River Cliff and Redhorse Bend Parks on the Sandusky River

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“There! A wild turkey! A hen.”

Adam Saylor drew my attention to a stand of knee-deep prairie grasses backed by a lush patch of flowering milkweed. The milkweed itself was adorned with fluttering monarch butterflies.

The turkey, its neck outstretched on the grass, gave us the wary eye of parents. She had been seen another time with seven young poults in tow.

It was a pleasure to see, especially since the encounter happened just off the edge of the great Fremont during an informal survey of the nature of Sandusky County’s new River Cliff Park. A wild turkey in town. Who would have thought?

Adding two river parks was a dream field

The Perrysburg-based Black Swamp Conservancy (BSC) and the Sandusky County Park District (SCPD) were certainly open to such possibilities, that’s for sure. Bringing nature to the public is what they do. And here they had cooperated to provide the community with a wonderful natural area along the Sandusky River – itself named Ohio’s second scenic river in 1970. It was a Field of Dreams moment: if you build it, they will come.

Adam Saylor, Stewardship Supervisor for the Sandusky County Park District

Park District Stewardship Supervisor Saylor led the outing, which also included a look at another beautiful natural area, Redhorse Bend, a work in progress just downstream of the Fremont Yacht Club. This is another BSC-SCPD partnership. This new park, former farmland and floodplain, sits under either side of the US 20 bypass bridge over the river.

Together, River Cliff and Redhorse Bend provide area residents and visitors with nearly 2 miles of prime scenic river green space. They are rich in birdlife, from a wide range of seasonally migrating songbirds, shorebirds and wading birds to bald eagles. Also, there are white-tailed deer and a host of other wildlife. And those wild turkeys.

The shores of River Cliff have quickly become the new favorite location for the annual and popular spring spawning grounds of walleye and white bass. Such public access is hard to find in Ohio.

It took local grants and pledges to move the project forward

This was all a green gift to the community, the purchase and development supported by and through BSC designed Clean Ohio and H2Ohio State Grants. Additionally, the Fremont Rotary Club, not missing a natural golden opportunity with River Cliff, stepped up with a major pledge of $250,000 to help renovate the clubhouse at the former Thornwood Golf Course in River Cliff Rotary Lodge, an upcoming $1.5 million community centerpiece. and meeting place.

The pavilion building also now houses the new Park District headquarters, thanks to $350,000 in renovations paid for through a voter-approved $1 million property tax in 2016.

Across the Sandusky River at the lower end of the park are the Blue Banks Clay Cliffs, a significant geological feature that makes up the River Cliff “cliff”.

“The people of Fremont really needed (green space) to connect fishing access to other natural features,” said BSC conservation manager Melanie Coulter.

The River Cliff plot is well in the process of being converted from a well maintained golf course into natural habitats. It already includes winding, mowed prairie trails and three miles of paved trails through now-established prairie plantations and existing wooded shorelines, from its upstream boundary with the Haunted Hydro property downstream to the control dyke. flooding that marks the border with Rodger Young Park. Tree plantings of native tree species such as Swamp White Oak near Rodger Young will be organized later.

In 2017, the reserve got $902,000 for River Cliff

“Black Swamp purchased 80 acres in 2017 with $902,000 in grants from the Clean Ohio Fund Greenspace Conservation Program,” Coulter said. “Less than two months after acquiring the property, we offered it to Sandusky Parks, leaving them in control of transforming the site from a golf course into a public park with restored native habitats.”

The prairie area, about 15 to 20 acres at the park entrance next to the Haunted Hydro site on Tiffin Street in Ballville Township, was rich with summer wildflowers. Patches of yellow-petaled black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, eight-foot-tall yellow-petaled cup plants, dark orange butterfly weed, Indian grass, sunflowers, tall and small blue grasses, milkweed, butterfly-shaped mullein plants spikes and longer provide a burst of seasonal color. A massive seeding of colorful native prairie wildflowers was done on purpose, Saylor said, to attract attention and visitors. Not to mention loads of attention from spouting grasshoppers, dozens of the familiar orange and black monarch butterflies and other nectar butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects.

