The success of this year’s Biggest Week in American Birding is a testament to the value of decades of dogged advocacy by wildlife and natural resources activists.
The 10-day birding festival is organized by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory and operates out of Maumee Bay State Park. An estimated 80,000 to 90,000 people have ventured into the publicly owned wildlife habitat along Lake Erie to catch a glimpse of the migratory songbirds stopping over during their arduous trip back north from the tropics.
Many of them come from outside the area — the birdwatchers, as well as the birds. The humans are toting binoculars, long telephoto lenses, and guidebooks. Experts predict a $40 million economic impact.
The Lake Erie shoreline marshes, when they weren’t drained for agriculture, have always been known for waterfowl. Over the last 67 years, portions of the corridor have been returned to natural conditions for warblers, thrushes, and orioles, not to mention ruddy ducks, horned grebes, and hooded mergansers, and other exotic birds that birders crave to see.
The nearly 15,000 acres now reserved for wetlands and natural habitat have been cobbled together through federal, state, local, and private spending since 1951 when the state of Ohio purchased the 2,200-acre Magee Marsh.
In just one of many improvements, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Friends of Magee Marsh spent $300,000 to renovate a decades-old boardwalk that gives access to tourists while saving the habitat from being trampled.
Nature, with man’s help, has been reclaiming those coastal wetlands, and the songbirds have taken notice.
And it isn’t just the migratory birds that can be found here on their annual trips north and south, but all kinds of flying and earthbound creatures that live there year-round, including eagles, hawks, rabbits, foxes, and deer.
The latest addition to the inventory of restored natural wetland is Howard Marsh Metropark. Like the rest of the Great Black Swamp of northwest Ohio, it was tiled for farmland — a purpose served for many decades. The new $17.6-million park has 6 miles of hiking trails, a boardwalk, and 6 miles of deep-water channels for fishing and kayaking.
Other public lands along the lake shore that make up what U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) has called “a giant green necklace” of lake-shore habitat include Metzger Marsh, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Magee Marsh, and Maumee Bay State Park. And smack in the middle of Toledo is Manhattan Marsh, a 21-acre wetland that the Metroparks Toledo agreed to purchase from the Lucas County Land Bank for a mere $300.
They call this eco-tourism because the restored wetlands of Lake Erie now not only attract a growing population of migrating songbirds, but a growing number of human visitors as well.
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