Coyote Run Farm operates, essentially, as a privately owned ecological field station in the heart of a bustling suburb.
Owners David Hague and Tammy Miller have painstakingly tried to eliminate invasive plants and restore the terrain of the 800-plus-acre farmstead to its original pre-settlement state. The land runs from the east side of Hill Road South to east of Pickerington Road.
It's a never-ending task, the ultimate goal of which is to preserve the land for future generations. That's why Hague said he is overseeing numerous grant-assisted projects on the expansive property south of downtown Pickerington.
One of the projects is sponsored in part by the privately run Electric Power Research Initiative, known as EPRI, in which acreage is set aside for wetlands restoration.
Hague has 13 separate wetland areas under construction, turning a portion of his land from its former use as a farm field to wetlands.
The project is expected to last 10 to 15 years. Hague said the land is better suited to be wetlands.
"You try to cultivate it and it's really not the best use of the land," Hague said.
Coyote Run, located in both Pickerington and Violet Township, is part of the Ohio River watershed. Wetlands serve as sort of a natural "kidney," ensuring cleaner water drains into Sycamore Creek and so on down the waterways.
"Wetlands will improve water quality," Hague said. "They mitigate runoff in the Ohio River watershed.
"This will help provide a filter for the whole area. It's a debt we owe as citizens," he said.
Ray Stewart, director of the Ohio Wetlands Association, said the work being done at Coyote Run is "spectacular."
"He's going to restore the hydrology, plant trees and restore the natural habitat," Stewart said of Hague.
"The property is already teeming with excellent wetland plants and the things that want to be part of the wetland are coming in because of the hydrology," Stewart said.
In June, Stewart was at Coyote Run for the Bioblitz, a collective effort by naturalists to identify species on the property.
"There is so much diversity that we were finding," Stewart said.
"I want to come back next year and hit the woods. We basically just scratched the surface," he said.
Hague said more than 600 sightings and 350 different species were identified in the two-day Bioblitz.
"Both days were spent with teams of volunteers venturing out to various habitats across Coyote Run to document all manner of insects, fish, trees, birds, plants and amphibians," Hague said.
Another 4 acres of Coyote Run is dedicated to pollinators, insects such as honeybees and bumblebees that assist plants in reproduction.
"Their habitat is decreasing," Hague said. "We are pushing people to put in pollinator habitats."
The pollinator project is being completed with assistance from the Fairfield County Soil and Water District.
But it's the wooded area of Coyote Run that Hague said holds a special place in his heart. That's where one will find vernal pools, home to tiger salamanders.
"These wet areas in the forest hold water from late winter to early summer and are home to an amazing variety of animals," he said.
Preserving the forest is key to bio-diversity. There are essentially no old-growth forests in Ohio, he said. Settlers logged the woods and farmed the land.
"Fairfield County has no original growth forest left, so we want to restore as much as possible," Hague said.
Part of that process is removing invasive plants and trees that divert nutrients, he said.
Hague and Miller spend a great deal of their time eradicating from the property non-native plants such as honeysuckle.
"Invasives or 'unwanted species' of plants -- most state parks don't have time to remove those," Stewart said.
"Our state preserves, their budgets can barely keep them maintained. Thank goodness (Hague) has the ambition and resources to do it," Stewart said.
Hague and Miller also plan to plant 1,700 trees this year and another 1,400 trees next year as part of the EPRI project to help reduce runoff.
"I want to restore the area to what it was: half uplands and half wetlands," Hague said. "I just want to show that the highest, best use of land may not always be a shopping mall."
Stewart commended the efforts of Hague and Miller.
"To get the land back to its original terrain is a very noble goal," he said. "To see something like this done privately is an inspiration."