New 1,000-acre park restores 750 acres of wetland habitats
The Howard Marsh Metropark Wetland Preserve, planned and designed by SmithGroup, celebrated its grand opening to the public on Saturday, April 28. Located 15 miles east of downtown Toledo along the western Lake Erie shoreline, the 1,000-acre park has gained national recognition as the largest new wetland restoration project in the Midwest by transforming 750 acres of century-old farmland back into native coastal wetland habitats.
SmithGroup served as the planning lead for the master plan, design and phased implementation of the 16th park—and the second largest—in the Metroparks Toledo system. The park’s grand opening celebrates the culmination of a five-year habitat restoration effort that reconnects these coastal marshes to Lake Erie, while bringing Metroparks Toledo one step closer to fulfilling its promise to place every Lucas County resident within five miles of a park.
“The park’s wetland habitat infrastructure and design brings the natural system back and eloquently speaks to the numerous coastal resiliency efforts already taking place throughout the Great Lakes region,” said Emily McKinnon, PE, LEED AP BD+C, SmithGroup project manager and lead civil engineer. “Our long-term partnership with Metroparks Toledo provides many opportunities to continue the conversation on habitat creation and restoration integrated with recreation to better engage, educate and improve social and economic health of our communities.”
At the opening day event, park visitors had an opportunity to meet with staff from Metroparks, the Ohio Division of Wildlife and other partner agencies, as well as enjoy interactive tours along the new boardwalk and observational platforms. The park features six miles of walking trails and another six miles of deep-water stream channel for fishing, boating and kayaking. Its strategic location adjacent to the Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area capitalizes on the significant tourism draw for thousands of birdwatching enthusiasts across the country.
Bringing national expertise in habitat diversity, SmithGroup partnered with Ducks Unlimited to create extensive coastal wetland habitat infrastructure designed for migratory birds, mammals, fish and herpetofauna, including deep water and emergent wetlands, habitat islands and reforestation. The additional restoration of approximately 100 acres of upland forest and grassland habitat continue to improve the overall habitat diversity within the area.
The Metropark also provides access to a myriad of four-season recreational opportunities including bird watching, hiking, fishing, boating, cross-country skiing, limited hunting ranges, a kayak and canoe launch, and environmental education programs—further stimulating economic benefits to the region.
“In so many ways, Howard Marsh is the most significant and impactful project that our agency has ever undertaken,” said Dave Zenk, Executive Director of Metroparks Toledo, at the park’s dedication ceremony last Monday. “Projects like this have the ability to rebrand northwest Ohio and create a new legacy and storyline for our region by finding ways to connect people with the protection and preservation of critical habitat.”
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