Brown Family Environmental Center

Knox, Ohio, US


125 species

Brown Family Environmental Center

Kenyon College 9781 Laymon Road Gambier, Ohio 43022

Official Website
Brown Family Environmental Center brochure and trail map

About this Location

The Kenyon Center for Environmental Study opened in October 1995. In 1999 it was renamed the Brown Family Environmental Center at Kenyon College to recognize a generous gift from the Minigowin Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio to honor Robert Bowen Brown and their family. The center covers approximately 380 acres with a visitor center, many gardens, and a variety of natural habitats.

If you begin your exploration near the old farmhouse, you can wander through a butterfly garden that was started in May 1996. The garden attracts butterflies with flowers that provide nectar and leaves and stems that are eaten by butterfly larvae. Caterpillars and pupae overwinter in woodpiles located at the far end of the garden. On a sunny afternoon, if you look carefully, you can find more than a dozen varieties of butterflies. Brightly colored tiger swallowtails and monarchs are often found sipping nectar from the purple buddleia near the entrance to the garden.

In the fall, green and white striped monarch caterpillars or the fuzzy black and orange caterpillars of the tussock moth can be found on the leaves of the butterfly weed that grows near the entrance. You might also find bright red milkweed beetles or black and red milkweed bugs. These insects feed on the milky sap of the butterfly weed, which contains a toxin that makes them distasteful to predators such as birds.

In the center of the garden is a small pond. In the spring, toads visit the pond to lay their eggs, which develop into black tadpoles and then small toads early in July. They can be seen hopping around the garden during the summer months. The waterfall provides a source of water and a bathing place for a variety of birds, such as the song sparrows and mourning doves that live in the adjacent field. Goldfinches commonly flit through the garden en route to the feeders located near the house. They also help plant the garden. Most of the sunflowers seen in the garden came from seeds dropped by the birds. If you sit quietly, you may get to see ruby-throated hummingbirds visiting bee balm and zinnias. Their wings beat so rapidly that you often can hear them coming before you actually see them. As you explore the garden further, you may notice that many of the plants are missing leaves. The deer, rabbits, and woodchucks that visit the garden early in the morning have eaten these.

To the west of the garden is a field that was used for agriculture until 1994 when it was last planted in corn. The plants that you will see as you walk through this field now are a mixture of successional plants and planted prairie species. Prairie grasses, including Indian grass, little bluestem, and switch grasses were planted in March 1995. Prairie forbs have been transplanted since 2000. Look for prairie dock, compass plant, and coneflower. As fall approaches the field becomes decked out in the brilliant yellows of goldenrod and the bright purple of ironweed.

The hill above the prairie is now grassland that has been reclaimed from an old pasture that was used for grazing cattle. The thorny vegetation that borders the field provides excellently nesting habitat for yellow warblers and catbirds (listen closely for the catbird’s “mew”). From June through August a variety of berries become ripe in this area. Wild strawberries are the first to ripen followed by black raspberries and finally blackberries.

At the top of the hill, you’ll find a pine plantation. It was started in April of 1990 when Kenyon faculty and students planted 1000 pine seedlings that were donated by the Newark Audubon Society. This area is a nesting site for field sparrows. The pines also provide food and cover for deer that live on the preserve. In the winter when the ground is covered by snow and food is scarce, deer will eat the young buds of the trees. In the spring they use the trees as a place to rub the velvet off their antlers. If you examine the trees carefully, you will probably find signs of deer activity. A variety of insects also live on the pine plantation. It is common to find praying mantis, crickets, and large black and yellow garden spiders.

A successional forest borders the pine plantation. It contains trees that can invade sunny disturbed locations. This includes young elms, maple, and ash. Most of the trees in this forest are about the same diameter, suggesting they started to grow at about the same time from a pasture with a few scattered shade trees. A portion of this forest was fenced in the summer of 1996 to provide an opportunity to study how excluding deer will affect the diversity and growth of plants in the area. An adjacent unfenced plot will serve as a control.

The preserve is divided by the Kokosing River and OH-229. On the north side of the preserve, you can begin by exploring a mature deciduous forest with more than two dozen species of hardwood trees, including several species of oak, hickory, ash, and maple. In the spring the forest floor is carpeted with wildflowers and in the fall it provides a brilliant display of color. One of the more common plants on the forest floor is the Christmas fern.

As you descend from the hillside toward Wolf Run you will move into a riparian forest, which is found along streams with trees that can withstand waterlogged soils during times of flooding. Early in the spring skunk cabbage can be found flowering along the edge of the stream and you are treated to the sounds of spring peepers which lay their eggs in the many vernal wetland pools that dot the grassland east of the stream.

The clear waters of the Kokosing River and Wolf Run (a tributary stream) support a wide variety of aquatic life. The rocks covering the stream bottom provide a solid surface on which caddisflies and other aquatic insects live. The rich diversity of insect life supports a diverse fish community that includes brightly colored rainbow darters, red-belly dace, big mouth dace, and stoneroller minnows. Crayfish and yellow-backed salamanders are also fairly common.

Notable Trails

Brown Family Environmental Center Trails
Miller Observatory Trail – .8 mile – level, easy
A hillside trail overlooking the river valley leads 0.3 miles to a 0.5-mile wooded loop bisected by a seasonally running stream.

Corridor/Wetland Trail – .75 miles – level, moderate
A broad, fenced path leads from the Observatory to Wolf Run Creek and then turns north along the wetland border. It May be muddy during wet weather.

Givens Grove Trail – .3 miles – level, easy
Follow a raised boardwalk over seasonal wetlands to one of the largest oak trees on the preserve.

New Gambier Loop Trail – .75 miles – level, easy
This broad loop trail features both forest and grassland. It May be muddy during wet weather.

Bishops Backbone Trail – 1.25 miles – level, moderate
This trail meanders through one of our largest woodlots and along the banks of Wolf Run Creek.

River Trail – 1 mile – level, easy
The trail follows the banks of the Kokosing State Scenic River. The southern section features a .4-mile loop through the riparian corridor with access to the Kokosing Gap Trail.

Prairie Trail – .5 mile – level, easy
The trail circles a seven-acre restored prairie and borders the wildlife garden.

Pine Overlook Trail – .6 mile – level, difficult
Climbing steeply up to the pine plantation, this trail offers impressive views of the Kokosing River valley. It continues around the pine plantation before descending back to the prairie.

Fern Trail – .7 mile – level, moderate
This trail winds up the steep valley wall above the river before turning up the hill and proceeding through the forest to the southern border of the pine plantation.

Content from Official Website