LEESVILLE — Work is underway on the newest addition to the Crawford Park District.
Director Josh Dyer said he expects the Sandusky River Headwaters Preserve to be completed by October. The wetland and habitat restoration project area is located on 38 acres of land on Ohio 598 across from Lowe-Volk Park and the park district headquarters.
Crawford Park District was awarded a grant for wetland construction through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ H2Ohio initiative, which was commissioned by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019. The General Assembly approved $172 million initially to help fund some 36 projects across the state.
“The overall plan is to preserve headwater habitat,” Dyer said during a tour of the property on March 19. “In a land dominated by agriculture — which agriculture is important — we still need to protect our water resources. By being able to preserve these riparian corridors (ecosystems that include a stream channel, floodplain, and transitional upland fringe), such as we have here with the Sandusky River, it will basically serve as a big buffer from contaminants that come in. By preserving this land, that’s helping the headwaters of the Sandusky, but also helping Lake Erie’s health, which is very important. Lake Erie is a huge economic plus for northern Ohio.
“But it will also give us another place to use for nature exploration that we can share with the public. It will provide people with opportunities to take a hike, walk along a river, see a wetland working, see the flowers and the trees — just for them to experience it,” he added. “I take for granted that I work in a park. I’m very fortunate and most people aren’t. Our park system in general gives people that nature-fix outlet.”
The Sandusky River begins in Lowe-Volk Park at the confluence of Paramour Creek and Allen Run at Leesville and winds its way for some 133 miles before emptying out into Muddy Creek Bay on the western end of Sandusky Bay. The river flows through the cities of Bucyrus, Upper Sandusky, Tiffin, and Fremont as well as several villages like Old Fort and Fort Seneca on its way north.
Approximately 2,300 feet of the Sandusky River is included in the new headwaters preserve property.
Dyer said the ecosystem of the preserve is fairly diverse.
“We’ve got an upland area that is dryer and has plant species that like the dryer feet, so to speak, then you drop down into the bottom area along the river and you have the plants that like wet feet and grow along rivers,” Dyer explained. “We get some migratory birds along the river in the springtime and the fall. I’m excited to see what we have coming up this spring in the way of wild flowers.”
During the tour on March 19, Dyer checked several traps the park district uses to collect live animal specimens for survey purposes from vernal pools on the property. He wasn’t disappointed with what he found that day. Among the creatures that showed up in the traps were a large female crayfish, several salamanders, a couple of wood frogs, and a snail. Dyer returned all of the animals and two huge wood frog egg sacks he found in one trap back to the pool.
“Two years ago, we documented the first Jefferson salamander in the county (at the area that will be the preserve), so that was cool,” Dyer said. “By creating more habitat, we’re hoping to increase the diversity of animals in this area.”
Dyer noted that a major part of the project includes converting a former agriculture field in the bottom area into prairie and a wetland, which will serve as a filter of sorts for water that drains into the Sandusky River from surrounding land.
“There’s a stream that comes in and it’s got about a hundred acres land that it drains into this area,” he said. “That water comes through and goes straight into the river. By putting in wetlands and slowing that water down, it’s holding that water on the landscape longer. If you keep it up on the land longer, the soil gets the opportunity to do its magic as the water percolates down through here. It filters out contaminants that the earth can use.”
Several vernal pools have already been built on the former agriculture field, which Dyer said is now essentially “a wet meadow.” Vernal pools are seasonal bodies of water that provide habitat for certain species of plants and animals. Due to the fact that vernal pools are devoid of fish, they’re perfect homes for amphibians, small reptiles, aquatic insects, and freshwater invertebrates, such as the aforementioned crayfish.
“I like what’s happened with (the land) so far,” Dyer said. “On April 24, we’ve scheduled a planting date to put in some prairie plugs and wetland plugs for plants. We’re going to have some prairie seed mix. We’re going to plant some trees by the vernal pools to give them some shade.”
Dyer said the park district acquired the land from several different people, including about 30 acres from the Betty Tucker family and seven acres from the estate of Russell Long. He said Clean Ohio grant funding from the Ohio Public Works Commission help facilitate the purchase of those properties. The Norm Huber family donated another acre of land adjacent to the Sandusky River that will be part of the preserve, Dyer said.
For information about the Crawford Park District, visit www.crawfordparkdistrict.org.
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