Sunday, May 20, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Matt Markey

Bird watching big business along Erie shore

The sounds might momentarily startle a few birds, but those are cash registers ringing, hotel doors opening, gas pumps clicking, and restaurant dishes clanging.

And in the background, those are business owners along the lake singing the praises of bird watching.

A recent study conducted by Ohio Sea Grant and Bowling Green State University professor Dr. Philip Xie showed how bird watching along Ohio's Lake Erie coastline injects more than $26 million annually into the state's economy and is responsible for about 300 jobs.

The study included more than 1,100 birders who visited a half-dozen of the most popular birding sites in the northern portion of the state, including Oak Openings Preserve in western Lucas County, and Ottawa County's Magee Marsh, which is widely regarded as one of the top birding destinations in North America.

Dr. Xie said the study lays out the financial impact of bird watching for the benefit of policy-makers, and gives businesses and conservationists a road map to follow in their efforts to grow the bird-watching market.

"Having solid numbers will help," Dr. Xie said.

"And this information will be useful for strategic marketing -- once we know where these birders are from, we will know where to spend our marketing dollars better."

Lynne Domokos, manager of Our Guest Inn & Suites in Port Clinton said the bird-watching crowd has a significant impact on the bottom line, especially in the traditional off-season months along the lake.

"It makes a big difference in our business, and they don't come for just one night -- they usually are here for at least several days," she said.

"The bird-watchers spend a lot of money in the area."

Jim Lowe, the owner of Blackberry Corner Tavern on State Route 579 at Elliston-Trowbridge Road, just west of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, said that in the six years he has operated the establishment the legion of birders descending on the area, armed with boots and binoculars, has increased every year.

"The numbers just keep getting larger and larger," Lowe said.

"They are coming from all over the country: We've even had customers come in who are from Australia and Sweden. And they don't hesitate to tell you, they are here to see the birds."

Domokos concurs with Lowe's assessment of the varied origin of the bird watchers, and the study affirmed that while a good portion of the birders come from here in Ohio, a significant number of them make a much longer trip.

"The license plates tell the story," Domokos said. "You can look around the parking lots and see that people are coming from pretty far away just to take advantage of the opportunity we have here to see a lot of different birds."

The Sea Grant probe essentially confirmed what the folks at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory have known for some time -- bird watching is everybody's business.

"Those figures are right in line with what we expected," said Kim Kaufman, executive director of the BSBO.

With the study in hand, Kaufman can now make a pitch to a variety of entities on the value of preserving, protecting, and expanding good bird habitat near the lake.

"When you get up in front of a group and talk about birds and their economic impact, there's a collective gasp when you cite the numbers," she said. "You can speak about the common good and how this is the right thing to do and all, but when you have a dollar figure and solid data, everyone wants to listen."

Kaufman said the job numbers that are a direct result of birding and the economic impact figures are valuable assets, but she also likes the opportunity to put "pins on the map" and show business and government leaders where the many long-distance birding tourists are coming from.

"These things make it very clear how important this is. It makes birds matter to more people," she said.

"We've really launched into the marketing of this. It's a sheer determination on our part to do everything we can to help birds."

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: or 419-724-6068

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