Monday, September 16, 2013

UPDATED: A slice of Lake Erie shoreline now protected forever

With four American bald eagles soaring in the thermals above them, about 100 people were witnesses to the protection of 600 acres of Lake County that includes 9,000 feet of Lake Erie shoreline.

Dedicated today (Sept. 16) was a 200-acre expansion of Lake Metroparks' all-new Lake Erie Bluffs Park, located in Perry Township.

Backed by a 13-party partnership that included local, state and federal governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the project cost $11 million, including $10 million in donations and competitive grants.

Among the outfits concerned enough to lock-up the Bluffs site for now and tomorrow were the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Ohio Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Trust for Public Land, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District, and, of course, Lake Metroparks.

The thing is, stated the Trust's senior projects manager Dave Vasarhelyi, people need land to connect with. Otherwise, said Vasarhelyi said, “they will loose that appreciation for the land and the stewardship that goes along with it.”

“It's been a great collaboration of so many entities,” also said Frank Polivka, president of the parks system's park board.

Yep, that's the case for sure, said Cameron Davis, senior senior adviser to the administrator of the U.S. EPA.

“The Great Lakes Protection Fund makes it possible for so many entities to come together for projects like this one,” Davis said. “But it doesn't happen by a magic wand.”

Nope, and neither does the physical grunt work in moving from the planning stage to the actual nuts and bolts building and operational stage.

Not only did the parks system spearhead the mundane paperwork stuff the agency's go-to natural resources members were the boots on the ground.

In only a few short weeks a cadre of these employees carved out a 1,700-foot driveway and ample parking lot out of a second- (or maybe third or possibly, forth-) growth forest and weed-choked meadow that featured its share of poison ivy and ticks.

“Yeah, I'm still scratching,” said one smiling Lake Metroparks staff member while another said he thinks he may have encountered a tick bite or two.

Constructed by the agency's natural resources staff was a trail to the pebbly Lake Erie “beach,” a few park benches overlooking the lake, signage as well as a minimal amount of other amenities.

Which suits parks officials just fine.

Lake Erie Bluffs is not going to fall into that category of parks where ballfields, playground equipment and tackiness rules, agency officials say.

Instead, this is going to be a place for a stroll down to a primitive, unimproved lake beach and a to-die-for view of Lake Erie where sunsets will probably be enough to satisfy the most discriminating park visitor, says Paul Palagyi, Lake Metroparks' executive director.

Yet some improvements and tweaking will still come about, Palagyi said as well.

Among the anticipated to-come additions will be a four-season shelter that overlooks the lake along with a nearby 50-foot-tall observation tower, Palaygi said.

“When we're asked what we're going to do here at Lake Erie Bluffs Park our answer is a 'light touch,'” Palagyi said. “We don't need or want a heavy hand here.”

And that light touch will be around for a very long time, opined Richard Cochran, president and CEO of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.

“Two hundred years from now there will still be a healthy and viable place for our descendents to enjoy,” Cochran said.

Maybe the best summation came from Lake County nurseryman Mark Gilson, whose local life and livelihood are sewn together so seamlessly with Lake Erie and its coast that the fabric has become a one-and-the-same tapestry.

“Some areas are so important that they have to be protected for everybody for all time,” Gilson said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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