We could all use a few more “friends” like these folks.
The volunteer army known officially as “The Friends of Maumee Bay State Park” takes those more than 1,300 acres off Cedar Point Road very personally. They see the park, its beaches, wetlands, and its camping area all as sacred ground.
The glaciers of the Pleistocene era did the heavy lifting out here, and now it is the responsibility of this spit and polish patrol to keep the place pristine. In this unusual natural environment, where the expanse of Lake Erie melds into a blend of sand, marshes, and prairies, magic is supposed to be an everyday occurrence.
“The expectations we have here are very high. We want that ‘wow’ moment with every visitor,” said Deb Ferguson, the campground coordinator at Maumee Bay, who oversees the efforts of the volunteer corps. “We want every guest’s visit to Maumee Bay to be something they will make a memory from.”
The Friends of Maumee Bay State Park was composed of just a half dozen couples when it got its start more than 15 years ago. It is now a throng of around 200 — and growing.
This is not a glamorous job. The volunteers paint, clean out fire pits, pick up trash, and even take care of the droppings left behind by the numerous Canada geese.
“They do a lot to make sure the details are taken care of, so when a visitor drives into Maumee Bay and says, ‘this place is beautiful’ — they deserve a lot of the credit for that experience,” said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, community relations manager for the Ohio State Parks system.
The Friends of Maumee Bay State Park was recently honored with the “Volunteer-Park of the Year” award from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for their efforts. The Maumee Bay group also won the honor in 1998.
In this era of cutbacks and tighter budgets, the volunteers frequently bridge the gap in terms of the maintenance of the park.
“The staff here can only do so much, and we just don’t have the ability to put the finishing touches on some areas, so the volunteers pick up the slack,” Ferguson said. “They make the difference.”
The Maumee Bay volunteers concentrate their efforts on litter pickup throughout the park, landscaping, and pruning, gardening, general cleaning of the bath houses and common areas, maintaining the trails, beach cleanup, picnic table repair, painting projects, and anything else that’s needed to get the facility all gussied up for its guests.
Dave Brimmer, who is retired from IBM in Toledo, has been volunteering at Maumee Bay since the “Friends” group started. A visitor to campgrounds across the country — Brimmer and his wife are on their fifth camper — he knows how critical it is to address the details.
“It is so important to pull into a place and see things look so nice,” he said. “A lot of the people that visit Maumee Bay are experienced campers, and when they tell us we’ve got the best park in Ohio, that means a lot.”
The Friends of Maumee Bay State Park is part of a state-wide volunteer contingent of some 7,000 that puts its time and sweat into keeping 75 state parks neat and presentable. Last year, those volunteers donated more than 340,000 hours of work in the parks.
“Across the entire state park system, our volunteers enhance the operation,” Hetzel-Evans said. “A lot of the volunteers are local folks who have a tremendous amount of pride in what their community looks like, and I think that is certainly the case with the Maumee Bay group. They take it personally, to ensure that the place looks great and that our visitors have a good time there.”
The annual “Spring Park Clean” at Maumee Bay State Park will be held on April 27 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers are urged to register in advance, and bring work gloves to the event.
“With the Maumee Bay volunteers, you can see their passion for the place, time and time again,” Hetzel-Evans said. “They make a difference.”
SAFE BOATING CLASSES: A boating safety class will be offered at the U.S. Coast Guard Station/Marblehead on April 20 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Age 18 and under get the course for free, upon successful completion. For information and registration, contact Chris Nelson at 419-307-5513 or at the firstname.lastname@example.org email address. Also on April 20, a boating safety class will be offered at the Maumee American Legion Post on Illinois Avenue. The class meets from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and costs $35, with lunch provided. Contact Dale Steinfurth at 419-464– 1192 or Terry Cleary at 419-367-0222 for information or registration.
Mike Schabeck will teach a boating education course at Ottawa Hills Elementary School on Indian Road on April 21. The class meets in the community room from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fee is $35, and the course will cover navigation aids, rules of the road, signaling, personal watercraft, anchoring, docking, VHF radio, trailering, and other aspects of boating. Registration is through the Ottawa Hills Office of Village Life at 419-537-9852 or by calling Schabeck at 419-460-4829.
Lost Peninsula Marina in Erie, Mich., is offering a boating safety class from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 27 and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 28. The cost is $30. For registration and information, contact Phil Wesley at 734-723-7466 or at the email@example.com email address.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.