Ross Lake Wildlife Area, Ross County, Ohio

About Ross Lake Wildlife Area

The Ohio Division of Wildlife manages 1,112-acre Ross Lake Wildlife Area (WA) in the Scioto River drainage in southeastern Ohio. The land is rolling, with steep slopes and flat-topped hills. Major habitats are old fields, brushy areas, pole-stage forest, and mature woodland. Oak, hickory, beech, and sugar maple grow on upland sites. At lower elevations and in stream bottoms, elm, ash, and maple are common. Native shrubs include hawthorn, wild crabapple, sumac, and blackberry.

Cottontail rabbits, gray and fox squirrels, deer and many other mammals inhabit the WA, along with a range of bird species, including woodcock, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, and songbirds. In spring and fall the Scioto River is an important migration corridor for many birds.

The state of Ohio began buying land for Ross Lake WA in 1958. Most of the acreage was old farmland reverting to forest, and heavily cut-over woodland. The WA has two units. The southern unit (approximately 700 acres) surrounds 125-acre Ross Lake, created in 1967 when Lick Run was backed up behind a dam. The northern unit, which contains 410 acres, has been designated a Woodcock Habitat Demonstration Area.

Improving the Land for Woodcock

In 2009 and 2010, managers supervised clearcut logging of 50 acres on a total of 14 sites, all on the northern unit. This initial round of cutting centered on hardwoods near or next to grassy and weedy fields that are mowed on a three-year rotation. The cuts provide brushy buffer areas around the mowed fields, as well as adding much-needed diversity to the forest’s age-class makeup.

Other cuts were sited in stands of mature white pines that had been planted in old fields. The resulting patch cuts have irregular shapes that conform to those of the original pine stands.


Older hardwoods and white pines were harvested to create new young-forest habitat.

As they grow back in young forest, the cut-over areas will supply nesting habitat for woodcock hens near fields that already offer singing and display habitat in spring, as well as roosting habitat in late summer and fall. Cut-over areas will yield high-quality feeding habitat for woodcock in summer, and for timberdoodles migrating through the Scioto River drainage in spring and fall.


Shrubs and trees have quickly begun to revegetate cutover areas.

After two growing seasons, the patch cuts made in 2009 showed a dense regrowth of tree seedlings including white ash, red maple, tuliptree, sassafras, and black locust. Among the shrubs and other plants growing prolifically in the newly opened areas are greenbriar, flowering dogwood, blackberry, and sumac.

Vegetation that provides soft mast (fruits and berries) is flourishing under the abundant sunlight admitted following the patch cuts. Fruits of sassafras and dogwood yield important late-summer and fall food for songbirds building up and replenishing their fat reserves before and during the southward migration. The small, dry fruits of sumac will persist on the shrubs into winter, providing food for birds that do not migrate.


Habitat managers located cuts near existing fields that woodcock use for displaying and breeding in spring.

Deer, wild turkeys, and cottontail rabbits find feeding and resting areas in the new young-forest habitat. In addition to the American woodcock, two bird species of high conservation priority that will benefit from the increase in young-forest acreage are the blue-winged warbler and the prairie warbler. Other birds that will use the habitat include yellow-breasted chat, field sparrow, gray catbird, brown thrasher, and indigo bunting. Biologists have set up woodcock singing-ground survey routes to monitor anticipated population increases in the cut-over areas.

As a result of the patch cuts made during 2009 and 2010, the overall percentage of young forest within wooded habitats on the northern unit of Ross Lake WA rose from 0 to 12.5 percent. Managers plan to create more young forest in the northern unit over the next five to ten years. During that same period, they hope to add up to 50 additional young-forest acres through logging next to existing fields in the southern unit of the WA.

Funding and Partners

Ohio Division of Wildlife, Wildlife Management Institute

How to Visit

Ross Lake WA lies two miles east of Chillicothe. Easy access is available from U.S. Route 35 via the East Main Street exit and Blacksmith Hill Road (County Highway 238). For more information contact Chris Smith, Wildlife Area Supervisor, Cooper Hollow WA, 740-682-7524,; or Mike Reynolds, Forest Wildlife Research Biologist, Wildlife District Four, Athens, 740-589-9921,