“It will have quite a showy color until the end of August,” Saylor said. River Cliff is already “very popular with birdwatchers. It’s also one of the hotspots for walleye and white bass runs, and it’s popular with canoeists and kayakers. Many people use the trails for walking and running.

Redhorse Grasslands, part of the Sandusky County Park District, will offer public hiking trails and more along nearly a mile of wilderness riverfront.

Removal of the Ballville Dam has opened up more fishing options

Changes in state fishing rules, following the removal of the Ballville Dam in 2018, allow access for anglers beyond Rodger Young Park and Walsh Park across the river. river. This area had been prohibited during the spring runs. Now schools of fishermen wade and cast off the banks of the Cliff River. Additionally, a $40,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will allow for the construction of a canoe/kayak launch along the main parking lot, likely again this year.

Saylor said River Cliff includes 0.82 miles of river frontage between Haunted Hydro and Rodger Young property. Across the river at the lower end of the park are the famous clay cliffs of Blue Banks, privately owned with several Native American historical sites. This well-known and prominent geological feature constitutes the “cliff” of River Cliff.

“River Cliff is an ideal acquisition for the Sandusky County Park District,” said Park District Manager Andrew Brown. “Not only is it just outside the town of Fremont, but it offers a wealth of recreational opportunities.”

The second natural gift to the community is Redhorse Bend Park, named after the knight, a member of the sucker fish family that has its own spring tracks in the river.

Saylor said it will take at least a year for public access, but hiking trails and more are in sight. It traces 0.91 miles of wild shoreline.

“Redhorse Bend provides important habitat for migratory birds,” Coulter said, noting that it is part of the natural river corridor to Lake Erie. “The northern half is flooded most of the time. It is in the lake area of ​​effect of the river. It was an obvious site to return to a wetland.

Melanie Coulter, Curator of Black Swamp Conservancy

The higher ground south of the bridge is already a sea of ​​planted prairie grasses and wildflowers. It provides essential grassland habitat for pollinating insects and potential nesting sites for declining songbird species such as Skylarks, Dicksisels, Grasshoppers and Vesper Sparrows, Bobolinks and others.

Redhorse Bend will become a mecca for birdwatching and hiking

It promises to become a birding and hiking mecca nestled in the Sandusky River Valley.

“Our staff have walked past this property for years and couldn’t help but notice how often it flooded. This stretch of the Sandusky River is heavily influenced by Lake Erie, and since the farmland was not productive due to flooding, we knew it would be the perfect place to improve water quality,” said Rob Krain, Executive Director of BSC.

A key component of the H2Ohio program has been the restoration of shoreline wetlands in the western Lake Erie watershed. They act as natural filters, the kidneys of a watershed for wayward fertilizers and pollutants.

Coulter said BSC purchased 78 acres in 2015, with $527,000 in grants from the Clean Ohio Fund’s Greenspace Conservation Program. “We continued to lease for agriculture, while we sought grant funds to pay for the restoration of fields to natural habitat. In 2018, an additional 15 acres were donated by Kraft-Heinz.

“We have not been able to obtain a grant for the restoration until the arrival of H2Ohio, and in 2020 we received a $976,000 grant from this program to restore the 55 acres of the site that were in grain production. The end result was 28 acres of restored floodplain wetlands, 20 acres of grassland restoration, and 5 acres of streamside reforestation. Once the restoration was complete, we transferred ownership to Sandusky Parks in 2022.”

Biohabitats, Inc., of Cleveland, did the restoration.

Today, the once-flooded farmland contains a variety of natural habitats, including functioning floodplains and wetlands, according to Brown of the park district.

About 10 to 12 acres of the northern section’s floodplain is already forested, including about 20 native tree species in place, Coulter said, and additional plantings may include swamp white oak, bur oak and white oak.

Other species will come back on their own quickly, such as cottonwood, hackberry and red maple. “They will find their own way.”

Especially now that they have a new breath of life.

Steve Pollick of Fremont is an outdoor writer who was recently inducted into the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Hall of Fame..

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