Coyote Run: Couple seek to make Pickerington property a nature preserve for 500 years

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Tammy Miller and David Hague examine a salamander trap in one of the vernal pools on their Coyote Run property in Pickerington on March 10. Hague was doing an informal study of the mole salamanders.

For David Hague and his longtime girlfriend, Tammy Miller, the idea of preserving the natural world and restoring as much as possible to its original state is a big deal. 

Since 2006, when they bought 56 acres at 9270 Pickerington Road in Pickerington, they have tried to preserve the natural landscape. 

“The reason we do it is to give back to nature since nature has been taking a beating from humans for a long time,” Hague said.  

Over the years, they’ve purchased additional land adjacent to their original property, and they now own approximately 920 acres set partially in the city of Pickerington and partially in Violet Township, bordered by Pickerington, Allen and Busey roads.   

They’ve dubbed it Coyote Run, in part because a pair of coyotes had howled in the distance one night while Hague and Miller were discussing what they should call their property. 

Hague purchased the Coyote Run after retiring and selling his family's Groveport-based water-softening equipment-sales business. He and Miller moved to the Pickerington area after previously living in Blacklick.  

He's maintained roughly half of the 920 acres at Coyote Run as farmland to help pay property taxes.

Hague now works full time to remove such invasive plant species as honeysuckle, Osage orange and garlic mustard that otherwise would choke out trees and other flora native to Ohio and destroy habitat for native wildlife, including various species of birds and amphibians. He's joined in the effort by Miller, who still works as a data-warehouse developer in the hospital industry. 

They have planted approximately 7,000 trees in hopes of connecting the forests in the various parts of the property and returning the grounds to their natural state. 

“There’s some quality parts of this, and a lot of this property can get to a quality environment if you take care of it,” Hauge said.  

The couple’s long-range goal is to hold onto the property for the remainder of their lives and to take measures to protect it for the next 500 years.   

“We want it to be intact,” Hague said. “We bought this so it wouldn’t get developed. That’s the enemy to a natural environment. 

“There’s room for development. We all need it but maybe not so much as we have. We’re all part of that problem.” 

While Hague credits family vacations to national parks when he was younger for driving his interest in environmentalism, Miller said the first purchase of what would become Coyote Run is what has changed her life. 

“Right after buying the first 56 acres in Pickerington, we planted hundreds of 12-inch oak seedlings,” Miller said. “However, the following summer was very dry, and most did not survive.   

“That experience transformed me from a clueless happy hiker who just liked the shade of the trees to a forest advocate with a deep appreciation for time and conditions needed to grow a big tree. Now I actually prefer to spend the day clearing honeysuckle and barberry in the majestic woods of Coyote Run here in Pickerington than hiking down in Hocking Hills.” 

Miller said living at Coyote Run has helped her gain appreciation for a slower pace of life, unlike her data-warehouse job. 

Two Jefferson mole salamanders are among many that live on the Coyote Run property.

“It lets me see so many amazing things, from surprisingly cool slime molds and mushrooms to watching a coyote catch his breakfast,” she said. “Plus each spring, I get the neat chance to feel the heartbeat of a tiny salamander in the palm of my hand.   

“I hope others can experience and love Coyote Run like I do so we can all save it.” 

Just how they’ll preserve the land, particularly for 500 years, the couple haven’t entirely figured out. For several years, they have teamed with university groups in Ohio to enable researchers and students to learn more about the property’s plant and wildlife and to spread awareness about preserving nature. 

Hague and Miller are in the process of donating an old farmhouse on the grounds to the Fairfield County Park District, which will use it as an office. They also have held several nature education programs with the parks district, the Ohio Wetlands Association, various mothing groups and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

Kimber Caito, a media coordinator for the Fairfield County Park District, said the timeline for the agency to accept the house donation hasn’t been completed, and she said officials hope to resume programming at the property.  

“Normally, we would be having programs at the property by now, but with the pandemic ..., we do not have even those to talk about,” Caito said. “It will be exciting when we can start planning events held in conjunction with Coyote Run.” 

Rick Gardner, chief botanist for the ODNR’s Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, said he’s been working with Hague and Miller since they purchased the original 56 acres of Coyote Run.

