Nancy Beadle of Marblehead at the entrance to the Preserve
On May 10, International Migratory Bird Day, another jewel was added to Ottawa County’s necklace of wetland preserves along the Lake Erie shoreline. The Great Egret Marsh Preserve, managed by The Nature Conservancy, consists of more than 150 acres of marsh and surrounding upland across the road from East Harbor State Park.
Local residents may remember when Floyd McCullough developed the marina and West Harbor Lagoons. The McCulloughs preserved much of the marshlands and adjacent upland, at times leasing a portion of the upland for farming. A Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant, a bargain sale from Floyd’s daughter Mary Ann McCullough and a generous bequest from the estate of Pauline B. Miller of Tiffin assured that the land could be obtained by The Nature Conservancy and protected for the benefit of wildlife and future generations.
The preserve contributes to The Nature Conservancy’s goal to protect and restore an additional 10,000 acres of coastal habitat along Lake Erie. Its marshes are part of the West Harbor Basin, a long, narrow pool of Lake Erie backwater that geologists believe was once the channel of the Portage River. As the last wave of glaciation receded and Lake Erie’s water level rose, the river naturally rerouted itself to empty into the lake at Port Clinton instead of nearby East Harbor State Park.
In 2013 the Conservancy was awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore the old farm fields on the Preserve back to natural landcover and improve fish passage in the existing diked marshes. Improvements in 2014 will include management and removal of invasive phragmites and other non-native vegetation in both the wetland and upland areas.
The Great Egret Marsh Preserve, a haven for waterfowl and wading birds, is open daily to the public from dawn until dusk for wildlife-watching, fishing, hiking, kayaking and canoeing. There is a kayak and canoe launch ramp into West Harbor only a short distance from the parking area. An easy, 1.2 mile mown-grass loop trail guides visitors through the marshes and surrounding upland, with the initial 0.2 mile along West Harbor being ADA accessible. About half of the preserve is covered in classic Lake Erie marshland, blanketed each summer with water lotus.
“What sticks in my mind is the sweeping view of West Harbor and the abundance of great egrets feeding in the marsh,” said Terry Seidel, the Nature Conservancy’s director of land protection in Ohio, of his first visit to the property. “If you live inland, it is pretty impressive to see 50 or so of these big birds in different clusters in shallow waters.”
Nancy Beadle of Marblehead, who took part in the opening day hike on May 10, said, “We are fortunate to have this beautiful preserve so close. I am so grateful that The Nature Conservancy was able to preserve this treasure.”
Directions to the Preserve: Take State Route 2 to State Route 269 North. After 2.5 miles, turn right onto S.R. 163 East/S.R. 269 North for about ½ mile. Turn left onto S.R. 269 North/North Buck Road for about ¾ mile. Turn left onto Buck Road, 139A. Go 500 feet and the entrance to the preserve will be on the right.
For more information on the Nature Conservancy, go to nature.org.