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Great Lakes Article:

Preserve along lake gets push
Richard Payerchin
Morning Journal

HURON TOWNSHIP -- In a collaborative effort, local residents, private groups and public agencies yesterday took a step toward creating a 1,200-acre nature preserve along Lake Erie.

About 73 acres -- including an active bald eagle nest -- would have public access and protection from development under an agreement approved yesterday in an effort involving the Trust for Public Land, Erie MetroParks, the Sandusky-Erie County Community Foundation and residents north of US 6 in Huron Township.

The agreement comes as part of a larger, multi-year plan to protect the marsh area known as East Sandusky Bay, which sits north of US 6, roughly between Griffing Sandusky Airport east to the Cedar Point Chausee.

''It's gorgeous,'' said Kevin Zeiher, president of Erie MetroParks' board of commissioners, as he described the land. ''There's just nothing else like this in Ottawa County, Cuyahoga County, Lorain County. Erie County is going to be blessed if we can preserve this property.''

The 73-acre parcel, which sits east of the Sandusky Drive-In on US 6, includes the outlet of Plum Brook and a cove, along with meadows, woods, marshland and an eagles nest.

Zeiher and other officials credited owners Peter and Marilyn Weiland and adjacent property owner Gil Steinen, whose coastal land has been in his family for generations. Steinen was among the residents who met with officials, including U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, in August to announce the beginning of the conservation plan.

While the Weilands did not attend yesterday's meeting, they share the desire to keep the land protected, said Wolfe Tone, project manager for the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit conservation group.

''It is very true they are thrilled that their land is conserved for eagles and other wildlife, that it didn't have to go to development,'' Tone said. ''They share the vision of this asset for the community.''

Yesterday, the Erie MetroParks' board met briefly in executive session, then approved documents that will lead to the creation of the public area known as the Community Foundation Preserve at Eagle Point, named in honor of the foundation's involvement.

According to the plan, the Sandusky-Erie County Community Foundation will grant money to the Trust for Public Land to buy the 73-acre parcel known as the Bogert-Weiland tract. The Trust for Public Land also will get money to secure an option to buy the 900-acre submerged area known as the Putnam Marsh, which currently is owned by The Nature Conservancy, another conservation group.

In the short term, Erie MetroParks will lease and manage both properties; over the next two years, the park district will search for more than $1 million in state and federal money to buy them from the Trust for Public Land.

Erie MetroParks does not have a definite schedule for when money will become available. DeWine has included conservation funds in the federal budget for East Sandusky Bay, but further action on those funds won't happen until next year, Tone said.

''We still have to plug some things in, but I'm excited,'' Zeiher said.

On the 73-acre area, future additions could include a shelter, parking area, education center and observation deck; smaller improvements, such as a trail, could be available by next summer, according to the management plan.

The park district also approved a lease that will allow the Weilands to sublease land and remain at their home.

The Trust for Public Land also is negotiating with at least three other property owners for four other parcels that will make the preserve complete, Tone said.

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