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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2008

Utility signs over upkeep of marsh to wildlife agency

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

LUNA PIER - A strip of property on the Lake Erie shoreline that once was a summer youth camp operated by the Diocese of Toledo is entering today into a new life under the umbrella of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An agreement has been reached to enroll the marsh and beach area owned by Consumers Power Co. into the management of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, which extends from the Detroit-Windsor corridor to southern Monroe County.

The Detroit River refuge, which was created in 2001 under legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn), is the first international wildlife refuge in North America.

Mr. Dingell and U.S. Rep Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) are expected to join other elected officials and dignitaries today at the utility's J.R. Whiting Power plant, just south of Luna Pier, to mark the joint cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The property was called Camp Lady of the Lake from 1940 to 1969 when the Diocese of Toledo used it as summer camp for children of St. Anthony's Villa and as a retreat for diocesan groups. Among the reasons cited by the diocese for closing the camp were the polluted waters in the lake that made it unsafe for swimming.

The diocese sold the property to a Michigan developer in 1970 who unsuccessfully proposed putting a mobile home park on the land.

Consumers Power acquired the property nine years later to create a buffer between the power plant and Luna Pier, said utility spokesman Kelly Farr.

Under the cooperative agreement, Consumers Power will maintain ownership of the 49-acre parcel and allow it to be jointly managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so that the land can be eligible for federal money.

John Hartig, who manages the U.S. side of the refuge for the agency, said the cooperative agreement with the utility increases the entire refuge corridor to approximately 5,100 acres.

"This is really unique for Monroe and Wayne counties. We are working in a partnership with Canada to grow this into a world-class refuge for wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation activities," he said. "We will not only be preserving it, but enhancing it with the staff at the Whiting plant to make improvements to the habitat at this site."

In 2006, the 2,217-acre Erie Marsh Preserve in southeastern Monroe County, near the Michigan-Ohio line, was added to the wildlife refuge corridor.

Mr. Hartig said more than 300 species of birds have been catalogued in the corridor and the waters within it contain more than 100 species of fish.

The refuge area, he said, offers recreation opportunities for nearly 7 million people who live within a 45-minute drive of the Detroit-Windsor-Monroe-Toledo metropolitan area.

"We truly have something exceptional," he said.

Mr. Farr said the land will not be made accessible to the public and will be used on an appointment-only basis for environmental-education classes.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 734-241-3610.



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