Protecting Open Space on Crowded Catawba Island

With new housing creeping toward what remains of the marshy shorelines and interior woods in this popular resort area, the Black Swamp Conservancy was pleased to recently be awarded a Clean Ohio grant for the purchase of two privately owned pieces on Catawba Island. One piece preserves 12 acres of pristine shoreline and the other is more than 19 acres of mature hardwood forest.

“Catawba is a small and special place under extreme development pressure, so these parcels are valuable and increasingly rare,” said Rob Krain, executive director of the Conservancy. Catawba is popular with fishermen, birders, and paddlers.

The 12-acre parcel includes 1,380 feet of shoreline on West Harbor and a broad marsh. This useful space is high-quality wetland with access to great fishing water. Like all Lake Erie wetlands, the marsh buffers flooding, prevents erosion, and filters pollutants. Its shallow waters and mudflats also provide food and rest for migrating ducks and wading birds. There is some public access to the area by footpath. That access will be maintained, and future plans may include a kayak launch and improved fishing access. Stepping back from the water and behind a line of trees and shrubs, there is some fallow land. Here, plans call for the control of invasive plants and the creation of a pollinator meadow. The result will be a field of color, alive with butterflies and bees for half the year adjacent to the marshy lakeshore.

The mature forest nearby is also a special place, especially for the thousands of migrating birds that rest there before or after their flight over Lake Erie. It is rare on Catawba to find unbroken stands of large hardwoods: chestnut oak, sugar maple, hackberry, cottonwood, and American chestnut. In the shade of the trees, explorers will come across outcroppings of dolomite bedrock. “It’s a large chunk of forest, undeveloped and healthy,” said Krain. There is some non-native honeysuckle that will need to be addressed but the natural community is otherwise intact.

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