The wall of ice towered almost a mile high. A pale sun shone weakly through the thin clouds. The sound of ice cracking reverberated through the landscape. This was Ohio about 16,000 years ago. The last glacial period was waning, the Earth was warming and the ice was retreating.
It was a messy retreat. Dirty water cascaded off the top of the glacier leaving hills of sand and gravel. Rivers of water carrying sediment snaked through the belly of the glacier leaving sinuous ridges on the land. Huge chunks of ice broke loose from the main glacier and dotted the landscape. The thawing earth groaned under the weight of the chunks and sank lower than the surrounding land, which was rebounding after being freed from millions of pounds of weight.
That is how Stage’s Pond was formed. Called a kettle lake by geologists, what is now a two-pond system was compressed under a mammoth ice chunk that separated from the front edge of the glacier. The ice slowly melted as the softening Earth oozed up around it causing a depression, which filled with the meltwater.
Today, Stage’s Pond is a state nature preserve. The Meadow Trail travels around one side of the landscape that overlooks the small pond. The Kettle Lake Trail meanders between the big pond and the little pond through the depression. Then, it ascends to the wooded Moraine Trail, which traverses the high ridge on the other side of the ponds.
Ohio used to be dotted with kettle lakes, but most of them have been drained and tiled for farmland. We can thank our rich soils to our northern neighbor, Canada. As the glacier moved across the land, it acted like a bulldozer, scraping, grinding and pushing Earth material in front of it. All of Pickaway County benefitted from those soils, sands and gravels carried from north of the great lakes.
Many boulders from Canada dot our landscape today and are called glacial erratics. One is featured at the head of the trail that takes off from the parking lot. A plaque dedicating the area as a state nature preserve is affixed to the boulder.
Today, the preserve is a wetland complex of diverse habitats that benefits wildlife, especially migratory species. Meadows, wetlands with observation blinds overlooking the ponds, open woods and mature woods are there.
The last seasonal brood of monarch butterflies are beginning to float south with the wind currents and will reach a peak in October. In the late afternoon, when they are looking for a roosting tree, is a magical time at Stage’s Pond.
They nectar on the goldenrod and asters before following other monarchs to a tree where they spend the night en masse. One has to look closely though because they appear to be dead leaves on the tree when their wings are folded. They will soon be wintering in the mountains of Mexico.
The meadows and woods beckon warblers and other songbirds that are currently winging their way south to wintering grounds, species like blackburnian and bay-breasted warblers, northern parulas and prairie warblers. Many of them travel to Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands. May is the main month to see them flying north again, some to nest and breed at Stage’s Pond and others to head to far northern Canada or Alaska.
Shorebirds also use the mudflats and shallow waters. They started migrating south in July and will continue into October. Pectoral sandpipers, yellowlegs, dowitchers and bitterns are some of the shorebirds seen at Stage’s Pond.
In November, the waterfowl push begins in earnest and the ponds will start filling with ducks and geese looking for a temporary resting place. Mergansers, swans, snow and greater white-fronted geese, buffleheads, pintails, scaup, teal and even a rare black scoter pass through the preserve.
Six trails traverse Stage’s Pond, all connecting, so you can choose shorter or longer hikes. Stop at the kiosk a short distance from the main parking lot to plan your route.
Squirrels, chipmunks and deer abound. Woodpeckers, blue jays and crows are always heard and a hawk or two is always seen. Bald eagles are more frequently seen at the preserve these days. On every walk I have taken at Stage’s Pond, I have come away with a special wildlife sighting. You will, too.
Melanie Brehmer Shuter is a retired middle school science teacher from Circleville City Schools and a lifetime resident of Circleville. She is also an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist. Shuter writes a monthly column for The Circleville Herald. The views of this column may not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.