Residents respond to Howard Farms open house
Metroparks public relations director Scott Carpenter said an open house for the first Toledo Area Metropark in Jerusalem Township drew “a nice turnout” to the township hall Tuesday night.
“The turnout demonstrates the significance of this project and the high level of public interest,” Carpenter said.
The 1,000 acre park, located on the current Howard Farms property west of Metzger Marsh, will be unlike any other Metropark in that it will be the first located along Lake Erie’s coast. It will be the Metroparks largest park in its system, next to Oak Openings.
At the open house, over 100 residents talked with staff from the Metroparks, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ducks Unlimited, and Smith Group JJR, the consultants designing the park.
Ducks Unlimited, the consultants designing the wetland, is a national organization whose mission is to create and preserve habitat for North American waterfowl. Smith Group is the consulting firm designing the park. All three township trustees were there, too.
“It could be a real jewel if they do it right and if they have enough money,” trustee Dave Bensch said. “The old waterway that used to through, they are going to hopefully raise Howard Road and they’ll put in a bridge there, and they will canoe and kayak in between Ward’s Canal and Cooley Canal.
“It could be a real asset for Jerusalem Township — a place to come to. That’s what I’m thinking,” Bensch continued.
Many of the residents arrived because they were concerned about drainage.
“The big issue, more or less, is how water is going to be taken care of, how water is currently being removed, and they are looking at what is proposed to take water off that property to make sure what we are proposing is not going to affect the residents who live nearby,” said Patrick Barnowski
Bensch and trustee Joe Kiss, who has sat on meetings that dealt with the new pumping system to be installed, says the property will be drained better than ever before.
Alex Lytten, who lives within a block from the property, is a 2013 Toledo Early College High School graduate and begins classes in environmental science at the University of Toledo this fall, says he had other issues.
“I was mostly concerned about how it’s going to affect the people who live in the community,’ Lytten said. “Basically, things like, ‘Where are they going to have access to the park from the community and possibly four-wheeler and ATV trails?’ I know everybody rides through the fields as it is, but it’s going to be a problem for them when they start building it and they are going to want to tell these people, ‘Hey, you can’t ride here.’ They’ve been doing it for 50 years, so how are they going to get past that?”
“As long as it can be done to make a good place for the public while maintaining a balance and connection with the people in the neighborhood, I feel it will be a very strong and good thing for the community,” Lytten continued.
Eight mile stretch
The new park will create a nearly eight-mile continuous stretch of public lands that includes Metzger Marsh, Ottawa Wildlife Refuge, Crane Creek State Park and Magee Marsh. Throw in Maumee Bay State Park and Cedar Point Wildlife Refuge to the west and 11,687 acres of unique wetlands are or will be preserved for waterfowl habitat and our enjoyment.
Tim Schetter, Ph.D., director of natural resources for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area, anticipates that Cedar Creek, which is currently pumped dry on the property to allow for farming, will be restored and meander two and half miles through the park before connecting with Ward’s Canal and empty into Lake Erie.
A lot of the vegetation common to wetlands will spring up naturally, once water is reintroduced. Habitat will also be created for turtles, snakes and other marsh denizens.
Schetter anticipates plans to be finalized by the end of this year. Schetter said the preliminary estimate for restoration is $4 million. Metroparks and the other partners are looking for grant opportunities to fund the project.
Schetter envisions the public will be able to use the new park for hiking, bird watching, hunting, canoeing and kayaking. The creek and canal should be deep and wide enough for small watercraft and, although there is no lake shoreline, access to Lake Erie can be had via Ward’s Canal, the waterway that separates the property from Metzger Marsh. Schetter envisions working with federal and state officials to provide access to Metzger’s and the marshes and refuges east of it.
There will be few structures on the land, a restroom facility for sure, and some interpretative message boards.
Carpenter said 45 residents filled out comments sheets at the open house Tuesday, and others said they would mail them in. That information will be taken into consideration before plans are drafted.
“We will review the comments and then develop more detailed plans to present at another meeting in October,” Carpenter said.
The new park could be open to the public in three to five years if the schedule doesn’t hit any snags, Schetter said.
The land, currently a working farm, was purchased with two partners in 2008 for $6 million. Dr. Schetter said the Ohio Division of Wildlife contributed $3 million; the Clean Ohio Fund $1.8 million and the Metroparks’ land acquisition fund $1.2 million. This is the single largest purchase in Metroparks’ history both in acreage and cost. Naturally, the partnership came with caveats. Two of them are that some portion must be open to hunting and no more than 20 percent of the land can be developed into buildings and trails.
The Metroparks’ board voted at its April board meeting to retain Smith Group/JJR from Ann Arbor for $52,375 to collaborate with Ducks Unlimited to develop a park plan.
The resolution calls for the two firms to “create habitat enhancements that also create opportunities for fishing, wildlife viewing, small craft boating, hunting, interpretive messaging and research.”