Most Oxford residents have not yet had the chance to explore Mill Race Preserve, the newly acquired Butler County MetroParks property in the township.
The 72-acre preserve northwest of Yager Stadium includes part of Four Mile Creek and the north end of the 1868 Black Covered Bridge, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The land, previously part of the Fryman farm, came under MetroParks management this spring following its purchase by Three Valley Conservation Trust.
The preserve is not yet open to the public, but you can get a sneak peak during a MetroParks-sponsored hike at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 20. It’s free, but pre-registration is required.
The hike is part of MetroParks’ monthly Walking Sticks series, which got its start nearly 10 years ago and has had a nice following, said Lynette Dean, MetroParks supervisor of programs and special events. Walking Sticks’ goal is getting people out to explore the parks.
Dean will lead the 90-minute hike Sunday. It follows a rough path along the creek and mill race, which is a water channeling structure that guided water into the saw and grist mill that existed on the property during the 1800s. The preserve derives its name from this unusual water feature.
The mill was built in 1813 and was a significant establishment at a time when there were few residents in Oxford Township, said Cal Conrad of the Three Valley Conservation Trust.
Three Valley partners with people and communities to conserve the cultural heritage and natural environment of its service area for the benefit of future generations. Three Valley preserves about 18,000 acres in Butler, Preble and Montgomery counties.
“It’s a beautiful property,” Conrad said of the Mill Race Preserve, sounding like a proud parent.
Three Valley has ensured that it will remain beautiful with a conservation easement that forever protects the area from development and restricts use of the property.
“It was never a question by the members of the board about preserving the property, but there was trepidation about raising $1.1 million dollars,” Conrad said. “We’ve done something wonderful for Oxford.”
An additional benefit of the land purchase is the change in land use that is in process. In four years, 35 acres of the preserve – currently leased to a local farmer – will be allowed to return to its natural state.
This will likely mitigate fertilizer runoff into Four Mile Creek that sometimes result from agricultural land use. Overall, this would result in less nutrient pollution, which has been a major source of impairment to the Great Miami River Watershed.
The Mill Race Preserve will remain closed until the agricultural lease ends, Dean explained. In that time, a lot of planning will happen to decide how the land will be used. This planning will include input from the public in the form of public surveys, as well as internal planning by MetroParks.
Conrad’s vision for the Mill Race Preserve is for it to remain wild, with hiking trails and opportunities for bird watching and fishing with a small parking area – but that’s five to eight years down the road, he said.
For now, “It’s fun to explore areas that you don’t normally get to go to and be with like-minded people,” Dean said
Written by: Jenna Dolhi
Photo by: Jenna Dolhi