- Associated Press - Sunday, June 14, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The lowering of central Ohio’s Buckeye Lake while the state makes plans to replace the deteriorated dam might end up benefiting an unusual nature preserve in the water.

Amid all sorts of concerns about potential economic and environmental effects, there is hope that Cranberry Bog could be a patch of positivity.

The fragile, 10-acre bog has been shrinking for decades as surrounding water and waves encourage natural decomposition of the sponge-like island, which is based on sphagnum moss that makes the area very acidic. The lowered water level and less lake activity could lessen such deterioration and enable acidity that helps the bog thrive, perhaps buying it a bit more time, said Jeff Johnson, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ statewide coordinator for natural areas and preserves.

A few people have suggested lower water could hurt the bog, but the department hasn’t seen detrimental effects so far, he said.

“We’re going to keep an eye on it and see what happens,” Johnson said. “We’ll have a better idea of how things look come August or so, after we get through kind of the big flush of flowers.”

He said the department will monitor plant growth and other indicators to gauge the impact but remains optimistic that the effects will be beneficial.

But there are downsides, too. The local historical society’s boat tours of the restricted-access bog and the surrounding lake had to be canceled because of the lower water, eliminating a significant source of funding for the organization. An annual event that draws hundreds of visitors to the preserve also was scrapped.

“The low water levels have caused a lot of problems here, so we’re all trying to adjust,” J-me Braig, who runs the Greater Buckeye Lake Historical Society, tells callers on its recorded message.

The island, a dwindling remnant of glacial movement thousands of years ago, developed unusually in a swamp. When the earthen dam was completed in the 1830s to create a reservoir feeding part of the canal system, the water destroyed much of the swamp, but a chunk of the bog mat rose with it and expanded. That left the lake surrounding the bog - the opposite of what usually happens.

The bog, which is several hundred feet from the lake’s northern edge, also is noted for having some carnivorous plants, several types of orchids and, of course, cranberries.

It’s owned by the state but was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1968, and the National Park Service has expressed continued interest in its conservation while supporting the plan to replace the dam.

The park service’s regional director, Cameron Sholly, wrote to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in April to commend “efforts to protect this natural wonder for current and future generations” and encourage the state to reach out if the park service could help with conservation.

In a report released the previous month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had warned the nearly 180-year-old earthen dam was at risk of failing. The state lowered the lake level as a precaution, upsetting locals who worry about the immediate effects on recreation and potential ripple effects for tourism, the local economy and property values.

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