Bradner Preserve: It’s a short jaunt to the largest park in Wood County system

PHOTOS BY VICKI JOHNSON Bill Hoefflin, senior program naturalist for the Wood County Park District, conducts a wildflower program in early April at Bradner Preserve. Although wildflowers were scarce, he pointed out the nature preserve’s features.

Bradner Preserve, the largest park in the Wood County system, has three sections for hiking, picnicking and watching wildlife.

Located east of Bradner and about 12 miles north of Fostoria on US 23, the park has 228 acres.

“It is our largest park in the system by a fair amount,” said Wood County Park District’s program coordinator Jim Witter. “It’s especially nice to have something down there in the southern part of the county.”

The original portion was purchased from Dan and Connie Molter in 1993 and an addition was purchased later from the estate of Eleanor Huffman. The last portion, which included a house that was turned into the Bradner Interpretive Center, garage and shop, was purchased in 2013.

Bradner Preserve has three access points near Bradner.

A look at the boardwalk portion of the trail near Bradner Interpretive Center.

The interpretive center entrance is at 11491 Fostoria Road (US 23).

“It’s a pretty unique kind of location within the parks,” Witter said. “It’s kind a of drier area, and it has a sand dune. But within a 100 yards of that, it has soil that hangs onto the water. It’s kind of fascinating.”

Witter said that portion of the preserve is a mini-pocket of the Oak Openings region to the north.

The sand dune is on a short trail north of the interpretive center.

“We’re still working on the trail,” he said. “But it goes through the woods to the dune area. We really don’t have dunes like that in any of the other parks in Wood County.”

Part of the children’s library in the interpretive center.

The grounds includes a pond, and another trail through the woods leads from the interpretive center to the front parking area.

The interpretive center is a free, hands-on nature exploration area that opened in 2017. It offers a wildlife window for watching birds, a children’s area, a reading area with a fireplace and a community room available free for meetings of non-profit organizations and service clubs.

A covered picnic shelter is to be opened this summer.

On the west side of the park, there’s an entrance at 11540 Timmons Road to the trails and campground, and another access at 1275 Caldwell Road to the playground/restrooms area.

Trails lead visitors through natural areas including a mature woodlot, sand dunes, grasslands and remnant prairie.

A wildlife window at the interpretive center overlooks bird feeders.

“In between, a field is farmed,” Witter said.

Future plans for that area have not been decided, but he said the area might become a marsh wetland and a small prairie to show the original landscape of the area.

He said the best times to visit Bradner Preserve are in spring and fall before and after the worst of mosquito seasons.

“Mid-summer, depending on the year, it could be tough,” he said.

Summer programs take place inside the interpretive center.

A fireplace in the interpretive center provides a cozy place to sit and read a book.

It’s a peaceful place today, but the location has a storied past.

According to research conducted by volunteer Harold Brown, Bradner Preserve has an interesting history, dating back long before it was a nature preserve. Brown cited the source of information as the “Commemorative, Historical and Biographical Record of Wood County, Ohio” by J.H. Beers Co., 1897, and the Bradner Advocate newspaper.

The research, provided by the Wood County Park District, outlines the beginning of the town. Three men, John Bradner, Ross Crocker and H.G. Caldwell, founded Bradner in 1875.

“Little did they know just a few years later the small community would become a busy gateway to an oil and gas boom that brought employment, wealth and a few disasters,” Brown said. “While Bradner is remembered in the town name, roadways in the community still carry names recalling Crocker and Caldwell.”

A post office was established in 1876 and businesses followed. The forest was cleared for farms.

Part of the children’s area in the interpretive center.

“Settlers were working on draining what we today call the Great Black Swamp, thereby diminishing the incidents of malaria (called ague in those days) carried and transmitted by mosquitoes,” he said.

The first oil/gas well was recorded in 1885, and a year later an oil refinery shipped its first tanker of product by rail to Toledo.

The oil and gas boom helped drive development of foundries and machine shops.

At least two accidental nitroglycerin explosions near Bradner caused damage and fatalities. “Nitro” was used to create large underground explosions to “bring in” oil to the wells.

In 1891, the Bradford Glycerin Co. Magazine, a half-mile south of Bradner, exploded. There was damage in the area, but there were no fatalities.

In late 1907, the nitroglycerin factory of the Dupont Powder Co., located about 1.5 miles east of Bradner, exploded. The Bradner Advocate reported, “The buildings were completely wrecked and the debris scatted over about 20 acres of territory. Two great holes in the grounds and a smoldering pile of wreckage show where the factory once stood.”

Two men, Sherman Washburn and M.S. Cisco, were killed. Hugh Easton, plant superintendent, and a son of Cisco were seriously injured, and “three horses were blown to pieces.”