If you stopped to visit the popular Sportsmen's Migratory Bird Center at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area on Sunday, you found its doors closed.
That is because the Ohio Division of Wildlife says it is short of manpower and no longer will allow volunteers alone to staff the center on Sundays, as it has for 16 years. The center is located off State Rt. 2 in the heart of Magee Marsh in western Ottawa County.
The Sunday closure, announced only last Wednesday to volunteers of the Friends of Magee Marsh, was not announced publicly by the wildlife division, though it routinely does announce everything from banding of bald eagles to stockings of steelhead trout.
The state also annually announces well in advance each fall the dates when the access road to the lakefront marshes and the famed Bird Trail at Magee will be closed to accommodate the waterfowl hunting season, or when various marsh units can be viewed and bid for wintertime trapping of pesky muskrats and other furbearers.
So the Sunday closure of the Bird Center is no small cause of irritation among volunteers, according to Steve Secord, a volunteer since 1993 and member of the Friends since its founding about 12 years ago.
"We just got the [official] letter Saturday," said Secord. "I took offense to [the Sunday closure]. Where am I a liability?" He said that volunteers suddenly feel that they cannot be trusted and need staff oversight.
Nonetheless, asserted John Daugherty, manager of Ohio Wildlife District 2, "We need to have a division person present to manage a state facility."
In turn, because the division lacks the manpower to staff the Bird Center seven days, the Sunday closure is being tried.
Daugherty said that District 2 just recently assumed management responsibility for Magee, following the retirement of Mark Shieldcastle, who was wetlands project leader in the research unit at Magee, known administratively as Crane Creek Wildlife Research Station. As such the station answered
directly to Columbus.
In looking at oversight of the Bird Center, it was decided by District 2 that a division staff member should be on the premises during hours of public operation of the center.
"That's probably the way we should always have done it," Daugherty stated.
He acknowledged that District 2 will take a further look at the use of the center by visitors with an eye to adjusting hours of operation, perhaps including closure on some other day. But, "we don't have the people to man it seven days a week and we'll see how it goes."
Secord questions why the closing was done with so little advance notice and at least was not phased in "so people could have time to adjust to it." The volunteers managed well for 16 years, he noted. "It was not costing taxpayers a nickel for them to come in and maintain a Sunday opening."
Should a volunteer have encountered any problems - anything from vandalism to theft - it would have been a simple matter to call the Ottawa County sheriff's office, he said.
From an economic standpoint, the Bird Center essentially was built and maintained by hunting and fishing license money and related funds and has not been part of the state's general revenue fund and budget woes, Secord pointed out. The same goes for Magee and its noted wetlands.
He noted that as the spring birding season winds down and birder visits taper off, duck hunters will begin trickling in seeking information of the fall seasons, among other visitors. "On Sundays there's not going to be somebody to tell them anything."