Preserving Precious Habitats Through Collaborative Partnerships

One reason for the Conservancy’s success in preserving land is strong partnerships. We work closely with governments and park districts, as well as the private landowners who entrust us with the stewardship of their properties under permanent conservation agreements. One instance of a successful partnership is unfolding on Catawba Island.

At the end of this month, the Conservancy will complete the acquisition of two separate parcels. Sixteen acres of mature woodlands will be preserved as a refuge for migrating and nesting birds. The other piece, 12 acres of shoreline and marsh along West Harbor, will be given to the Ottawa County Park District.

The Ottawa County Park District is a relatively new agency. Though It was created in 1992, funded operations didn’t begin until 2020 with the passage of a county-wide levy. Since then, the agency has been busy planning bike trails, hiking trails, and working on the Portage River Water Trail. The Catawba Island property marks a historic milestone as the park district’s inaugural owned and managed preserve. Black Swamp Conservancy is deeply gratified to contribute to the growth of this agency as a guardian of land and water preservation in Ottawa County.

The shoreline property that will become part of the park district is an outpost of marshland that was threatened by creeping housing development in the popular Catawba area. The acreage includes just over a quarter of a mile of natural shoreline, submerged wetland and marsh, riparian wetlands, and riparian forest and fields. Like all Lake Erie wetlands, the marsh and wetlands serve multiple functions in the natural system. Emergent wetlands hold water during rainy seasons; deep-rooted marsh plants prevent erosion and filter pollutants; shallow waters and mudflats provide food and rest for migrating ducks and wading birds. Just inland from the marsh is a band of uplands that provides space for a future walking trail.

Working together, the Conservancy and the park district will permanently preserve a haven of increasingly rare Lake Erie habitat. The public will be able to visit during daylight hours by way of a mown footpath. The park district has future plans that may include a kayak launch and improved access to productive fishing waters.

The second parcel, which the Conservancy will own and manage, is also rare habitat in the community. The 18-acre expanse of mature forest is an unbroken stand of large hardwoods that includes chestnut oak, sugar maple, hackberry, cottonwood, and American chestnut. The tall trees provide critical respite for the thousands of migrating birds that stop here before or after the long flight over Lake Erie. There is no opportunity to establish a parking area here without impacting the forest community, so this acreage will not be open to the general public. We are planning guided excursions to visit this space with small groups during the migratory seasons for birding.

The new acquisitions join the 63-acre Cedar Meadow Preserve and the 40-acre Dr. Robert L. Nehls Memorial Nature Preserve on Catawba, all now protected by the Conservancy.

Photo credit: Emma Barasso
Egret with Frog (top), Canadian Warbler (bottom)