For many Michiganders, our Erie Marsh Preserve brings back the memories of growing up in this beautiful state. The sounds of crickets, the smell of the leaves and water, the views of the different birds flying above, are all familiar sights and sounds that trigger childhood memories for people visiting the marsh.
The restoration of Erie Marsh Preserve has been important to The Nature Conservancy since we acquired the property in 1978. The marsh is one of the largest coastal wetlands on Lake Erie supporting numerous animals and plants. Conservation is key to preserving Michigan’s natural beauty.
“We strive to preserve Michigan through conservation. Erie Marsh Preserve is a great project to show how conservation helps many causes at once,” says Dr. Patrick Doran, director of conservation at The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. “We are helping various species within this habitat, controlling aquatic invasive species and reconnecting the marsh to Lake Erie, all within this restoration project.”
Our Erie Marsh Preserve spans 2,217 acres and contains 11 percent of southeast Michigan’s remaining coastal marshes. In the 1940s and 1950s, dikes were built to control water flow from Maumee Bay. These dikes have since degraded hydrologic flow and connectivity, ultimately harming habitat for spawning fish and migratory birds.
The preserve also provides water level management capability up to 946 acres of coastal wetland. Last fall. In June 2013, we launched an ambitious four-phase restoration initiative to reconnect the marsh to Lake Erie and modernize its engineering and hydrologic management. This innovative design will stand up to changing climate and provide unique research opportunities for marsh management.
Phase I of this project is already complete, which means the connection to Maumee Bay has been reestablished and fish and other aquatic organisms can access the marsh for breeding and spawning for the first time in over 60 years.
The next three phases will build upon this first phase, bringing similar infrastructure upgrades to different units of the marsh, allowing conservation teams to manage many types of wetlands in a small area. This means fish, shore birds, water fowl and upland plants will all have access to the habitats they need to thrive.
Once the restoration plan is completed, Erie Marsh will be at the peak of its biological potential and will once again provide a rich habitat that supports native fish, wildlife, and related industries such as hunting and fishing.
Here at The Nature Conservancy, we often work with other organizations to advance conservation efforts. The Erie Marsh Restoration project is no exception. The Conservancy works with the Erie Shooting and Fishing Club to manage Erie Marsh Preserve to continue to protect its wetland values. The Club originally owned the property and now holds a long-term lease as part of the Conservancy’s acquisition in 1978, allowing members to continue waterfowl hunting in the fall.
This latest restoration project involved help from Ducks Unlimited and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, supported by funding from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, along with private donors. Without the help of these organizations, restoration of this beautiful preserve would not be possible!
Our efforts at restoring the marsh are paying off so far! Exciting early results show fish swimming back and birds returning to the improved habitat. Watch a new video telling the story of Michigan’s comeback kid, Erie Marsh by clicking here (video coming soon!).