, and pollinators. Since its initial restoration planting, nearly 600 native wildflower plants, more than 50 native trees, and 30 acres of prairie seed have been successfully planted by corporate and community volunteers, as well as students at Oberlin College. The pollinator movement has gained such traction within the community that Oberlin received city-wide designation as a Monarch City USA in 2019.

The Oberlin Preserve also includes additional habitat types, such as fields, woodlands, wet sedge meadow, forested wetland vernal pools, and wet drainage channels. These habitats provide shelter, food and nesting areas for birds, amphibians, small and large mammals and other wildlife. The site has been host to scientific research and biology surveys as far back as 1888, according to records at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Oberlin Preserve offers so much to the people of Oberlin and northern Ohio. Its rich history, beautiful prairie, and diverse flora and fauna make this an ideal location in Lorain County. We are proud to have played an important role in making this property open for the public to enjoy.

-Andy McDowell, vice president of western field operations

The preservation of this property as a natural area will benefit the public forever by providing scenic greenspace, areas for groundwater recharge and flood mitigation, diverse habitat for plants and wildlife, and an area for passive recreation and education. This property sits at the head of a tributary that flows into Plum Creek and eventually into the Black River. Visitors have the opportunity to see woodcocks and other ground nesting birds in the spring, as well as bluebird boxes and migratory warblers stopping over before continuing on their journey.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy values the power of partnerships and recognizes that conserving land now and for future generations would not be possible without collaboration with many local groups. For the Oberlin Preserve, the Land Conservancy was proud to partner with Black River Audubon; the Oberlin College’s Green Edge Fund, Track Team, Bonner Center for Service and Learning, Environmental Studies and Grounds Department; US Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program; John Blakeman, Ohio Prairie Association; Girl Scout Troop # 50431 Oberlin; Oberlin Heritage Center; Ohio Ornithological Society; City of Oberlin; Oberlin African American Genealogy and History Group; Kendal at Oberlin; Rotary Club of Oberlin; Nordson Corporation Volunteers; Oberlin High School; Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and many other partners in conservation.

As part of the #GetOutsideOhio campaign, Western Reserve Land Conservancy will continue to promote fun and exciting outdoor adventures for kids and parents alike. From virtual bird watching tours to scavenger hunts and coloring books, the campaign is designed to engage visitors, educate the public and encourage people to celebrate the beauty and wonder of our region during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

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