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COLUMBUS, OH - The Oak Openings, a distinctive northwest Ohio prairie region created by Ice Age glaciers, harbors a wide range of endangered wildlife and plant species. Fortunately, a portion of this ecologically unique and sandy region is protected thanks to the contributions by Ohioans to the Natural Areas State Income Tax Check-off Program.

Two state nature preserves play an important role in preserving this unique habitat, located primarily in southwest Lucas County, the 226-acre Irwin Prairie and the 210-acre Louis Campbell Preserve.

The region's unusual blend of sand and clay soils can be attributed to the great glacial lake that covered the area about 10,000 years ago. As the glacier melted and the lake's water retreated northward, it left deposits of sand 5 to 15 feet deep over the underlying clay. Where the sand was thin, the soil was left low and swampy. Where the sand was thick, the soil became dry and acidic. Today, more than 1,000 species of plants are growing in the Oak Openings region.

Irwin Prairie, a wet prairie in Spencer Township dominated by sedges and grasses, is an excellent habitat for observing migrating songbirds and waterfowl and a mosaic of plant communities. Tall grass prairie plants like big bluestem and spiked blazing star; sedge meadow plants like twig-rush, slender sedge grass and northern reed-grass, all can be found here.

The preserve hosts more than two-dozen plants on the state's list of rare and threatened species, including red baneberry, fringed gentian, Great Lakes goldenrod, prairie rattlesnake root and grass-leaf arrowhead. State-listed animals include the sedge wren, least bittern and a number of rare turtles and butterflies, such as the purplish copper butterfly.

These natural attractions at Irwin Prairie are more accessible to the public today thanks to an observation tower and boardwalk built with donations to the Natural Areas State Income Tax Check-off Program.

Louis Campbell State Nature Preserve in Lucas County's Springfield Township contains many rare, endangered and threatened plant species. A combination of sandy and marshy habitat allows 47 rare plants and animals to flourish in the preserve. Spathulate-leaved sundew, grass-pink orchid, twisted yellow-eyed grass and mountain phlox are among the endangered plants thriving here.

Donations to the check-off program were used to purchase more than half of Louis Campbell State Nature Preserve. This preserve was once only open for visitation by permit, however, because of recent site improvements funded by check-off donations, it is now open daily.

Helping to protect Ohio's special places, such as the Oak Openings, is easy. A simple checkmark on line 18B (1040-EZ) or line 25B (1040) of the state income tax return form can help ensure the future of Ohio's rich natural heritage.

Those who are not eligible to receive a refund may send a check to the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves at 2045 Morse Road, Building C-3, Columbus, Ohio 43229-6693.

Another way to support Ohio's state nature preserve system is through the purchase of the new Nature Preserves conservation license plate. Plates may be purchased through a local registrar, online at or by calling 1-888-PLATES3.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR web site at

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