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Ancient Cranberry Bog is Unique and Endangered

Buckeye Lake is a popular central Ohio area for boaters and those seeking lake front property for a second home. The busy lake is also home to an ancient piece of property that goes largely unnoticed by the casual visitor.

This site might be the only one of its kind in the world. And its years are numbered.

From a distance, Cranberry Bog looks like many other small islands in many other Ohio lakes. Trees line the edge, wrapping the 10-acre site in a leafy canopy. The only indication that something special is coming up is a no wake zone that surrounds the bog.

"It is an absolute oddity. It shouldn't be here," says Greg Seymour, preserve manager/officer, East Central Ohio District, Division of Natural Areas & Preserves. He says Cranberry Bog is home to likely the only collection of plants of its kind in the world. A handful if these plants are native to Canada. Nudged southward by the glacier, the plants are tricked by the cool bog mat into thinking they never left home. But that's not the oddest thing about the bog.

Webster's dictionary defines a bog as soft, waterlogged ground. This bog is soft and waterlogged. But it's not ground. There's no dirt. The bog is a 10-acre patch of sphagnum moss.

Most bogs surround a glacial lake. Instead, Cranberry Bog is surrounded by a lake and floating.

Nearly 200 years ago, crews digging in an ancient river bed set the bog free.* The crews were creating a reservoir to feed the Ohio and Erie Canal. As the reservoir filled, the mossy bog caught a ride to the surface. How or why it stayed, no one knows .

But its stay is likely nearing an end. Cranberry Bog today is one-fifth the size it was when it surfaced. It's one-half the size it was just 35 years ago. Site Manager Greg Seymour predicts it will be gone in 30 years.

There are several reasons why it's disappearing. Waves from passing boats loosen the bog mat. Storms topple trees which rip out chunks of the mat. But Seymour says the biggest threat is the bog's chemistry which makes the site its own worst enemy.

"The number one factor," says Seymour, "is going to be the chemical reaction between the alkaline lake waters and the acidic bog."

The pH balance is off - by a factor of 10,000. Cranberry Bog appears to be doomed.

Yet area historian J-Me Braig remains upbeat. Director of the Buckeye Lake Museum, Braig says her family has lived in the area for four generations. She says, ever since she can remember, someone has had a scheme to save Cranberry Bog. And the ideas keep on coming.

"I had a guy tell me the other day," says Braig, "we should build a wall around it, drain out the water and fill it with vinegar. That keeps the acidity high."

Unlikely as that sounds, building a wall around the 10-acre bog is not a new idea. But Site Manager Greg Seymour says, it is an unworkable idea.

"The sphagnum moss is 46 feet deep. Then there is nothing you could anchor a wall into for quite a ways."

Still, the notion persists. Lake area resident George O'Donnel leads group formed this year called Friends of Cranberry Bog.

"The ideal solution," says O'Donnel, "is a firm barrier. I know this sounds crazy, but perhaps a steel wall."

O'Donnel recognizes that funding is the key to taking extraordinary steps to save the bog. One step toward getting grants or other funds is an inventory of all the bog has to offer. Such an inventory is being done by the bog's neighbor eight miles to the north - Dawes Arboretum.

Even if the inventory and other efforts to preserve the bog itself fail, they have a Plan B.

Tim Mason is manager of natural resources at Dawes. He says they have created a restoration area. There, they place pieces of the bog that break off

"We can just hold onto what's there," says Mason. "It takes thousands of years for peat moss material to grow. We cannot create it in our lifetime." Saving the bog - or even preserving its pieces - is a long shot. J-Me Braig is one of many people who hope for success. But even Braig admits, after more than 10,000 years, Cranberry Bog has had a pretty good run.

*Material for this story also comes from "Cranberry Bog State Nature Preserve," by Guy L. Denny, March 1988, based on research done in 1911, 1912 by Freda Detmers, The Ohio State University, Columbus.