Howard Marsh Restoration
A wetland as vast as the Florida Everglades once defined the western Lake Erie basin, a vital ecosystem that filtered groundwater flowing into Lake Erie and supported a complex web of plant and animal life. Yet over the years, more than 90 percent of Lake Erie’s wetlands have been drained for agriculture and other uses. The loss of native habitat has severely degraded the lake’s water quality, even leading to toxic algae blooms that threaten the region’s drinking water supply.
When the opportunity arose to purchase a 1,000-acre farm near the Lake Erie shoreline, Metroparks Toledo purchased it with the intent to return the parcel to coastal wetland habitat. It also sought to provide access for people to experience the site in a low-impact way, fulfilling its promise to create a Metropark within five miles of every Lucas County resident. The Metroparks turned to SmithGroup to create a master plan for the project, outlining how it could provide human access for education and recreation while also protecting the restored landscape.
SmithGroup has carefully folded in numerous access points and amenities for the public, along with roads, parking, and other necessary infrastructure. The plan features several overlooks, more than six miles of boardwalks and trails, kayak launch docks, and six miles of deep-channel water trails that allow visitors to access the sensitive marsh habitat for hiking, paddling, fishing, hunting and nature viewing. The region’s coastal marshes are particularly notable for birdwatching, recognized as an important part of the northern Ohio’s economy.
SmithGroup worked closely with Metroparks and Ducks Unlimited to meet the regulatory requirements of multiple agencies and secure funding through multi-level private/public partnerships. The transformation from farm field to marsh entailed moving more than 700,000 cubic yards of dirt, hauling in 30,000 tons of stone and planting 12,000 trees and shrubs. The SmithGroup design also plans for future improvements, including an interpretive center and yurt camping area.