Environmental advocates with the Aullwood Audubon Farm and Aullwood Garden MetroPark in Vandalia are raising concerns over the potential development of a nearby watershed. The protected area feeds the Wiles Creek, a critical tributary of the Stillwater River, and a water feature that runs through the farm.
At issue are nearly 110 acres of land, north of Aullwood, that have been rezoned for development by the City of Dayton and Dayton International Airport. The prairie is home to a large variety of birds, mammals, insects, butterflies, and bees each year.
It’s reported that there is an interested buyer for the land and could redevelop it for industrial or commercial use. The land, about 140 acres in total, is owned by the airport and was managed, under a land-lease, by Aullwood until around 2007. Approximately 29 acres are still considered protected at this time.
Alexis Faust, the Aullwood Center and Farm’s executive director, says that since the prairie was established as a natural habitat in 1995, the airport has been a key partner in its protection. Now, she says she worries about the damage that could be done if the land is developed for commercial or residential use.
“My concern is this watershed and the water issue,” she says. “I mean, the prairie is extraordinary, and it sits on a water source that's really critical. So that's my focus is how do we protect this water source?”
Faust also says future development on the watershed lands could put the Aullwood Farm itself at risk.
“I think the other thing that concerns me is, and a lot of people may not know, is that we do not have city water here, so we have wells that support our water,” she says. “Our public walls are guided by the EPA, and every day that we come in and open to the public, we have to test our water, both here and at the farm. And in order to stay open, we have to have that public water system. So we're concerned about the consequences to that water system as well, and groundwater that could contaminate our wells.”
The prairie, named for naturalist and educator, Paul E. Knoop Jr. is one of the “oldest reconstructed pear prairies in the state of Ohio,” according to the Aullwood Center and Farm. Faust explains that the prairie was planted using seeds collected at Aullwood and other places, though within 90 miles of the farm.
“So, it's a wonderful example of an original Ohio prairie and it attracts hundreds and thousands of birds every year,” Faust says. “We've seen some extraordinary species over there during our studies.”
It’s not only wildlife that make their way to land surrounding Aullwood Farm and nearby Five Rivers Metroparks. Faust says more than 40,000 kids come to the farm every year and she says many of them have never seen a creek or a water source like Wiles Creek.
“By the end of their stay, they're digging through the rocks to try to find crayfish and salamanders, or they are there doing studies on macro-invertebrates, or you know seeing for fish and other creatures. I think it's a life changing experience for them,” she says.
Aullwood has been fulfilling its mission of environmental education since Marie Aull donated her land to the Miami Valley. In doing so, she allowed for the creation of the National Audubon Society's first nature center in the Midwest.
It was with that mission in mind when the Aullwood Center issued a call to action on social media urging residents to contact city and airport officials, to voice their concerns about the natural habitat.
WYSO has reached out to the city of Dayton for a statement.
This story has been updated to reflect that the land in question is owned by the airport and was managed, under a land-lease, by Aullwood until around 2007.