LEESVILLE — Supporters of the Crawford Park District gathered Thursday to celebrate the completion of the district’s newest conservation project. The Sandusky Headwaters Preserve was dedicated during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The wetland and habitat restoration project area is located on 38 acres of land on State Route 598 across from Lowe-Volk Park and the park district headquarters. Crawford Park District was awarded a $100,000 grant for wetland construction through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) H2Ohio initiative, which was commissioned by Gov. Mike DeWine in 2019. The General Assembly approved $172 million initially to help fund 36 projects across the state.
ODNR has been supportive of projects like the Sandusky Headwaters Preserve, which will help reduce the amount of nutrients and pollutants from agricultural and industrial run-off that make their way through river systems into Lake Erie.
“The project was just completed this past March,” Crawford Park District Director Josh Dyer said. “If you build it, they will come. We had tadpoles in the wetland right away. We had songbirds migrating through. We had sandpipers utilizing the shallow areas of this wetland. So the construction of this wetland is very vital not just for the nutrient reduction in Lake Erie, but also for habitat creation for vital wetland species.”
The preserve’s wetlands area includes vernal pools, which 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, Dyer said they’re perfect homes for amphibians, small reptiles, aquatic insects, and freshwater invertebrates, such as crayfish. It also features a boardwalk for visitors to walk around the preserve.
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 park district acquired the land for the preserve from several different local residents. He said Clean Ohio grant funding from the Ohio Public Works Commission helped facilitate the purchase of those properties.
ODNR Director Mary Mertz and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted attended Thursday’s ceremony along with other state officials. Mertz said the various H2Ohio projects across the state are the culmination of a vision expressed by the Governor’s Office to provide “clean and accessible water for all Ohioans.” She said DeWine tasked the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, and the Ohio EPA to develop a plan to accomplish that vision.
“(DeWine) said, “Come with a strategy. Come up with a plan. Work together. We’ve got a problem. Do something. We need to take action now,’” Mertz said. “We have been working together and meeting every week since that time and working collaboratively, each finding the place of our expertise and the best use of our skills to together achieve that goal. For ODNR, it’s really been a focus on natural infrastructure. Natural infrastructure we can put in place. What can we do to restore the wetlands that were historically up in this beautiful, beautiful part of the state, and do it strategically so we don’t detract from the fantastic food production that takes place up here, which is really important.”
Mertz noted that H2Ohio projects like the Sandusky Headwaters Preserve reduce the amount of nutrients (phosphorus, nitrates, etc.) that cause damage to Ohio waterways, create and promote habitat for native and migratory wildlife, and promote outdoor recreation for Ohio residents and visitors to the state.
“We are excited with what we’ve been able to do with wetlands at this point,” Mertz added. “We’re investing over $100 million in wetlands across Ohio, focusing on the northwest part of the state, but we’ve done a number of projects in northeast, we’re really expanding into the Ohio River basin as well.”
Husted said Ohio needs “more great natural places” like the Sandusky Headwaters Preserve and other wetlands created by the H2Ohio project.
“What this effort does is help create more of them. At the same time it’s good for the environment and for agriculture, and for how we can coexist in this world getting the things that we need, but also setting aside some space for nature and the things that really speak to our spirits,” Husted said. “It’s always special for me to be in this area; my wife graduated from Colonel Crawford High School. This part of the state is very special to us as a family.”
For information about the Crawford Park District, visit www.crawfordparkdistrict.org.
For information about H2Ohio projects, go to its website h2.ohio.gov.