Bill would make 120 acres of Malabar Farm State Park a nature preserve

Measure would block commercial logging in Doris Duke Woods

Lou Whitmire
Mansfield News Journal
Dan Hardwick, at right, spokesman for the North Central Ohio Land Conservancy, along with Eric Miller, a trustee of NCOLC, held a press conference Friday to share information about a bill state Sen. Mark Romanchuk is introducing to make the 120-acre Doris Duke Woods a state nature preserve at Malabar Farm State Park and prohibit the removal of timber. The press conference was held near Ohio 95.

MANSFIELD - A bill being introduced by state Sen. Mark Romanchuk would designate 120 acres of Malabar Farm State Park as a nature preserve, barring the removal of timber except for normal maintenance.

If passed by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, the area would be called Doris Duke Woods, after the philanthropist/environmental conservationist who died in 1993 and who was close friends with Louis Bromfield, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose home was Malabar Farm before it became a state park.

A trail and waterfalls in the state park were named after Duke because she was instrumental in saving Malabar Farm from being sold in the 1950s.

A press conference was held Friday at Ohio 95 next to the neighboring land owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The Doris Duke Foundation has pledged to support the project.

Already part of 900-acre state park

The 120-acre Doris Duke Woods, already a part of the Malabar Farm State Park's 900-acre property, is the most mature hardwood forest between Bromfield Road and Ohio 95, according to Romanchuk's bill.

This is a photo taken Friday of the state land that the North Central Ohio Land Conservancy wants to protect along Ohio 95 and a bill being introduced by state Sen. Mark Romanchuk would make the Doris Duke Woods a state nature preserve.

"ODNR has been approached about permanently protecting its old growth woods sporadically and unsuccessfully for 25 years," said attorney Eric Miller, a trustee of the North Central Ohio Land Conservancy.

"And they will not invoke permanent protection of the woods, saying their internal policies are sufficient protection," Miller said.

"This press conference is because legislation has been introduced by Mark Romanchuk that will compel ODNR to declare 120 acres of their old-growth woods as a state nature preserve," Miller said. 

"This forest is losing ground to invasive species every year and no one will come in to save it unless the state legally disables commercial logging," Miller added.

Insects do not eat these plants, he pointed out.

Threat of a 'monoculture'

"Our insects do not recognize them as food nor do our native mammals. So the insects do not eat these plants and so they grow without inhibition and they turn the area into a monoculture where there's nothing else around," he said.

Dan Hardwick, who is the NCOLC's official spokesman, said he is speaking on behalf of an ecosystem of multiple organizations in the region to advance this project.

"One of the real problems that native woodlands habitats have is this really awful invasive called garlic mustard. This is what I call the 'coronavirus' of the native woodland habitat. After they're developed they release a chemical that essentially stunts the growth of the native botany and plants. ... They take over and subdue the native population," Hardwick said, pointing to the individuals at the press conference he said represent 'the vaccinators.'" These are the people who spend countless hours and their personal resources and great sacrifice to remove these threats from our native species," Hardwick said.

Hardwick said the group is thankful for the political support from local public officials and especially Romanchuk for introducing this legislation to create the Doris Duke Preserve at Malabar Farm.

"ODNR wants us to be clear that there are no plans to timber on Malabar (Farm).  Our response is that point is great for now but little comfort in the long run because we have watched over the decades while powerful state interests change their mind and strategy without input from local stakeholders. ODNR doesn’t believe they need our input. They have made that point loud and clear. We have watched the results of their expertise for decades and it’s objectively poor," Hardwick said.

ODNR spokeswoman Stephanie O'Grady could not be reached for comment Friday.

Louis Bromfield-Doris Duke relationship

New York native Stephen Heyman in 2020 wrote a book about Louis Bromfield.

The book, "The Planter of Modern Life: Louis Bromfield and the Seeds of a Food Revoliution," details Bromfield's love affair with heiress Doris Duke after his wife Mary died in 1952.

Heyman said Duke and Bromfield had met in society circles in the 1930s and became friends in the 1950s after she contacted him about some elm trees on her New Jersey farm that were dying from disease. She came upon some of Bromfield's books. They shared a common passion for agriculture and conservation. Their relationship became romantic, he added.

Heyman found in his research where a Mansfield newspaper reporter quoted Bromfield a few months before he died saying he might get married to Duke.

The book's author said he found a letter at the Mansfield-Richland County Public Library's Sherman Room where Bromfield was writing to his secretary about Duke, who had medical training, that she actually injected him with medication for his cancer. She also helped with Bromfield's medical treatment as he was not in a good way financially.

"That little detail really showed the intimacy of their relationship," Heyman said earlier.

Heyman said Bromfield and Duke lived together in 1955 and 1956.

Bromfield died March 18, 1956 in Columbus at age 59.

lwhitmir@gannett.com

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Twitter: @LWhitmir