Story and photos by Jane Beathard
Story by Jane Beathard
It’s full of big whitetails, raccoon, mink, coyote and a host of important (and in some cases endangered) wildlife.
The new Eagle Creek State Wildlife Area in southern Brown County is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.
“It’s a really cool property,” said Brett Beatty, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s management supervisor for southwest Ohio.
And in order to preserve its diverse and abundant wild creatures, the state is limiting hunting and trapping there — at least for this year.
Under a new rule approved by the Ohio Wildlife Council in early October, hunters and trappers will be required to obtain permits for the upcoming season through periodic drawings.
Anglers, wildlife watchers and hikers will not need permits to access the property.
In addition to its population of wildlife, the area has a colorful history, dating from pioneer times.
Native Americans once hunted and fished the four miles of Eagle Creek that meander through the property.
Picturesque stone walls shore up steep roadsides — evidence of the late 1800s when southern Ohio was de-forested and wood for fencing and embankments was unavailable.
A covered bridge, currently under reconstruction, shelters a remote access road.
More recently, tobacco fields thrived in the creek bottoms. Remnant tobacco barns from that time still stand in some places.
By the 1970s, dense woodlands again thrived on the rugged hillsides of Brown County, leading a man named Charles Perin to begin acquiring property in the neighborhood for recreation and conservation. In time, he owned about 3,000 acres.
“He aimed at eventually turning it over to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources,” Beatty said.
That opportunity eventually came to Perin’s family.
ODNR paid $4.1 million for 1,850 acres last year and plans to buy an additional 450 acres by the end of 2019, Beatty added.
Much of that money came from the state Wildlife Diversity ($2.4 million) and federal Land & Water Conservation funds ($700.000).
Sales of specialty conservation license plates, tax checkoff contributions and legacy stamps create the state’s diversity fund.
“Wildlife diversity money is for high-quality property like this,” said Kendra Wecker, state wildlife chief. “We saved that money for years to buy this. It is a dream property.”
The Ohio Department of Transportation added another $1 million to the purchase pot as remediation for Indiana and long-eared bat habitat destruction elsewhere. Both species are federally endangered. Eagle Creek is home to colonies of maternal bats, Beatty explained.
Wecker said ODNR began purchase negotiations about eight years ago.
Although portions were once leased to private hunting clubs, over the years only a few hunters and trappers actually roamed Perin’s land. That led to bigger and better deer, as well as healthy populations of wild turkey, squirrel and other small game.
“It’s a good area to grow deer,” Beatty said. “And that presents unique opportunities for hunters.”
Raccoon, mink and coyote flourish along Eagle Creek. And quality smallmouth bass and panfish swim in its fast-flowing waters.
“There’s no other stream with public access like it in the area,” Beatty noted.
Beatty said the new permit rule is designed to encourage novice outdoor enthusiasts, with extra consideration given to mentor hunters and trappers who are afield with their students.
“We want to leverage (mentor-mentee) activity,” he added.