Liberty Township trustees approved a reforestation project for Smith Preserve last week.

Liberty Township trustees approved a reforestation project for Smith Preserve last week.

The project will go to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval before moving forward.

The 40-acre preserve is between the Olentangy River and Taggart Road, south of Hyatts Road. The land was donated to the township by Planned Communities as part of the Olentangy Falls subdivision.

NiSource, the parent company of Columbia Gas, will pay for the planting of 15,000 native-species trees in the preserve, said Dave Anderson, township administrator.

NiSource is working with Preservation Parks of Delaware County, which will plant and monitor the trees.

"Historically, it's been an agricultural field," said Frank DiMarco, Preservation Parks wetland mitigation coordinator.

Twenty-four of the 40 acres will be reforested, DiMarco said. Eight acres in a flood plain will be planted with trees that can tolerate wet areas, such as sycamores, swamp white oaks and silver maples. The other 16 acres will be planted with deciduous trees such as red oaks, sugar maples and tulip poplars.

The restoration will create a buffer from human activity for plant and animal life, DiMarco said, adding that the area contains a great blue heron rookery, elktoe mussels and wavy-rayed lampmussels.

When the trees in the flood plain area mature, they'll slow flooding water, allowing sediment to settle instead of continuing downstream, DiMarco said.

Township trustee Curt Sybert said he was on the zoning commission when the Olentangy Falls subdivision was being approved. The developer agreed to keep housing construction out of what would become Smith Preserve.

"The particular property is unique and an asset the township would like to keep as pristine as possible. By accepting this great gift of plantings from our friends at Preservation Parks, we are able to ensure that this river valley will remain protected for many years to come," he said.