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Ohio Life

Dr. James K. Bissell Nature Center, Rock Creek

The Nature Conservancy's Ashtabula County nature center provides an opportunity to learn about the 2,000-acre Morgan Swamp Preserve it calls home. 

For eons, the swampy Grand River lowlands of Ashtabula County went unstudied. That was until Cleveland Museum of Natural History botanist James K. Bissell discovered Lawrence Hicks’ 1930s Ph.D. thesis, for which its author walked each township in the region to document invasive species.

After reading the paper, Bissell couldn’t stay away from the 2,000 acres known as Morgan Swamp, visiting to look for rare plants and finding species such as pink lady’s slipper, princess pine and dwarf dogwood over the years.

“It just seems like every time we go to Morgan Swamp, it’s ‘Oh, here’s a new rare plant,’ ” he says. “It keeps producing, and it’s partly because it’s such a big system.”

In 2017, The Nature Conservancy, an international organization that works to protect ecologically important lands and waters, recognized Bissell’s contributions by naming the new nature center at its Grand River Conservation Campus at Morgan Swamp Preserve in his honor. The Nature Conservancy saw the property, which was previously used as a camp and most recently owned by Cleveland’s City Mission, as an ideal spot for its first Ohio nature center.

Figuring out how to repurpose [the buildings] was part of our challenge and, ultimately, a real opportunity,” says Amy Brennan, The Nature Conservancy’s Lake Erie conservation director.

The Dr. James K. Bissell Nature Center opened in October 2017, featuring maps, displays and exhibits that give visitors a better understanding of the types of plants and animals found in the area. 

“We have a huge beaver pond exhibit ... you can actually crawl into the beaver lodge,” says Brennan. “And, yes, many of us adults have done so.”

The nature center is also home to an eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, the only rattlesnake native to northern Ohio.

“He had a crushed vertebrae when he was found,” says Brennan. “They really didn’t think he’d survive in the wild, so he came to live with us.” 

3973 Callender Rd., Rock Creek 44084, 
nature.org/bissellnaturecenter

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