Castalia Prairie, at Resthaven Wildlife Area, is among the finest tallgrass prairies in Ohio. Portions may never have been plowed. It has numerous rare prairie species, including Showy White Ladies’ Slipper Orchid, in bloom in May.
Castalia Prairie, at Resthaven Wildlife Area
Straddling Northwest Rd, the border between Sandusky and Erie Counties, the larger pristine portion of this great prairie at on the east side of the road, which is the western border of the Connecticut Western Reserve. It is a portion of the original Castalia Prairie Region (Prairie Regions of Ohio)
The Castalia Prairie is owned and managed by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, on its Resthaven Wildlife Area.
The Castalia Prairie at Resthaven Wildlife Area is a remnant of a large, unique presettlement area along the shore of Sandusky Bay. Alkaline groundwater arises in the area, depositing marl and tuffa, pure calcium carbonate minerals. Much of the area was mined for marl and tuffa in the first half of the 19th century. But because certain portions of the region had large buried boulders of tuffa rock, plowing was difficult or impossible with early plowing machinery. Much or most of the Castalia Prairie has probably never been plowed, or if so, at a shallow depth, and not for lengthy periods. Aerial photos from the 1930s indicate that the Castalia Prairie was unplowed pasture at the time.
In the early 1940s, when commercial surface mining of marl and tuffa ceased, the area was purchased by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, one of Ohio’s first wildlife areas.
Until the Division of Wildlife’s purchase of the area, the prairies were commonly set afire each spring by locals, to control brush invasion and maintain open prairie pasture.
But fires ceased in the 1950s and 60s, allowing native dogwood brush to overtake large areas of formerly pristine tallgrass prairie. Fortunately, a local site manager undertook an extensive brush removal program in the 1960s. In the late 1960s some of Ohio’s first prescribed fires on a prairie were set by the manager. A few years of these spring fires restored the native tallgrass prairie species.
In the 1980s, spring fires were only intermittently set. Consequently, dogwood invasion brush continues to be a problem.
Nonetheless, elements of the original pristine tallgrass prairie remain. Re-institution of annual or biennial spring fires would restore the prairie.
The Resthaven Wildlife area is about 2200 acres, with prairie communities and remnants scattered throughout. But about 60 acres, at the site indicated on the map, is one of the finest prairie areas in Ohio and the Midwest.
The prairie along Northwest Road, indicated on the map, may be Ohio’s finest prairie remnant, with large numbers of common and rare prairie species of forbs (prairie wildflowers), grasses, and sedges.
The quality of the Castalia Prairie each growing season depends upon the frequency of recent prescribed fires. After a good spring burn, the Castalia Prairie is plainly stunning, in both in size a floral magnitude.
The site is the host of a number of state-listed rare and endangered species, the most significant of which is Showy White Ladies’ Slipper Orchid, an exceptionally rare, endangered prairie orchid, in profuse bloom in May fallowing a spring burn.
Visitors to the Castalia Prairie should be aware of several visitation concerns. There are no off-road parking spaces along Northwest Road. Visitors must carefully pull off the county road onto the road berm.
During hunting seasons, particularly in November, hunters many be discharging firearms on the site, which is appropriate as it is a public hunting area.
Collecting of seeds or plants from the site is strictly prohibited.
A map of the area can be viewed and downloaded here: