Road Trip: Rebuilding Meigs County

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Paul Strauss and other members of United Plant Savers are trying to get away from the area's 150 year history of extractive industries.(Photo: United Plant Savers)
Paul Strauss and other members of United Plant Savers are trying to get away from the area's 150 year history of extractive industries.(Photo: United Plant Savers)

This part of Meigs County has seen over 150 years of extractive industries. Scars that are – just now – beginning to heal. Some Meigs county residents are looking at more sustainable ways to use the land.

Over 40 years ago, Paul Strauss left New York City and bought 80 acres near the Meigs County town of Rutland.

“I bought the old Amos farm. McCumber, he sold out. There is 200 acres in this highwall up here. My farm was never stripped, but all this was.

“This is the old McCumber farm,” Strauss says as he gives a tour. “This is McCumber Hill. Mr McCumber sold his coal for 15 cents a ton. Mr Amos. I like on the old Amos farm, Mr Amos met the bulldozer and the strippers with a shotgun and said you are not stepping across this line! Here’s a guy I never met who I have to love!”

Strauss bought more land, some of it the old McCumber land. He was an herbalist and he was amazed at what he found here.

“If you get out a map, you find Charleston, West Virginia, and you just extended in any direction 200 miles. That is the most varied and valuable deciduous forest in America. So, I think that’s lost on a lot of people. It’s got coal, it’s got timber, it’s got rivers, it’s got all the species: oak, ash, maple, hickory, ramps, ginseng, goldenseal.”

This area, Strauss says, is the heart of Appalachia. In these woods there are more species of trees and shrubs, the big herbs, than almost any area of this country or world. With the exception of the planet’s rainforest.

Strauss and other like-minded folks created nonprofit- United Plant Savers and donated land in Meigs county for a 380-acre botanical sanctuary for native medicinal plants.

Now they’ve created the Talking Forest Medicine Trail. Eight miles of trails with signs to identify the herbs and shrubs and trees and their uses. One December day I walked the trail with him.

“That indicates a drier soil, sandy dry soil, and that’s responsible for our coal,” Strauss points out.

United Plant Savers think that just being able to identify the plants isn’t enough. People need to know how you can use them and what they can do.

Looking at a sign for white snakeroot, Strauss says “that’s a famous plant not for what it does for what it did. That was the plant that was responsible for Abraham Lincoln’s mother’s death.

Those interested in taking the talking forest medicine trail can mane appointment with Paul Strauss or one of his neighbors. The contact information is on the website.

“So it’s important that this land is here for the sanctity of the earth. To know that you’re not going to mess with it. You can come and see these plants exactly like they were a million years ago. Exactly like the native people would use them.”

You can download copes of all of the Ohio driving tours at seeohiofirst.org.

The New Ohio Guide is produced by the Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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