Once a farm, then a campground, and now a quiet lakeside park, the Dr. Robert L. Nehls Memorial Nature Preserve is 40 acres on the south end of Catawba Island’s West Harbor. The Nehls family owned and enjoyed the land for many years, using it as a family haven to enjoy nature. Following the death of veterinarian and nature lover Robert Nehls, his wife Norma decided to sell the land to Black Swamp Conservancy so it could be permanently preserved. With its Lake Erie coastal wetlands, woodlands, and a wide pollinator meadow, the land is now a favorite respite for summer tourists and year-round residents.
Over the past few years, we’ve added an open pavilion, picnic tables with wheelchair access, and an ADA kayak launch. And, as of fall of 2022, the preserve also includes a permanent Storybook Trail. The one-mile trail, which circles the meadow and meanders along the shoreline, has book pages posted at stations along its loop. The books are changed monthly to reflect the seasons and to enhance the experience of exploring the preserve. The trail is accessible to people using strollers and wheelchairs and is open from dawn to dusk.
As Laura Rodriquez, event and education coordinator at the Conservancy said, “Being outdoors fosters an appreciation for natural places which can encourage an ethic of care. We choose books to help visitors develop a relationship with the land and allow them to see their role in protecting natural places.” The books are selected by a focus group that includes librarians, teachers, and some children. Laura says that she knows a book is a winner when the kids say that they would run to the next panel to find out what happens next.
Look for the next books under Upcoming Events on the Conservancy’s website. If you really love the book you see on the trail, check the little library box sponsored by the Catawba Little Free Library Stewards; you may find a free copy there! The stewards help the Conservancy to maintain the Nehls Storybook Trail, which is funded through a grant from the Recreational Trail Program, a cooperative project of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Federal Highway Administration.
While on Catawba Island, also visit the nearby 63-acre Cedar Meadow Preserve, owned and managed by the Catawba Island Township. The Conservancy holds a conservation easement protecting that site in perpetuity.