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Great Lakes Article:

Lake Erie field guide in the works
$29,000 grant awarded for project
Port Clinton News Herald

Lake Erie Coastal Ohio, Inc. and the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy have received a $29,500 Lake Erie Protection Fund grant to design a Lake Erie Islands Field Guide and to develop a survey regarding visitor needs and expectations.

The grant was awarded Sept. 4 during an Ohio Lake Erie Commission meeting in Cleveland. Monies from the grant come from the sales of license plates depicting the Marblehead Lighthouse.

The Nature Conservancy and a partner organization, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, have identified the Western Lake Erie Islands as a Priority Conservation Area. They recently completed a site conservation planning process on the island with input from more than 50 agencies, organizations and local participants.

"The western Lake Erie islands and reefs are a mosaic of important aquatic and terrestrial resources, crossing the boundary of Ohio and Ontario," said Kay Carlson of the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "Globally rare shoreline alvar communities and the federally-listed Lake Erie water snake are found on the island coasts. The islands and coastal areas provide critical stopover habitat for migratory birds. The waters of the region are shallow, warm, relatively clear and high in nutrients, making this the most productive habitat in the Great Lakes. The reefs and coasts provide spawning and nursery grounds for walleye and other fish."

The Nature Conservancy and the conservation team participants identified nature-based tourism as a strategy for raising awareness of the island's unique natural features and for encouraging these areas to be protected as tools for tourism. The Nature Conservancy has teamed up with Lake Erie Coastal Ohio to implement a plan for creating a nature-based tourism tool for the islands to protect the resources while boosting island economies.

Lake Erie Coastal Ohio, Inc. is a nonprofit organization developed in March 2002 that links those with both tourism and resource protection interests along the Lake Erie shoreline. "Nature-based tourism is one of the fastest growing tourism markets," said Melinda Huntley, executive director. "But these folks want something more than just birds and flowers. There are more people who want to explore both nature and history than there are those that seek only nature during a vacation experience."

The field guide will highlight more than 40 different sites on Kelleys Island, South Bass Island, Middle Bass Island and Pelee Island.

Detailed information about the islands' geology, ecology and history will be provided such as how the islands have embraced their resources over the years, including settlement patterns, military history and importance, grape-growing and wine-making industries, and the importance of unique island habitats, including alvar.

Project funding also includes the development of a survey that will be a part of the printed publication.

"Resource-based travelers are generally Baby Boomers with discretionary time and dollars," said Huntley. "These guests explore areas year-round, so they are important for us to reach as we focus on extending our tourism season and diversifying our tourism experiences. The survey will explore these travelers' expectations and desires. What did they like best about their experience?"

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