In early August, I took a canoe tour of Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Huron, Ohio. It was a pleasant, informational way to while away two hours on a balmy summer evening.
Andrew Wilk, an education and interpretation intern from Ohio State University, led the tour, which included about 30 people riding in a dozen canoes. The research center provided the canoes, paddles and life preservers. Everything was free of charge, making the whole experience a real educational bargain.
Old Woman Creek is one of 29 national estuarine research facilities in the country and only one of two on the Great Lakes. The other is in Duluth, Minn. Old Woman Creek is managed cooperatively by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Ohio DNR’s wildlife division.
While most estuarine research reserves in the U.S. are brackish swamps where fresh water rivers meet a salty sea, Old Woman Creek is different. It’s a unique freshwater habitat of marshes, swamps, forests, open water, and barrier beaches where the stream waters of Old Woman Creek meet the chemically different waters of Lake Erie.
Goal of the research conducted there is to assess challenges facing coastal communities throughout the Great Lakes in order to help local leaders deal with them effectively.
Those challenges include invasive plant, animal and fish species, as well as threats to water quality. Wilk noted millions of people depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water as well as recreation.
Researchers at Old Woman Creek monitor its changing waters and test ways to deal with invasives like canary reed grass and phragmites.
Free educational programs like the canoe tour are a regular staple. Brown bag lunches are held at noon on many Fridays in warm weather months. The last ones this year are set for Sept. 1 and Oct. 6.
Naturalist-led canoe tours paddle out on alternating Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings from June through August. The last one this year is on Aug. 26.
However, special canoe tours are set for 9 and 11 a.m. on Sat., Sept. 23, which is National Estuarine Research Day.
You can reserve a seat for a brown bag lunch or a canoe for a planned tour by calling 419-433-4601. It’s well worth the effort.