O’Shaughnessy Reservoir River Mile 155.8 – 148.8

O’Shaughnessy Reservoir River Mile 155.8 – 148.8

The thought of paddling our way from one end of O’Shaughnessy Reservoir to the other was less than appealing. Without a current to help you along, paddling a lake takes more effort. The presence of power boats and water skiers means you have to hug the shoreline. The sheer size of the body of water means you either choose to limit your exploration to one shore or you circle the lake in the blazing sun. All of this is my way of explaining why I chose to explore O’Shaughnessy mainly by car – with one kayaking excursion. In spite of not being on the water for the entire length of O’Shaughnessy, I found this part of the Scioto River surprisingly interesting.

The eastern side of the reservoir is dotted with access points for fishing and picnicking. From Riverside Drive you can pull into any of these spots, park your car and get right up to the water’s edge. The marina and boat launch ramp provide access for boaters. I pulled into Area P near the northern end of the reservoir. I walked along a trail near the shoreline and spotted several bird species, including Yellow warblers, Baltimore orioles, and American goldfinch. On the water I saw Wood ducks, Mallards, and Great Blue Heron. Big carp were foraging near the shore in water so shallow that their dorsal fins were exposed.

This is a lovely spot very close to the urban core of Columbus where a person can enjoy some peace and quiet in a beautiful natural setting. When I returned to the parking lot, a man was just arriving with his fishing gear, a cooler, and a folding chair. Now I understand why people take up fishing. It is not for the fish so much as the hours spent outdoors. All of the parkland, including an Urban Wildlife Management Area, is managed by the Columbus Department of Recreation and Parks.

Most of the western side of the reservoir is residential. There is a small shopping district along Dublin- Bellepoint Road. The Ohio Wildlife Center, a non-profit dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation and conservation education, is located here, as well. An inlet of the reservoir is labeled Twin Lakes – a misnomer since they are not two separate lakes – and it is here that the City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department maintains a nature preserve. The 57 acre plot is home to 45 different birds during the breeding season. Over 100 bird species have been documented there during migration. Two statewide rare plants have been found here – Drummond’s Aster and Satin Brome. The forested shoreline is a bottomland elm-ash woods that gives way to oak-hickory uplands. It was raining while I was there, which deterred human visitors but not the water birds. Mallards and Great Blue Heron seemed oblivious to the summer shower.

Earlier this spring, I met Mime Migliore, Nature Educator for the City of Dublin, at the Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research Center. Dr. Tom Watters, science director of the facility and a professor at The Ohio State University, showed us around. The building was originally owned by the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company and was renovated in 2001 to house the research effort. Freshwater mussels are the canaries in the coalmine of water quality. They are filter feeders, so pollutants in the water affect them very directly. In addition, they have a complex life cycle that requires a fish to serve as a host species for one stage of their development, making them even more vulnerable to changes in the water. Here is how it works:

  1. Adult female mussels lay eggs and brood them inside a specialized chamber in their gills called a marsupia.
  2. Adult male mussels release sperm into the water which is then taken in by adult females and the eggs are fertilized. The fertilized eggs develop into larvae called glochidia. Now it gets really interesting!
  3. Mussels need to “infect” a host fish with glochidia to complete the reproductive process. Some mussel species release the glochidia into the water where they must somehow find a host fish. But other mussels have an extension on their mantle tissue that resembles a small fish. The female displays this tissue and twitches it to attract a host fish – kind of like a fishing lure.
  4. When the host fish tries to eat the lure, the glochidia are released and they attach to the fish’s gills or fins.
  5. Metamorphosis happens over days of weeks depending on species and physical conditions in the water. Once the glochidia transform into juvenile mussels, they drop off to find a home in the stream bed.

Much of the research that Dr. Watters and others are conducting centers around identifying which fish species is targeted by each mussel species. Some mussels can parasitize just about any fish, so they are not picky. But other mussels are very specific about which fish they will parasitize. Their fate is directly linked to that of the fish in the stream. By studying the basic biology of imperiled mussel species, researchers will be able to develop methods for restoring mussel populations and bolstering existing ones. The facility can also serve as a temporary refuge for large numbers of mussels that are endangered by a hazardous spill on a stream.

Next door to the mussel lab is The Adaptive Adventure Sports Coalition. This non-profit organization was established to offer individuals with disabilities opportunities to participate in adventure activities. While their focus is on providing sports and recreation to enhance the quality of life for the disabled, they welcome anyone to come and learn to kayak on Thursday evenings in the summer. I visited there with Robin Dungan, a colleague from COSI. We spent a delightful hour and half learning how to stay afloat in a kayak.

We received a brief lesson in how to get in and out of a kayak and how to paddle. The first thing I noticed about a kayak is how lightweight it is. A person can manage one fairly easily by herself. The next thing I noticed is that you sit much closer to the water in a kayak. That, and the lighter weight, make a kayak much more agile in the water that a two person canoe. Using double bladed paddles I was able to easily propel myself forward in a semi-straight path and could follow the undulating shoreline if I wanted to.

Robin and I explored the inlet and ventured out into the reservoir for a bit, being careful not to stray into the path of power boats. Almost immediately Robin spotted a pair of Green herons in a downed oak tree. It has been a long time since I have had the pleasure of encountering one of these smallish herons. They have amazing coloring and this one let us get pretty close before moving back into the branches of the tree.

My explorations of O’Shaughnessy took place on three separate days and helped me understand the variety of activity that centers on the reservoir. While its primary purpose is to supply us with drinking water, the reservoir provides other benefits, like recreation, research, habitat for wildlife. My only regret is that it has taken me so long to discover it.

O’Shaughnessy Reservoir was built in 1924 by the City of Columbus to supply water to a growing population. The dam is located at River Mile 148.8. It creates a pool 7 miles long with 829 acres of surface water.

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