Painesville, Ohio — The Ohio DNR has repurposed a frequently inundated parking lot into a 10-acre wetland at the 120-acre Headlands Beach State Park.
This former parking lot and soon-to-be birding destination is located at the park’s far western extremity in Lake County’s Painesville Township. It is adjacent to a water intake plant on the west and Lake Erie immediately to the north and along the park’s fabled mile-long public beach.
In fact, it is this proximity to Lake Erie that prompted the Ohio DNR to obtain $113,711 from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative program and coupled it with $58,100 from the state’s own H2Ohio program.
Work started on this project immediately upon receipt of the first grant award in January 2021. The Ohio DNR plans to finish planting the site next spring with final completion anticipated by June 2023.
“Frequent flooding of the parking lots on the west side of the park made them often unusable for their intended purpose and they became an eyesore. We discovered the opportunity for Great Lake Restoration Initiative grant funding and began to imagine a better use of the site,” said Melissa Moser, the project leader for the Ohio DNR’s Division of Parks and Watercraft, which owns and operates the state park.
Once completed, the new wetland will join a much smaller one at the far east end of the Headlands Beach State Park complex. Here at the adjacent 25-acre Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve is a small, purposely built wetland along with publicly accessible trails and boardwalk. It, too, is a popular birding spot.
Much of the initial construction for the new wetland was performed by the Parks and Watercraft division’s own personnel. And another Ohio DNR division became involved, as well, said Moser.
Unfortunately, there were several roadblocks along the way, including an orphaned gas well and water line issues, Moser said.
“The orphan well at the site was eligible for plugging through our Division of Oil and Gas’ Orphan Well Program. The Orphan Well team worked closely with our staff to safely cap the well while covering all costs through their program. It saved the park more than $200,000,” Moser said.
As for the ultimate project, Moser said the Ohio DNR is restoring approximately 10 acres, the land portion being “graded for different vegetation zones to include submergent, emergent, scrubshrub, and forested areas.”
“Excess sand was removed from the new wetland and relocated to the beach to create new sand dune habitat,” Moser said.
Asked how deep the pond will be, Moser said, in essence, it all depends on Lake Erie’s always fluctuating water level.
“Even at its deepest point, it is only a few feet deep,” Moser said.
Moser said, too, that “although there are some native species expected to pop up naturally, “we don’t want to give invasive plants an opportunity to take hold. Rather, we are doing selective planting of native wetland species appropriate for the site and also plan to transplant some plants from other areas of the park.”
Similarly, the Ohio DNR will also work to preserve the newly created sand dunes located between the new wetland and Lake Erie.
“It’s exciting to note that one of the first new dunes established already has a naturally occurring switchgrass population taking root,” Moser said.
However, wildlife species have been taking advantage of the wetlands even before the whole of it has been completed.
On a recent visit to Headlands Beach State Park, this reporter saw that waterfowl were taking full advantage of the new shallow-water pond even as a human crew was busily working along its banks.
Consequently, “the new wetland will not only provide valuable habitat for native species but will also provide a new opportunity for wildlife viewing,” Moser said.
Helping is that the park’s remaining asphalt lot runs right up to the edge of the project. As such, visitors will find excellent birding opportunities simply by looking out a vehicle’s front windshield.
The Buckeye Trail also runs along the northern edge of the park, and currently ends at the wetland, though the Ohio DNR plans to extend a trail around the entire wetland complex in a subsequent phase of the project “making for even better viewing opportunities,” Moser said.
“The trail will likely be a natural surface trail through much of its length but there is asphalt leading up to the wetland on either side, making it easily accessible for all visitors. We plan to eventually make even more improvements to allow good access for wildlife viewing by all park visitors,” Moser said.
Ohio DNR Director Mary Mertz said this “project will do wonders for the guest experience at Headlands” via transforming these previously flooded areas “into an H2Ohio wetland.”
“This project will provide a space where visitors can see the diverse wildlife that relies on high-quality wetland habitat to thrive. The new paths leading to this wetland will be an accessible way for people to experience the beauty of a wetland and learn about the H2Ohio work being done across the state,” Mertz said.