Built in the Nehls Memorial Nature Preserve on East Muggy Road on the Catawba Peninsula, the kayak launch facility is ADA certified to treat paddlers with disabilities. (Photo by Mary Ann Romito)
BY TOM ROMITO, FONWR BOARD MEMBER
Locals who have never been to the sprawling Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (ONWR) on the shores of Lake Erie in western Ottawa County, especially those who live in the Port Clinton area, will be delighted!
The Friends of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge (FONWR) are improving public access to three new protected areas in the Port Clinton area, including the Dr. Robert “Doc” Nehls Memorial. This property comprises 21 acres of land and 18 acres of sunken land along West Harbor on East Muggy Road in the Catawba Island community.
FONWR has worked to improve West Harbor Landing with a pollinator habitat and visitor facilities including a fishing platform, observation deck, canoe and kayak launch, benches and signage. (Photo by Kris Johnston)
The Black Swamp Conservancy (BSC) bought it from Norma Nehls in 2019 after the death of her husband. BSC has enlisted the help of the ONWR to convert eight hectares of the formerly agricultural property into short-grass prairie and pollinating meadow habitat and is planning to restore further cultivation areas in forest, wetland and bush habitats.
FONWR raised $ 70,000 to fund an ADA-compliant kayak access point there, which will be completed this year.
The Nehls estate will open to the public on Saturday, July 17th, at 11 a.m.
A path leads visitors to the former Marinewood golf course. It is now 62 acres off State Route 163 near the Portage River with a public parking lot, native wildlife, and a nature trail. (Photo by Kris Johnston)
FONWR is working to improve two more publicly accessible sites in the Port Clinton area. One is the old Marinewood Golf Course, an area of 62 acres on State Route 163 near the Portage River. This location is part of the Portage River Water Trail which stretches from Pemberville to Port Clinton.
Ducks Unlimited donated the Marinewood location to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2014 and ONWR is now managing the package. ONWR has planted native flowers and grasses, laid out a short grass footpath and re-paved the parking lot.
Bald eagles call the Marinewood Nature Reserve their home and build a large nest there. (Photo by Kris Johnston)
Bald eagles and other birds of prey visit this property and provide a unique wildlife viewing opportunity. The next phase of the project will focus on expanding the visitor facilities, including a gravel path, kayak launch facility, kiosk and nature play area.
The third publicly accessible location near Port Clinton is West Harbor Landing, a 16-acre site on State Route 53 near State Route 163, just past the bridge on Catawba Island. The parking lot was recently paved and lined. Much of the cultivated area is marshland. FONWR has worked to upgrade the remaining land with pollinator habitat and visitor facilities, including a fishing platform and viewing platform; Canoe and kayak start; Benches; and signage.
ONWR is a 10,600 acre forest and wetland area that extends east to west from Sandusky Bay to Toledo and south to north from Route 53 to Lake Erie, with the main refuge and visitor center north of Oak Harbor. In addition to providing a safe haven for wildlife, these areas also serve to filter agricultural runoff that enters Lake Erie.
Remember that our drinking water comes from the lake!
In addition to improving access to public areas for recreational purposes, FONWR is raising funds for two other areas of activity: buying land from willing landowners and restoring existing protection parcels, as well as providing youth development opportunities such as scholarships to bring schools and classes to the Learning about nature in the refuge. To learn more about FONWR, visit www.friendsofottawanwr.org.