Location: About 15 miles west of Portsmouth, north and south of State Rte. 125 in Scioto County and Adams County.
GPS: 38.739796N 83.203458W (Shawnee State Park Lodge)
The 63,000-acre Shawnee State Forest in Scioto and Adams Counties is the largest of Ohio’s twenty state forests. Bobcats, black bears, and timber rattlesnakes live here, though your chances of encountering one of these elusive critters are slim. When mist lies in the hollows of these remote hills, Shawnee State Forest earns its nickname as the “Little Smokies of Ohio.” Shawnee has a 60-mile backpack trail, more than 75 miles of other foot trails, over 100 miles of paved and graded dirt roads, and an 8,000-acre wilderness area. It’s a great place to visit in late April, when there are dozens of kinds of wildflowers in bloom and many songbird species migrate through the forest en route to their northern nesting grounds.
By far the best way to experience spring in Shawnee State Forest is to participate in Flora-Quest, a three-day event based at the lodge in Shawnee State Park during the last weekend of April each year. During Flora-Quest, scheduled for April 29 to May 1, 2011, more than twenty expert naturalists lead hikes into the forest to observe wildflowers, migrating birds, butterflies, and other denizens of the forest. I had the pleasure of conducting a photo workshop and serving as a keynote speaker at Flora-Quest in April 2009, and I heartily recommend the event as a wonderful way to meet interesting people and learn more about the flora and fauna of this extensive area. The Edge of Appalachia Preserve is nearby, and staff and visiting naturalists from Adams County conduct walks in this area during Flora-Quest. For more information, visit the Flora-Quest website: www.flora-quest.com
Shawnee State Park and Forest is a great place to photograph spring wildflowers. One of my favorites is the Dwarf-crested Iris (Iris cristata), which blooms in large groups along the shady edges of many of the dirt roads in the forest. The blue sepals of this 6-9 inch plant are marked with a yellow raised crest with white borders. Another species, the Vernal Iris (Iris verna), which is much less common, has sepals without crests and narrower leaves. A cloudy day is needed to photograph wildflower groups like the irises shown above; sunny skies create black shadows and burned-out highlights, as well as complex patterns of shadows that are visually unattractive.
Another of my favorite Shawnee wildflowers is the beautiful Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata), shown in the photo below, which favors rocky areas along the dirt roads, mostly in southern areas of the forest. The bicolored variety that grows at Shawnee has two upper petals that are deep purple, and three lower petals that are a lighter lilac. The flower gets its name from the shape of the basal leaves.
West of Shawnee State Forest, in Adams County, the sprawling Edge of Appalachia preserves are home to an equally diverse population of wildflowers. The more alkaline soil associated with the limestone rock which occurs in this area produces a spectacular display of woodland wildflowers, including the beautiful Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne), shown below, which covers the wooded hillsides and roadsides in mid-April.
In addition to the superb wildflowers displays, many butterflies can be seen in this area, especially later in the summer, and dozens of species of wood warblers, flycatchers, tanagers, and other songbirds fill the woodlands during April and early May, making Shawnee State Forest and the Edge of Appalachia a “must visit” place for Ohio nature photographers.