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Sandusky Bay land bought to start preserve

SANDUSKY - A national conservancy group announced yesterday that it is buying 73 acres along the east Sandusky Bay as a first step toward a planned nature preserve in one of Ohio's largest unprotected coastal marshes.

The Trust for Public Land is paying $1.2 million to buy the 73 acres from an unidentified seller, said J. Wolfe Tone, a project manager from the trust's Cleveland office. Part of the purchase price was provided by the Sandusky/Erie County Community Foundation.

The site, to be known as the Community Foundation Preserve at Eagle Point, is part of 1,200 acres between U.S. 6 and the Cedar Point Chaussee that conservation officials hope eventually to acquire and protect from development, Mr. Tone said.

More than a third of the area - up to 500 acres - is under water. The rest includes mud flats, forests, and farmland.

“We're really excited about this,” Mr. Tone said. “It'll provide a place for the general public of Erie County and Sandusky to get to Lake Erie. There are very few places along Lake Erie where you and I can get access.”

The trust is the initial buyer but plans eventually to turn the land over to Erie MetroParks, which will manage the site in the meantime. That plan - and further land acquisition - depends on federal and state aid.

“The Trust for Public Land is not the long-term steward,” Mr. Tone said. “Erie MetroParks is. We're going to provide a source of short-term funding until long-term funding can be obtained.”

Jonathan Granville, director of the park district, said officials plan to seek a grant from the governor's Clean Ohio fund.

In addition, a $2 million federal grant request sponsored by Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) awaits action when Congress returns in January to finish work on several 2003 spending bills. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) also has sponsored a request for funds.

“We're left unknowing the fate of our long-term funding ... but we're saying we're confident we can do this,” Mr. Tone said.

The park district plans to allow limited access to the 73-acre site before spring arrives.

“We expect that we will begin programming the site even this winter,” Mr. Granville said. “And by this summer we hope to have portions of the property open for drop-in visitors to walk, perhaps fish, bird-watch, and enjoy the scenery of Sandusky Bay, because it is just fantastic.”

Erie MetroParks will seek public input on how to manage the property, he said.

Besides the purchase announced yesterday, the Trust for Public Lands has an option to buy about 950 acres held by the Nature Conservancy and is discussing acquiring three other parcels, Mr. Tone said. All of the owners have expressed interest in having their property remain in its natural state.

“The entire project could cost upwards of $5 million, so we need to maximize the conservation intent of the property owners, and it's there,” Mr. Tone said. “It's fair to say that all parties have expressed an interest in seeing this land preserved.”

The 1,200 acres provide a habitat for migratory birds in the spring and bald eagles most of the year. In fact, the site acquired yesterday hosts a nesting pair of bald eagles.

“It's one of the few places in Ohio back 20, 30 years ago where the native bald eagle population survived until we got a handle on the pesticide problem,” Mr. Granville said. “This area is prime habitat for the American bald eagle, ... and it's a fantastic place to see migratory birds of all kinds.”

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