Initially, he said, Hague wanted to learn more about invasive plant species so he could rid them from the property. 

“(Hague) was very eager to learn how to better manage the property,” Gardner said. “It’s amazing the work they’ve done there. They’ve protected some really high-quality maple, ash and oak woodland and vernal pools that have frogs and salamanders mating there.” 

Gardner said ODNR officials have been so impressed and see Coyote Run as such a valuable piece of green space that they’re in the final stages of designating about 200 acres of it as Ohio’s 140th state nature preserve. 

Such a designation is “the highest protection a portion of land can have, per state law,” he said. 

According to the ODNR website, state nature preserves are protected by the state because they contain remnants of Ohio’s pre-settlement past, rare and endangered species and “wondrous geologic features.” 

Having a portion of Coyote Run designated as a state nature preserve would go a long way toward the ongoing protection of the land, Gardner said. 

“As the landscape changes and you have climate change, the available habitat for plants and animals is shrinking all the time,” he said. “Having a large piece of green space is so critical for these plants and animals to survive. 

“(Coyote Run) certainly provides an anchor of green space in a metropolitan area."  

In addition to restoring the forests at Coyote Run, Hague and Miller have sought to protect approximately 20 vernal pools on the property and are looking into the possible restoration of several that have been planted over. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, vernal pools are seasonal depressional wetlands that are covered by shallow water for variable periods from winter to spring but could be completely dry for most of the summer and fall. 

“The unique environment of vernal pools provides habitat for numerous rare plants and animals that are able to survive and thrive in these harsh conditions,” the EPA’s website states. “Many of these plants and animals spend the dry season as seeds, eggs or cysts, and then grow and reproduce when the ponds are filled with water. In addition, birds such as egrets, ducks and hawks use vernal pools as a seasonal source of food and water.” 

Hague said some people might see his plan as an impediment to progress. 

“For some people, it probably wouldn’t matter,” he said. “‘Pave it all because I want a job.’ However, this has sufficient size to protect the watershed. Everybody needs water.” 

As part of their work, Hague and Miller are trying to protect various life forms, including macroinvertebrates – animals lacking a backbone – that live at the bottom of vernal pools and other bodies of water at Coyote Run.    

“We don’t have to colonize every square foot of Ohio,” Hague said. “Just save 10%. That’s our small effort. Likewise, if there are other landowners who have a quarter-acre or 4,000 acres, maybe other people will be inspired to do the same thing. Even someone’s yard – you can do some things to help restore things. Why not do it?” 

David Hague points out some of the repairs made to the tabernacle on his Coyote Run property in Pickerington on March 10.

To help promote their cause and host environmental-education and research events at Coyote Run, Hague and Miller renovated the tabernacle, a church built on the grounds in 1889 that also housed horse stalls and several offices. 

In addition to restroom facilities and gathering space, the tabernacle features a number of handcrafted pieces of furniture created from the wood of invasive trees that have been cut down. 

The furniture – stools, tables, a portable bar and more – were crafted by Hague’s friends, Kevin Blackstone of Pickerington and Mike Bluemel of Hilliard. 

The two began learning how to make furniture to outfit the tabernacle and to find uses for the felled trees. 

“We call ourselves ‘Black and Blue Construction’ because of our names and because we really don’t know what we’re doing,” Blackstone said. “(Mike) had to get stitches one time. We could come out black and blue by the time we get done.” 

Kevin Blackstone with Black and Blue Construction cuts a piece of Osage orange wood that was harvested from the Coyote Run property. Osage orange trees are considered an invasive species so they are being removed from the property and being used to make furniture for the tabernacle.

Hague said he and Miller are exploring ways they might structure a nonprofit organization around Coyote Run so they potentially could raise money for its preservation or for other environmental causes.

It’s all part of the dream to return Coyote Run back to its natural ecosystem – or as close to it as possible – and to ensure others will pick up the baton and help protect the property long after the couple are gone. 

“Before we came here as people, it was all forested,” Hague said. “That, to me, is reason enough that it should be allowed to re-create. Some of it is, we’ve interrupted the flow. Let’s just take a small part and put it back.”

For more information about Coyote Run, go to the couple's Facebook page at facebook.com/CoyoteRunOhio/.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate