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Nature: Damming of Scioto spares two magnificent waterfalls

Indian Run Falls/Jim McCormac

December 4, 2016

NATURE
Jim McCormac

Columbus and the surrounding flatlands are not known for waterfalls. Yet some mini-Niagaras lurk in hidden spots.

In northwestern Franklin County, the Scioto River flows through a massive layer of Columbus limestone. The rock is so-named because the original core was extracted near the capital city.

Formed during the Devonian Period some 400 million years ago, Columbus limestone is a prominent geological feature in these parts. Massive quantities have been mined in the western part of Franklin County, and limestone cliffs are prominent in places along the Scioto River.

Before the construction of Griggs Dam (1905) and O’Shaughnessy Dam (1925) on the Scioto River, numerous limestone box canyons and their attendant streams flowed into the river. The pooling of the reservoirs submerged most of them, and their waterfalls.

Fortunately, a few falls survive, two of which are easily accessed showstoppers.

Hayden Falls was spared because it lies along the short section of the Scioto between the reservoirs and wasn’t inundated. The city of Columbus owns the falls, and access is from a parking lot on the south side of Hayden Run Road, just east of the Scioto River.

A wooden staircase descends to the depths of the narrow canyon, and a boardwalk leads to the 30-foot falls. This is a spectacular waterfall in a gorgeous setting — easily one of the top falls in Ohio.
Perhaps even better is nearby Indian Run Falls. The city of Dublin is owner and has provided easy access via a parking lot at 700 Shawan Falls Drive, near Rt. 161 and Frantz Road.

Trails provide access to Indian Run, and strategically sited observation decks offer commanding views of the falls. In the upper reaches of the park, Indian Run cascades over short limestone shelves.

Farther downstream, the creek funnels into a limestone chute and plummets into a steep-sided gorge. A short distance beyond, the waters plunge over a 20-foot drop — the falls pictured with this column.

Not only are the limestone waterfalls and gorges of northwestern Franklin County visually stunning, they are botanically significant.

In 1834, pioneer botanist John Leonard Riddell stumbled across an unfamiliar lily somewhere near the previously described falls (he was inexact in recording the specifics). Riddell had discovered the diminutive snow trillium, which still persists in this area.

Eight years later, in spring of 1842, William Starling Sullivant, the botanist son of Lucas Sullivant — the man who founded Franklinton — was exploring the Scioto River’s box canyons.

He found a showy white-flowered mustard growing on ledges of the limestone cliff faces. Flummoxed by its identity, he eventually realized he had found a new species and named it Arabis patens, the spreading rock cress. Small numbers of this state-endangered plant still hang on in local gorges.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

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