BY TOM ROMITO, FONWR BOARD MEMBER
The local folks who have never been to spacious Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) on the Lake Erie shoreline in western Ottawa County, especially those who live in the Port Clinton area, are in for a treat!
The Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (FONWR) are improving public access at three new preserves in the Port Clinton area, including the Dr. Robert “Doc” Nehls Memorial Nature Preserve. This property covers 21 acres of land and 18 acres of submerged land along West Harbor on East Muggy Road in Catawba Island Township.
The Black Swamp Conservancy (BSC) purchased it from Norma Nehls in 2019 after her husband’s death. BSC enlisted the help of the ONWR to convert eight acres of the property, formerly in agricultural use, to shortgrass prairie and pollinator meadow habitat and has plans to restore more acreage to woodland, wetland and scrub-shrub habitat.
FONWR has raised $70,000 to fund an ADA-compliant kayak access point there that will be completed this year.
The Nehls property will be open to the public, with the preserve dedication set for 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 17.
FONWR is working to improve two other public access sites in the Port Clinton area. One is the old Marinewood golf course, a 62-acre site on State Route 163 near the Portage River. This site is part of the Portage River Water Trail, which extends from Pemberville to Port Clinton.
Ducks Unlimited donated the Marinewood site to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2014 and ONWR now manages the parcel. ONWR planted native flowers and grasses, created a short, grass hiking trail, and repaved the parking lot.
Bald eagles and other raptors frequent this parcel, providing a unique wildlife observation opportunity. The next phase of the project will focus on increasing visitor amenities including a gravel trail, kayak launch, kiosk, and a nature play area.
The third public access site near Port Clinton is West Harbor Landing, a 16-acre site is on State Route 53 near State Route 163, just over the bridge on Catawba Island. The parking lot was recently paved and lined. Much of the acreage is marshland. FONWR has worked to improve the remaining land with pollinator habitat and visitor amenities, including a fishing platform and observation deck; canoe and kayak launch; benches; and signage.
ONWR is a 10,600-acre network of woodlands and wetlands stretching east to west from Sandusky Bay to Toledo, and south to north from Route 53 to Lake Erie, with the main refuge and the Visitor Center north of Oak Harbor. In addition to providing a safe haven for wildlife, these areas exist to filter agricultural runoff that goes into Lake Erie.
Remember that our drinking water comes from the lake!
Besides improving access to public areas for recreational use, FONWR raises funds for two other impact areas: purchasing land from willing property owners and restoration of existing refuge parcels and providing opportunities for youth development, such as living stipends for interns on the refuge and field trip grants to bring schools and classes to learn nature on the refuge. To learn more about FONWR, visit www.friendsofottawanwr.org.