Turning off US 68, just north of Ripley, onto North Pole Road, the beauty of southern Brown County was apparent around us. The small country road was lined with old rock fences, winding along just below the hills and beside streams. We turned up the freshly graveled lane and parked just past the tobacco barn looking out toward a large meadow nestled beneath the hills and the rock lined edge of Eagle Creek. At the far end of the meadow, the dark spots moving about were some wild turkey enjoying the morning sun. The tobacco barn, no longer used to house what once was the crop that paid many farm bills in southern Ohio, was the location of the dedication ceremony for Ohio’s newest wildlife area, Eagle Creek Wildlife Area.
State officials including a representative of then Governor Kasich’s office, ODNR and Division of Wildlife staff, dignitaries from around the state and outdoor writers, including myself, gathered to hear the story of how this became Eagle Creek Wildlife Area. The Perin Family is at the very heart of the story. Representing the family at the dedication were Robert and Charles Perin Jr., sons of Charles Perin, and grandson Charles H. Perin III. It was the vision of Charles Perin Sr. to acquire this land. It became a labor of love throughout his, and his wife’s, lifetime. He was a landscape architect in the Cincinnati area. His training, combined with a love of nature and land, led him to begin acquiring the land. The family desire that this land remain intact with managed wildlife and natural resources for all Ohioans is a tribute to him. The result is a total of 2300 acres of some of the most diverse and beautiful land that Brown County can offer. In addition to natural beauty, the history of southern Ohio and even the opening of the original Northwest Territory has deep roots here.
Representing the Perin Family were (l – r) Robert Perin, Charles Perin Jr. and Charles H. Perin III.
Todd Haines, ODNR Division of Wildlife District 5 Manager, was the master of ceremony. After a rather lengthy welcome and introduction of distinguished guests. Haines quickly turned the program over to the Kasich Administration ODNR Director Jim Zehringer.
Zehringer commented, “I am thrilled to be here today. I thank Todd Haines for all his work for many years on this project. This is a home run. You look down Eagle Creek and see the covered bridge that makes a stunning picture. I want to thank everyone for being here and recognize all their hard work. Like many good things in life some things take a long time to get there. Purchasing this great property aligns with the goal in the Division of Wildlife to create more access and opportunity. Charles Perin started acquiring pieces of this property in the late-1960s. He passed away in 2011 and his son started reaching out to Todd Haines regarding the interest in purchasing this property to continue the memories of their Father. We are here today to dedicate Eagle Creek Wildlife Area. The real draw is how unique it is combined with rich history, the stream and quality wildlife habitat. The property is home to white-tailed deer, bobcat, wild turkey and nesting bald eagles. The wildlife survey performed last summer found two endangered species, Indiana Bats and Long-eared Bats. Since the bats are federally endangered, it made the purchase even more important. This is a unique opportunity for public access in this part of the state.”
The first parcel purchased is 1825 acres and the second remaining 475 acres will be purchased after the new fiscal year in July 2019. The discovery of the endangered bat species on the property allowed the Ohio Department Of Transportation to contribute $1-million for bat mitigation. An additional $1.76-million grant was obtained from the Land and Water Conservation fund. Finally the Wildlife Diversity Fund contributed $2-million.
State Senator Joe Uecker, whose district includes Brown County, was instrumental in getting all the funding approval through the legislative process. Senator Uecker also serves as Chair of the Ohio Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus. Senator Uecker added, “When I came here in the early stages of the project and walked around the property it was readily apparent this is exactly what Ohio’s sportsmen and women would want. This really fits the bill for hunting and fishing access. It was pretty easy to sell the project to colleagues in the legislature. Even on a cold winter day it is still so beautiful out here.” Senator Uecker also presented commendations on behalf of the General Assembly to Director Zehringer on the dedication plus a commendation to upon the Director’s retirement.
Mike Miller, Chief of the Division of Wildlife, also spoke adding, “Partnerships are what matters to get things done. I was here when people were in hunting camps. This has been on everyone’s mind in the Division of Wildlife for a very long time. Two of the main focuses I talk about is increased access and opportunity. This property certainly meets that. We are just about 30-miles from Cincinnati so what a better location for access and opportunity? I want to thank everyone in this room, the Perin family, ODOT, the Director’s staff and staff of the Division for helping us get to this point. ”
Haines next introduced Robert and Charles Perin as two family members who have become his friends. Robert Perin said, “I just want to say this is a dream come true. Through the efforts of our father he put together this incredible property. The idea that it is now protected is wonderful. I’m sure Dad is smiling down from Heaven. I truly believe that. It was a long road to get here but it was an honor to work with everyone to make this happen. It is humbling.”
Charles Perin echoed his brother’s comments, “This truly does represent the vision of our Father and our Mother. They both really put their heart and soul into putting this property together. The culmination of this property and putting this together is the result of a lot of people. I want to give a shout out to Todd Haines who has been following this since the 1990s when he first talked with my Father. When Robert approached him, he is the one who ran it up the chain of command and kept pushing. Thank you all for making this vision of our Father’s a reality.”
The Eagle Creek Wildlife Area will not be open to the public until fall 2019. The Division of Wildlife will be posting the boundaries, installing a parking area, developing a map, and most important, will have the area listed in the Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) as a public area prior to opening it for use. When it is opened, there will be hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife viewing opportunities. I am certainly looking forward to the opportunity to explore this beautiful area!