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November 2006
The Darby Plains

    When settlers arrived on the Ohio frontier, 95% of the land was forested. The other 5% was in a variety of landscapes including natural prairies, grasslands more characteristic of Midwestern plains states further west. When you drive Interstate 70 just west of Columbus, you’ll pass through some of that natural prairie land, though you probably won’t notice without knowing what to look for. Indeed, one Ohio guidebook proclaims that there is “nothing of interest” between Columbus and Springfield.

    “Nothing of interest,” indeed! It’s a region the Nature Conservancy has called one of the twelve “Last Great Places in the Western Hemisphere.” To find it, watch for the Interstate crossing two creeks: the Big Darby Creek and the Little Darby Creek. You’ll see signs identifying each as a “State and National Scenic River.” These two waterways help mark the Darby Watershed, an exceptionally diverse ecological environment.

    Settlers coming to Ohio found a natural landscape between the Darbys that was different than most other regions. Instead of trees and heavy underbrush, there was open prairie. This break in the forest and the abundant water attracted animals who came for food and water which, in turn, made these prime hunting grounds for Native Americans. The area is scattered with remains of Indian settlements and with Indian artifacts. The newly arriving settlers also prized the region for its abundant wildlife and rich soil.

    Even today, the Darby Watershed hosts an unusually diverse collection of plants and animals. Some of the plant species that grow here are quite rare, and the waters in the region have been identified as the healthiest and most diverse aquatic system of its size in the Midwest. One hundred three kinds of fish and 38 kinds of mollusks live in the waters of these creeks. Along the banks, rare plants grow, such as the flowing larkspur and the blazing star. And the area hosts a variety of animals including the tiger salamander, green heron, gray fox, Cooper's hawk, scarlet tanager, and ruby-throated hummingbird. If you drive this route from mid-July through August, you might see flowering prairie plants, such as the purple coneflower, the scarlet royal catchfly, brilliant yellow sunflowers and black-eyed susans. Later, in the fall, you might catch glimpses of flowering bluestem and Indian grasses.

    All this within a few miles of the urban center of Columbus.

    So even though the landscape between the Darbys might not look like much when you’re driving through, there’s more than meets the eye.

For more about the Darby Plains, see the CD for  I-70 West: Columbus, OH to Richmond, IN  or I-70 East: Richmond, IN to Columbus, OH.

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