Kent State Geauga Geology Professor Makes Observations at Welton’s Gorge

Renowned scientist Stephen W. Hawking once said, “A lot of prizes have been awarded for showing the universe is not as simple as we might have thought.” 

Prizes aside, Kent State Geauga Associate Professor of Geology Dr. Sue Clement has made observations in the bedrock of Welton’s Gorge in Geauga County that may change assumptions about the geological age of this region of Ohio. Dr. Clement also discovered a 300-million-year-old, 10-foot Sigillaria tree fossil preserved in the gorge’s sandstone.

Dr. Clement has received a modest grant from The Geauga Parks District to further examine and test her findings, then eventually publish the results of her study in cooperation with the Ohio Geologic Survey in the Ohio Journal of Science. Interested Kent State Geauga geology students attending either the Geauga Campus in Burton or Regional Academic Center in Twinsburg can also get involved in this ongoing project.

Welton’s Gorge is a little-known, undeveloped, and protected park property known as "Geauga's Little Grand Canyon.” The park system acquired the property in cooperation with the Western Reserve Conservancy from a private landowner in 2009, using a grant from the Clean Ohio Program. The dramatic 87-acre landscape is located in northeast Burton Township, abutting the city of Akron on the east side.

The 45-foot gorge, composed mostly of sandstone and conglomerate formations, is home to a rare insect, the camel cricket. Accessible only via a guide from the Geauga Parks Department, the rugged gorge is characterized by deep rock ledges, cool streams, salamanders and other stream life. Dr. Clement explains, unlike most other geological formations in the region like Ansel's Cave in West Woods Park or Nelson’s Ledges in Portage County, this gorge was likely not carved by glacial ice but of meltwater in an engorged stream and thousands of years of post-glacial rain events.

This hidden geological gem is characterized by outcroppings of Sharon conglomerate bedrock, which is common throughout Geauga County and the surrounding region. However, as Dr. Clement has observed, the character of the stone is different in Welton’s Gorge. In addition to Sharon Conglomerate, there are other sedimentary rock types at the surface of the gorge, calling into question the age of the formation.

“We knew the age and type of most of the bedrock here, but I was seeing exposures of rock at the point of contact with the Sharon Conglomerate that are two additional types of sedimentary rock types and seem younger than the Pennsylvanian Age,” Professor Clement says.

This fall, a geologist from the Ohio Geologic Survey will accompany Dr. Clement into the gorge for further study. A student assistant is also welcome to work with the professor as she gathers more evidence and measurements, then conducts lab analyses. 

Dr. Clement first became acquainted with Welton’s Gorge a few years ago, when her geology class was invited to explore it with park biologist Paul Pira, who has collaborated with Dr. Clement on Earth Day events and campus greenhouse projects. He suggested that she apply for the Geauga Parks System grant.

The $2,100 grant has been used to provide a stipend for now-graduated student assistant James Snyder; to purchase specialized equipment to make more accurate field measurements; and to have thin sections of rock made for microscopic study.

Dr. Clement is excited to test her hypothesis about the age of the bedrock in Welton’s Gorge. The results will either confirm pre-existing assumptions about the geological age of this region in Ohio or cause fellow geologists to align their thinking to newly-confirmed data. As Stephen Hawking noted, the universe — and geology on Earth — “is not as simple as we might have thought.”