Nature: Stratford Ecological Center in southern Delaware County an eco-friendly oasis
April 4, 2021
Just northeast of Bunty Station and Liberty roads in southern Delaware County lies Stratford Ecological Center, one of central Ohio’s natural gems. The 236-acre property is a mosaic of woodland, wetland, meadows and an eco-friendly farm.
Stratford launched in 1990, but its genesis dates to the mid-1980s. Founders Jack and Louise “Omie” Warner’s daughter, Gale, a conservationist and accomplished big-picture thinker, had planted the seed for a land lab.
When development loomed, the Warners leaped into action and ensured that the land would be protected. Stratford Ecological Center was born, and it has hosted tens of thousands of visitors since. About 16,000 people visit annually, and more than half are kids.
Gale Warner died far too young, on Dec. 28, 1991, the victim of lymphatic cancer. Her work in inspiring Stratford and helping develop its philosophy has left an enormous and lasting legacy.
Stratford’s first hire was Jeff Dickinson, who then was at work on a Ph.D. at Ohio State University. Jeff helped build the project from the ground up. He eventually became Stratford’s director and is still there, a vital influence throughout Stratford’s history.
The vision statement of Stratford clearly defines its mission:
“ … dedicated to the education of children and adults in understanding the relationships between living things and their environment, thereby fostering an appreciation of the land and all life that depends on it.”
I was one of those educable adults on March 19, when I made a nocturnal visit to witness the annual spring salamander migration to Stratford’s vernal pools. It truly was a dark and stormy night — perfect for moist-bodied amphibians on the move. We saw scores of spotted and smallmouth salamanders, and the din created by singing spring peepers and western chorus frogs was nearly deafening.
A pair of barred owls hooted and caterwauled, filling the woods with their eerie calls. Early flying Morrison’s sallow moths flickered by, spurred by temperatures in the low 50s. A coyote sang in the distance, and we were pleased to find a gorgeous peach-colored nursery web spider on the prowl.
Because of Stratford’s varied biodiversity and close proximity to a large population base, it is a perfect place for exposing people to the wonders of nature. Omie and husband Clyde Gosnell (her former husband Jack passed away in 1995) remain active in guiding Stratford and its mission. Conservation tour de forces, Omie and Clyde were recognized for their accomplishments last year with induction into the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Hall of Fame.
Development on nearly all sides continues to hem in the ecological center. We are fortunate that the Warners had the vision to protect this land more than three decades ago. It is an oasis of biodiversity readily accessible to the people of central Ohio.
I highly recommend a visit to Stratford. COVID-19 restrictions have temporarily altered visitation guidelines; see the website (stratfordecologicalcenter.org) for up-to-date information.
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.