Friday, July 4, 2014

Calamus Swamp

This past Thursday I visited nearby Calamus Swamp in Pickaway County. Calamus Swamp is a private preserve owned by the Columbus Audubon Society only a couple miles from Circleville. While it is privately owned, it is open to the public, although most people do not even know it exists. This post will give a broad overview of the park for any interested in visiting.

When you first arrive at the park (I'll give directions at the end of this post), you are greeted by a small prairie filled with all sorts of goodies. Wild White Indigo, Purple Coneflower, Butterflyweed, Wild Bergamot, Prairie Dock, Black-Eyed Susan, assorted grasses, and more are all around. If you're interested in plants, please check out my post on some of the plants from Calamus Swamp. The trailhead is at the edge of the prairie by the parking lot. The trail itself splits halfway through the prairie to offer a loop around the park.

Kettle Lake Ohio
The main feature for Calamus Swamp is a 19 acre kettle lake formed during the end of the last ice age. The geological history of a kettle lake is very interesting. As you probably know, much of Ohio was covered by glaciers during the Wisconsin Glacial Episode, which ended 11,000 years ago. As this glacier receded, large blocks of ice would break off and be left behind. These huge ice blocks would create depressions in the land and then would get covered by outwash debris from the melting glacier. Eventually, this ice block would melt and the debris would fall in the depression. Many times this depression would fill with water, creating a kettle lake. This is what happened in the photo above. Over the next 11,000 years the lake has slowly filled in with vegetation and soil, shrinking in size. This brings us to its present state. Eventually, it will fill in enough to become a bog, and then completely fill in and a forest will take over. As you can see above, Calamus Swamp is currently filled with aquatic vegetation and doesn't overly have open water.

Calamus Swamp
The main trail leads around the kettle lake, and much of the trail is actually boardwalk that winds over water or very squishy mud. Occasionally the trails are flooded and impassable, so be aware of that possibility if you go after a lot of rain. There's a mix of swamp and more marsh-like habitats at Calamus Swamp. You can see part of the swamp area in the photo above. Swamps are wetlands that are dominated by trees. On the other hand, marshes are wetlands that are dominated by reeds and grasses.

Calamus Swamp

The boardwalk takes you through the swamp areas and also through the marsh areas, like the one above. Buttonbush and Burr Reed dominate much of the water. Bladderworts, a type of carnivorous plant, also occupy the water. Many animal species of note have been recorded here as well. Ohio Fairy Shrimp, an uncommon freshwater shrimp, can be found here. Tiger Salamanders also make their home here. Soras are relatively common here, and the more uncommon King Rail and the rare Yellow Rail have both been recorded here. Least Bitterns, Common Moorhens, and other waterbirds have been recorded here as well. Occasionally ducks will make an appearance, as well as the odd Double-Crested Cormorant. Prothonotary Warblers can occasionally be found here too. Rusty Blackbirds are almost a guaranteed sighting if you go during migration. At least eight species of frogs and toads have been recorded here as well, along with over fifty species of butterflies and skippers.

Here's another, higher, view of the kettle lake. Trust me, there's water out there. Also something to note: as one might expect, the bugs can get pretty bad here. Mosquitoes are plentiful, and so are biting flies. Be prepared to get bit, and also be prepared to get muddy.

Part of the trail follows the old Cincinnati-Muskingum Railway, which has long since been abandoned. The photo above shows the old railway, although the only evidence of it is some leftover coal along the sides of the trail. The abandoned railway from Circleville to New Holland (a total of sixteen miles) is now owned by the Pickaway County Park District. The end goal is to make it into a paved hiking/biking trail, but this will take years to finish due to money shortages. However, part of the Pickaway Trail is currently complete. You can hike from Calamus Swamp to the nearby Canal Park. The Canal Park features hiking trails along the towpath of the old Ohio-Erie Canal along the Scioto River, as well as a few other trails and Scioto River access. If you're in the area, it's definitely worth checking out for the history and the sights.

Now for some information about parking and so on. There is no sign for this preserve, so it takes eyes to not pass it the first time you go. The red arrow above points to the parking lot. The park is along SR 104, off of 22. The parking lot is a simple gravel parking lot, so keep your eyes peeled for it. The blue outlines the part itself. The yellow arrow shows the new Pickaway Trail that leads to the Canal Park. The distance between the two parks is about 1.5 miles each way. There are two actual trails at Calamus Swamp itself. The main trail is a loop which starts at the parking lot and goes around the lake and back. The second trail is an extension on the loop, which can be very helpful if this one section of the trail that lacks a boardwalk is flooded or too muddy to pass (as can happen many times).

Calamus Swamp Parking Lot
Here's a shot of the parking lot. As you can see there's no sign, and nothing really that screams "I'm a park." More information about the park can be found at the Columbus Audubon's page on it located here. The park is open 24/7, and no permits are required. Please treat the unique and important area well; it is one of the remaining pristine kettle lakes in the region.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. We moved to the area 2 yrs ago just down the road off Rt 104 and always wondered what was located there. All we saw was the lot and part of a boardwalk. We stopped yesterday and walked the trail. We were hesitant to walk what looked like an old RR track area but now that we see this map we know we can continue walking to Canal Park. Great blog. Thank you

    1. I'm glad to hear you check it out! It's a great, but relatively unknown, park.