A new, large restoration initiative on a major tributary of the Sandusky River will soon become Seneca County’s newest park, a wholly natural area.
The Conservancy recently purchased the Clary-Boulee-McDonald Nature Preserve, 160 contiguous acres of land (one-quarter mile by one-quarter mile) in several separate transactions. Wolf Creek meanders through the center of the property, with 60 acres of mature streamside forest along its banks – the other 100 acres have been farmed and will be restored to natural habitats. Our restoration plans will add about 45 acres of valuable wetlands to the site and additional woodlands and meadows on the higher ground.
Wolf Creek and its existing streamside forest will be the heart of restoration. This is one of the few stretches of stream in northwest Ohio that remains unchannelized and in a natural state with streambed riffles and very little undercutting of its banks. Along the stream, we’ll expand a relatively mature swath of quality habitat.
We begin visioning the future of our restoration projects by trying to determine the land’s historic conditions. This includes assessments of the property’s specific topography, hydrology and plant communities.
Our review of the Clary-Boulee-McDonald Nature Preserve shows how this land handled water before it was drained for farming. We can see relic wetland benches where waters would rise and stand during seasonally wet weather. We also noted natural floodplain channels and swales that held water for long periods of time. While drainage tiles and ditching have made the land dry enough to farm, the property’s wetlands will be readily restored with a little encouragement, starting with disabling the drainage tiles.
One reason this property shows such potential for improving water quality is that it interacts with drainage from a 64-square-mile area. This huge drainage area gives us the opportunity to capture and treat a vast amount of nutrient-rich floodwaters that will pass through our wetland. Much of the surrounding landscape is agricultural, and the runoff water carries phosphorus and other nutrients. Our goal is to hold the water onsite and give it time to naturally infiltrate into the soil. To do this, we will enhance the historic floodways and wetlands and re-connect them to Wolf Creek. Low berms and swales will help to pond water allowing native vegetation to incorporate nutrients and other pollutants.
The higher land will be restored to riparian woodland. We will plant thousands of hardwood trees – hickory, oak, hackberry, and buckeye for example – to buffer the wetlands. We’ll also plant several acres of wildflower meadows that will provide for bees, dragonflies, and other pollinators.
Restoration should be complete by the fall of 2022, after which the Conservancy will gift the property to Seneca County Parks and maintain a conservation agreement over the land, ensuring its permanent protection. Sarah Betts, executive director of the Seneca County Park District, said that the project will advance local planning efforts. “Our community plan calls for more natural areas and more spaces for public land access. Water quality improvement is also a major priority addressed by this project.”
This exciting project is funded through the H2Ohio program.