Saturday, Jun 25, 2016
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Metroparks seek funds for corridor 11-mile strip would enhance habitats of rare flora, insects

Someday soon, with the help of grants and state matching funds, Toledo Area Metroparks hope to see an unbroken swath of green stretching from Secor Metropark to Oak Openings Preserve - an “Oak Openings Corridor” about 11 miles long.

John Jaeger, head of environmental resources for the Metroparks, said he and six other staffers recently submitted a $1.2 million matching grant proposal to the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund that they hope to combine with money from the Lucas County Metroparks Land Acquisition levy to buy six parcels of land for the “connect the dots” project.

The 370 total acres are scattered, spokesman Scott Carpenter said - some adjoin existing nature areas or the Wabash Cannonball Trail. All are part of a geological niche unique to northwestern Ohio known as Oak Openings, typified by sand dunes, wet prairies, and oak savanna plains. It is home to endangered wild lupines, orchids, shining ladies' tresses, hay sedge, prickly pear cactus, and porcupine grass.

Metroparks seeks 100 acres of Westwinds Industrial Park near Toledo Express Airport. A deal has not been finalized.

The other acreage, adjacent to old railway lines and roads, will fill in missing spaces in the hoped-for preserve, which will join Secor Metropark to state-owned Irwin Prairie and Nature Conservancy-owned Kitty Todd preserves.

It then will connect to the Wabash Cannonball Trail, which cuts through Oak Openings Preserve, Mr. Jaeger said.

“These are all high-quality parcels of land, all of it in the Swan Creek watershed headwaters, all of it home to endangered species,” Mr. Jaeger said. “The sellers are willing; we aren't taking any land by eminent domain.

“The boundaries are not well-defined,” he said. “We want to have places where the plants and soil can be preserved or restored, and provide places where people can get in and see what these habitats look like: a railroad prairie, an oak savanna, places unique to this area. Somewhere down the road, we'd like to see an off-road bicycle trail, joining them all together.”

It's not just about people and recreation, he said. Rejoining the ecological areas will give rare butterflies, turtles, plants, and cacti a better chance of diversifying and strengthening their genetic makeup.

There's significant competition for the state money, he said. Maumee and Oregon have submitted proposals, as well as Olander Park in Sylvania, and the Nature Conservancy, owner of the Kitty Todd land.

“There's some real competition out there, and all the projects are worthwhile,” Mr. Jaeger said. “This year, Clean Ohio has $1.7 million allocated for Lucas County.

“We think our parcels of land meet all their criteria,” he said.

Metroparks will learn in July if the request is granted, he said.

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