Picture Ohio! – Castalia Quarry Metropark, Erie County

Quarry Walls, Castalia Quarry Metropark, Erie County
Quarry Walls, Castalia Quarry Metropark, Erie County

One of Ohio’s most unusual nature preserves is a large, abandoned limestone quarry south of Sandusky near the town of Castalia in northwest Ohio.  The limestone rock formations that underlie this area were formed during the Devonian Period, about 380 million years ago. Sediments settled to the bottom of the shallow sea that covered northwest Ohio, and over a long period the sediments, composed of the shells of tiny sea creatures, were compressed into layers of limestone rock. The top layer, Columbus limestone, is around 50 feet thick and contains many fossils, including horn corals, brachiopods, and crinoids. Below the Columbus limestone is a layer of Dolomite limestone. High-grade limestone has been quarried in this area since the early 1800s, for use as a building stone as well as for aggregate used in highway construction. The 110-acre Castalia Quarry  was deeded by its owner, the Wagner Quarry Company, to Erie Metroparks in 1987, and is now managed as Castalia Quarry Metropark.

The parking area for Castalia Quarry Metropark is on the north side of State Route 101, 1.6 miles west of Castalia and 10 miles southwest of Sandusky. The GPS coordinates are 41.39125N 82.829781W. The main quarry, which is open to the public daily from 8 am to dusk, is on the south side of State Route 101. About 2.5 miles of trails have been established in the quarry, including the 1.8 mile Quarry Rim Trail along the edge of the cliffs that surround the quarry. Surprisingly, there are few views of the quarry from this trail, which for the most part stays well back from the edge of the 50-60 foot limestone walls. If you hike the trail in a clockwise direction, in about 1/2-mile you will reach the wooden Wagner Quarries Company Observation Platform, which includes a powerful binocular viewer that, on a clear day, allows you to see Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, 18.5 miles away as the crow flies. By all means take a snapshot or two of the platform view, but to my eye most of the best photo opportunities are down on the terraces or floor of the quarry.

Lower South Rim, Castalia Quarry Metropark
Lower South Rim, Castalia Quarry Metropark

About halfway around the Quarry Rim Trail, heading in a clockwise direction, the trail heads west a short distance then turns north, with the rim of the quarry on your right. You can walk out onto a terrace, which includes a permanent pond and a line of cliffs stretching east-west, shown in the photograph above.

Pond on South Terrace, Castalia Quarry Metropark
Pond below South Terrace, Castalia Quarry Metropark

Another permanent pond lies just north of the south terrace cliffs. When I visited in mid-September, many dragonflies and damselflies were patrolling the edges of the pond.

Rock Pile, Castalia Quarry Metropark

Scattered in the main quarry, especially in the southern section, are several piles of limestone boulders, which make interesting foregrounds for wide-angle views of the quarry floor.

Chinquapin Oak Leaves, Castalia Quarry Metropark
Chinquapin Oak Leaves, Castalia Quarry Metropark

Eighty-eight species of trees, shrubs and vines are listed in the Management Plan prepared for Castalia Quarry Metropark. I believe the leaves shown in the photo above are Chinquapin Oak.

Quarry Floor, Castalia Quarry Metropark
Quarry Floor, Castalia Quarry Metropark

The floor of the quarry is remarkably flat, mostly bedrock and patches of shallow gravel and soil. Goldenrod was blooming everywhere during my mid-September visit. More than 240 species of native plants grow in the quarry. Fifty species of butterflies and more than 100 kinds of birds have been observed here.

Old Limestone Processing Equipment, Castalia Quarry Metropark
Old Limestone Processing Equipment, Castalia Quarry Metropark

A few items of old quarrying machinery can be found in the main quarry. The photo above shows two halves of a machine in the northwest section of the quarry that was probably used for crushing or grading limestone.

Finally, anyone interested in Ohio’s geology should obtain a copy of Roadside Geology of Ohio (Roadside Geology Series), by Mark J. Camp, Mountain Press (2006). This  well-illustrated book provides more than 400 pages of detailed information on Ohio’s rocks and ancient landscapes, as well as accounts and old photographs of the oil, gas, mining and quarrying industries that have tapped these underground natural resources.

Next time you are in the Sandusky Bay area, with good weather and a few hours to spare, take a journey into Ohio’s geological past at Castalia Quarry Metropark. For more information, visit the Erie Metroparks website at: www.eriemetroparks.com

 

 

 

 

 

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