New park to open right on time for peak of spring bird migration

PHOTOS BY VICKI JOHNSON A view of the new Howard Marsh Metropark, part of Metroparks Toledo.

A new spot is to open next weekend along the shores of Lake Erie for bird watching, just in time for the peak of spring migration.

With a dual purpose of providing another recreational area in northwest Ohio and restoring coastal wetlands, Howard Marsh is to open April 28-29 as the newest park in the Metroparks Toledo system.

“The first 750 acres, which has been changed from agriculture back into coastal wetlands, will be open,” said Scott Carpenter, public relations director for the metroparks.

The area in eastern Lucas County has been flooded this spring with lots of help from Mother Nature, and has become part of the series of coastal wetlands on the Lake Erie’s southern shore.

The marsh, on SR 2 at Howard Road, is adjacent to Metzger Marsh State Wildlife Area in a region that also includes Maumee Bay State Park, Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Together, the local, state and federal public lands provide a barrier between the lake and storm water runoff from the land, filtering phosphorus and other pollutants from storm water.

“Coastal wetlands are critically important to a healthy Lake Erie, and they are imperiled,” Carpenter said. “One of the most ambitious projects in metroparks history is to restore part of this 1,000-acre wetland near the lakeshore in Jerusalem Township.”

Also, wetlands provide habitat and stop-over areas for songbirds and warblers, especially during spring migration. The planting of 12,000 trees has added to the bird habitat.

“We’re opening it just before the Biggest Week in American Birding,” Carpenter said. “We expect it to grow into a wonderful birding area.”

In addition to birding, the area has 6-7 miles of diketop hiking that includes boardwalks into the marsh, and 6 miles of water trails through the wetland open for canoeing, kayaking and fishing.

Another environmental benefit is the creation of fish spawning habitat in the Walleye Capital of the World, he said.

On opening weekend, he said, metropark staff members will be available to answer questions about the new park.

The property, which previously was a working farm, was purchased with two partners in 2008 for $6 million. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife contributed $3 million, the Clean Ohio Fund $1.8 million and the Metroparks’ land acquisition fund $1.2 million.

“At the time, this was the single largest purchase in metroparks history, both in acreage and cost,” Carpenter said.

Funding the restoration work has been the Division of Wildlife, $4 million; Metroparks levy funds, $3.5 million; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — aka NOAA — through a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant to Ducks Unlimited, $2.8 million; and an ODNR NatureWorks grant for restrooms, $82,500.