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Published: Sunday, 1/15/2006

Middle Harbor project possible

The possibility of a new 315-acre bass lake right in the heart of western Lake Erie vacationland ought to grab the attention of any sport angler, and it is a prospect that could become reality beginning this year.

The site in question is Middle Harbor, part of the popular East Harbor complex on Marblehead peninsula in eastern Ottawa County. The water complex, on the Erie shoreline surrounding the well-known, 1,800-acre East Harbor State Park, includes the 815-acre East Harbor, 450-acre West Harbor, and Middle Harbor.

The latter once was a going concern, sportfishing-wise. But that was before several causeways were built in 1945 in developing the then-new park. The causeways essentialy shut off water exchange into Middle Harbor from East Harbor, which has an outlet to the lake.

In just three years Middle Harbor completely changed complexion, going from a first class bass-panfish water to a muddy pond full of carp, goldfish, and bullheads. But Middle Harbor can be restored to its former glory and more under a plan devised by the Ohio Division of Wildlife, which is working in conjunction with the Ohio Division of Parks and Recreation.

If the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers gives its blessing, that is. A public comment period on Middle Harbor, which is tied to a parks division campground-marina project on neighboring Middle Bass Island, is open through Jan. 28.

This is new ground for us, stated Jeff Tyson, Lake Erie fish management and research supervisor for the wildlife division. We actually will be working to create more habitat, compared to managing what s already there.

Lest anyone question why worry about Middle Harbor, given its proximity to the walleye and smallmouth bass capitals of the world in western Lake Erie, remember that weather often precludes fishing on the big lake itself. And not everyone can afford, or even wants, an Erie-size boat. Thus improving Middle Harbor has definite appeal and potential clientele.

In addition to the problem of lack of water and fish exchange with the bass and panfish-rich East Harbor, Middle Harbor also suffers from poor water clarity. That in part is because of strong northeast or southeast winds which can blow across it unimpeded and roil the fairly shallow bottom.

The solution includes installing large water-exchange culverts in the park causeways and properly reconnecting East, Middle, and West harbors. In addition, the boating channel into East Harbor from Lake Erie needs to be dredged, and Tyson s shop is proposing to build from dredgings a 41-acre boomerang-shaped island in Middle Harbor to break the water-muddying winds.

The plan also calls for breaking up the uniformity of the harbor bottom by deepening some areas of Middle Harbor to seven feet or more. That would be deep enough to allow fish to overwinter there, among other things, and diversify things with pockets of habitat for various types of rooted vegetation.

Other work would create new wetlands, which would be used as a swap or trade-off for small wetlands losses up at the proposed Middle Bass marina-campground project.

Federal funds would be used for the channel dredging and the wildlife division would provide up to about $120,000 for reconnecting the three harbors and fishing-access points, and development of the fishery.

Tyson said that if the corps of engineers grants the permits for the Middle Harbor and Middle Bass projects, work could begin this summer on a three-year Middle Harbor plan.

Public comments should be addressed to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1776 Niagara St., Buffalo, N.Y., 14207, and should be addressed to Elizabeth Stone. The corp notes that a lack of comment will be understood as no objection to the proposed work.

In addition to largemouth bass, the renewed Middle Harbor could mimic its sister harbors with populations of bluegill, crappie, rock bass, some walleye and yellow perch, and even a smallmouth bass or two, among popular sportfish. Maybe even northern pike and muskellunge.

It s exciting to address a component of the fishery that has not had much enhancement, but which stands to benefit significantly from enhancement, summed Tyson.

He noted that in addition to benefiting shoreline anglers at the park, the project could serve as a model for development of a similar concept in Maumee Bay as a solution to open-lake dumping of Maumee River channel-dredgings and related habitat-restoration challenges.

Hmmmm. Sounds like fun.



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