Howard Island: Sunset Landmark

Our Maumee River starts small and slow, snaking through nearly flat land, coming north and east. Then, between Grand Rapids and Providence, Ohio, the river is wide and hits its first fast water and river rapids. Standing in the middle of the Maumee River there, shaped like a fish swimming upstream, is the beautiful 9-acre Howard Island. The waters of the Maumee roll around it from its nose to its tail and pick up speed falling around it down the shallow, rocky riverbed.

This unique and beautiful island has just been purchased by the Conservancy from a private owner with funds from the H2Ohio program. It was one of the last Maumee River islands held in private hands and its acquisition is a rare opportunity to preserve it forever.

Visitors to the village of Grand Rapids and Mary Jane Thurston State Park are familiar with the view of Howard Island. It is in the center of the river, connected to both shores and to smaller Buttonwood Island by low-head dams. It is the cherished sunset view for people in the village walking along the towpath trail between a side-cut canal and the Maumee River.

The island is nearly untouched by development. There are a few narrow footpaths and previous owners have done some hunting, but all the trees, soil, and stone are as they have been forever. The Conservancy has no plans to build structures for people on the island but is looking into an intriguing idea that would allow fish better access to historical spawning habitat upriver from the dam.

The dam serves as a wall to fish, abruptly stopping their upstream movement. Water flows continuously over its top, but the structure has a shape that holds water in a “keeper” flow. This shape slows and baffles water, which is helpful for preventing erosion, but fish need to fight their way through it. The Conservancy is investigating whether a fish ladder or other passage can be constructed through the body of Howard Island. If a ladder is feasible, the Maumee’s walleye and whitefish would once again have easy access to about 21 miles of new spawning habitat, as far west as the Independence Dam near Defiance. Giving the fish of the Maumee all this range would change the life of the river forever. It would be nationally significant.

The first step is to conduct a feasibility study to determine our likelihood of success. If so, funding and construction could take several years. But Howard Island has all the time in the world. It is now permanently preserved and will remain a landmark in the big Maumee, nose to the west, swimming toward the sunset.