September 2, 2014

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Eaton Township family’s farm becomes nature preserve

EATON TWP — As housing developments and businesses are being built at a rapid pace, a little piece of nature is being preserved in Eaton Township.

Five years ago, former Eaton Township resident Margaret Peak, who is now 84, was trying to find a way to preserve her family’s 98-acre farm on Butternut Ridge Road.

Peak, who now lives in southern Ohio near her daughter, Linda Custer, wanted the land to be used for the purpose of constructing a nature preserve containing vegetation native to Northeast Ohio and conducive to native wildlife habitat growth.

In the summer of 2004, Peak offered to donate her Eaton Township farm for a nature preserve.

Peak contacted federal and state agencies to see if they would honor her wish in turning the land back into its natural state, but she never received a response.

A view of one of the wetlands that is returning to its natural state at the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve in Eaton Township. (Photo by Melissa Linebrink, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

A view of one of the wetlands that is returning to its natural state at the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve in Eaton Township. (Photo by Melissa Linebrink, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

She then realized that the best people who would care for her family’s land where those in her own township.

According to Richard Knechtges, administrative assistant to the Eaton Township Trustees, in March 2005 Peak transferred ownership of her land, then appraised at $1.1 million, to the trustees.

Today, the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve is valued at more than $1.3 million and that was achieved by the expenditure of less than $20,000 of Eaton Township taxpayer funds, Knechtges said.

Richard Knechtges, administrative assistant to the Eaton Township Trustees. (Photo by Melissa Linebrink, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Richard Knechtges, administrative assistant to the Eaton Township Trustees. (Photo by Melissa Linebrink, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

But, most importantly for Peak, she is at peace knowing her family’s land is safe from future development and according to her daughter, that is making her mother very happy.

“My mom always loved the farm and what it meant to her family because it was her family’s way of life,” Custer said. “She wanted it to stay natural.”

Custer said her father, Lloyd Peak, and other family members operated the family farm.

Trail map of the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve. (Photo by Melissa Linebrink, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

Trail map of the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve. (Photo by Melissa Linebrink, The Chronicle-Telegram.)

The Peak farm grew vegetables of all kinds and then sold them to roadside vegetable vendors who in turn sold the produce to the public.

“It was a family farm. My parents and family put years of heart into it and want others to appreciate nature and take care of the land,” Custer said.

With 44 acres now ready to revert to “before-settlement” vegetation and wildlife habitat, the 1.9 miles of trails constructed are being opened for public use.

The trails, which pass through a farm field to an area of ponds and wetlands, provide a “back-to-nature” respite from the hustle and bustle of contemporary life as requested by Peak. The wetlands have been restored without substantially altering the general level of the land.

“Visitors are required to stay on the trails and to conduct their visits as guests of the critters and plants that make the tract their home,” Knechtges said.

Visitors to the preserve are encouraged to walk, jog, hike, bird watch, snowshoe and cross-country ski responsibly to enhance the “Back to Nature” opportunity.

Peak was specific in how she wanted the visitors to use the preserve. Deed restrictions forbid hunting, alcohol consumption, motorized vehicle operation and horseback riding.

“Current and future generations of our community will reap relaxation, peace, serenity and rejuvenation from (Margaret Peak’s) unprecedented and virtually unimaginable generosity,” said Eaton Township Trustee Clerk Linda Spitzer.

Send your Grafton/LaGrange/Columbia news to Melissa Linebrink, 329-7155 or mlinebrink@chroniclet.com.

Aerial view of the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve.

Aerial view of the Margaret Peak Nature Preserve.