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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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Contracts set for first park to have lakefront access

Two engineering contracts were approved by the Toledo Area Metroparks for Howard Farms, its first park to have access to Lake Erie.

The 1,000 acre park, located on the current Howard Farms property west of Metzger Marsh in Jerusalem Township, will be unlike any other Metropark in that it will be the first located near Lake Erie’s coast. It will be the Metroparks largest park in its system, next to Oak Openings.

The Metroparks approved contracts to Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Smith Group JJR for engineering and design of the human interface and to Ducks Unlimited for engineering and design of the actual wetlands. Total contract cost for the two engineering contracts is estimated at $250,900.

Ducks Unlimited, the consultants designing the wetland, is a national organization whose mission is to create and preserve habitat for North American waterfowl.

“It’s just a rare opportunity to engineer in coastal wetlands, which is a habitat that is really disappearing at an alarming rate,” Metroparks public relations director Scott Carpenter said.

Smith Group is the consulting firm designing the park, including trails, parking, restroom facilities, and other human interface.

A Metroparks resolution called for the two firms to “create habitat enhancements that also create opportunities for fishing, wildlife viewing, small craft boating, hunting, interpretive messaging and research.”

The contracts approved Wednesday are only for Phase I, which includes the 700 acres on the west side of Howard Road, said Carpenter.

“The property on the east side will not be part of this first phase at all, just because of cost at this point, so it will be a future project,” Carpenter said.

Phase I construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2015 and completed by fall 2017. Total costs, including construction, are estimated at $5-$5.8 million. Carpenter said grants will cover a large percentage of the cost.

“There are a lot of variables. Moving dirt, it turns out, is quite expensive, and that’s the bulk of the work,” Carpenter said. “So any variance in cost, and we’re estimating right now, could throw this budget off quite a bit. A change of 50 cents to $1 a ton could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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.

“We’re going to have over six miles of hiking trails, but we’re also going to have six miles of permanent deep water navigable channel,” Metroparks public relations director Scott Carpenter said.

“What that is, is like a six-mile blue trail, we call it, so you’ll be able to canoe and kayak six miles on that property. We’re looking forward to this. We’re not directly on the lake, but we’re connected by Ward’s Canal. The trails are the main reason people come to Metroparks, so that is exciting to have six miles of walking trails and that will be our first blue trail, or water trail.”

Tim Schetter, Ph.D., director of natural resources for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area, said at an open house that he 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.

The land, which was previously 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.

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