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Published: Saturday, 5/13/2006

Outdoors: Natural assets support host of activities

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

The natural world of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan offers a legion of recreational and leisure opportunities for many tastes, all within 100 miles of Toledo.

The region is home to some internationally recognized outdoor recreation venues, and many of them are associated with what is considered to be Ohio s finest natural resource, Lake Erie.

The lake and its tributary rivers provide world-class sport fishing for such species as walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and steelhead trout. Its adjacent wetlands and shoreline area are a bird magnet and recognized as one of North America s premier bird-watching regions.

Ohio s popular Buckeye Trail loops through the region s backroads and is a top trail among many for folks who love to hike. And those with strong legs can enjoy the challenge of the 17-mile Scout Trail in Toledo Metroparks Oak Openings Preserve in western Lucas County.

A fine collection of state park and private campgrounds are ready to serve not only fishermen, birders, and hikers looking for natural places to overnight but also those outdoor folks for whom camping is its own reward.

The Toledo Botanical Gardens on Elmer Drive in West Toledo, and Schedel Gardens and Arboretum on Portage River Road South in Elmore offer fine opportunities for a day s stroll.

Here are some highlights of regional outdoors destinations:

Northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are home to one of the finest freshwater fishing grounds in North America, western Lake Erie. The western basin is recognized as world-class water for walleye and smallmouth bass.

And it s not bad at all for yellow perch as well.

If that were not enough to satisfy diehard anglers, the Maumee and Sandusky rivers offer superb spring runs for walleye and then white bass.

Both streams, sections of which are designated state scenic rivers, also provide excellent fishing for smallmouth bass, catfish, crappies, and other species.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife Publication 77, Public Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Viewing Areas, is an excellent resource that can put you in touch with prime fishing access and more. Copies are available free by calling 1-800-WILDLIFE. Additional information is available at the state Web site, www.ohiodnr.com.

Publication 77 will point you to the above angling destinations and others, which follow, that should not be overlooked: Lake La Su An State Wildlife Area, a chain of lakes in Williams County; Pleasant Hill Reservoir southeast of Mansfield and Clear Fork Reservoir west of Mansfield; Findlay Reservoir No. 2 at Findlay; Beaver Creek Reservoir near Green Springs in Seneca County; Ferguson Reservoir east of Lima; the Auglaize River in Allen and Putnam coutnies, and the Vermilion River (for steelhead trout and smallmouth bass) in Huron County.

In neighboring Michigan, don t overlook the fine bass and panfish lakes in the Irish Hills in northwest Lenawee County and Jackson County, including Wamplers, Devils, Sand, Vineyard, Deep, and Allen, among others. For details call the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Livonia regional office, 734-953-0241, or visit the state Web site, michigan.gov/dnr.

The best and first place to visit, if bird watching is your bag, is the famed Magee Marsh Bird Trail at Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area on the lakeshore in western Ottawa County. The trail is a boardwalk through marshlands and wooded beach ridge, which are magnets for migrating neotropical songbirds each spring, from mid-April to early June and beyond. Contact Magee Marsh at 419-898-0960.

The surrounding marshlands, including those at the adjacent main unit of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge complex, also are havens for migrating waterfowl, waterbirds, and shorebirds. Magee and Ottawa lie along State Rt. 2, west of the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station. Contact Ottawa refuge at 419-898-0014.

Another great lakeshore birding venue lies just to the west: the 10,000-foot boardwalk through the wetlands and woods at the Trautman Nature Center at Maumee Bay State Park. Contact the park nature center at 419-836-9117. Summer hours after Memorial Day are Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A must for birders is a copy of the Ohio Wildlife Viewing Guide, a 96-page book by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and Falcon Press. It describes 80 sites around the state, including 20 in northwest Ohio within an hour of Toledo, that will put birders in feathered heaven. The guide is $8.50 and can be ordered through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Web site, www.ohiodnr.com, then clicking on publications then watchable wildlife viewing sites. Consulting the state s Publication 77 also can help.

Most of the popular birding sites and wildlife viewing sites referred to above also double as fine places to stroll or, more vigorously, to hike.

In addition, the famed Buckeye Trail, which loops the entire state, wends its way through northwest Ohio and the Toledo area, often on country lanes.

For a map of the route and other details, visit the Web site, www.buckeyetrail.org

Another fine Internet resource for hiking and birding is that of the Toledo Area Metroparks, which can be visited at www.metroparkstoledo.com.

In addition to the aforementioned 17-mile Scout Trail at Oak Openings, all the metroparks offer fine foot trails for every taste, from a short stroll to a vigorous hike.

Three state parks in the region deserve particular attention from fans of camping.

They include Maumee Bay State Park, at the end of Cedar Point Road off State Rt. 2, just east of Toledo; East Harbor State Park, off State Rt. 269 near Lakeside in eastern Ottawa County, and Grand Lake St. Marys State Park in Auglaize and Mercer counties. All have fine water attractions, the first two being Lake Erie, plus fishing, hiking, and birding opportunities in additional to first-class campgrounds.

Such fine little vest-pocket state parks as Mary Jane Thurston, on State Rt. 65 west of Grand Rapids in Wood County, Van Buren State Park, on State Rt. 613 east of I-75 north of Findlay, and Harrison Lake near Fayette in Fulton County also provide excellent venues for weekend camping.

The famed vacation mecca that is the Lake Erie islands region offers a wealth of camping and resort opportunities. South Bass Island and Kelleys Island cater to visitors virtually by the boatload. To start an island getaway, contact the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau toll-free, 1-800-441-1271.

For complete details on the state s fine parks system, including maps, directions, amenities, and telephone contacts, visit the ODNR Web site mentioned above and click on state parks and resorts.

Up I-75 at Monroe, Mich., Sterling State Park offers a fine Lake Erie beach and picnic and camping areas. Other details on Michigan parks and other natural attractions can be found at the state Web site, michigan.gov/dnr.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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