Today the Toledo Metroparks opened Howard Marsh Metropark and early this afternoon I had the tremendous honor of cutting a ribbon, and symbolically opening the boardwalk for public use.
My involvement with the project began in 2012 when I became the Executive Director of the Metroparks Serving Toledo. I actually very little to do with the project beyond supporting the dedicated professionals who made this vision become a reality.
Howard Marsh is a remarkable project with a remarkable story. It is perhaps the largest single wetland restoration in the Great Lakes. For decades waterfowl hunters and wetland managers had dreamed of acquiring Howard Farm and restoring it to a coastal wetland. That vision was ultimately shared by bird watchers, naturalist, and environmentalist. But this would prove to be a large, complicated project requiring a vision, shared leadership, host of determined, committed partners, about 17 million dollars and well over a decade of focused work.
By 2012 the park system had already acquired approximately 1,000 of the Howard Farm and was well underway with preliminary planning for the project. Tim Schetter had been responsible for putting together multiple funding sources to acquire the property. He had utilized money from Metroparks, the state of Ohio and the Federal Government. Of the years that I have spent in the park and recreation field, I have met very few professionals who have been as creative and as successful as Tim is securing funding for the acquisition and restoration of natural areas. This project was a perfect example of his ability to build and assemble the necessary resources to make a project move forward.
Dennis Franklin had previously worked for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife and had and extensive background and experience in managing wetlands and actually has a road named in his honor at Metzger Marsh State Wildlife Area. His knowledge and understanding of local conditions and the local community were immensely important for the project to advance. The Metroparks was very fortunate to have Dennis on the team.
Dave Zenk was the Metroparks administrative representative and Dave had the dubious task of sharing the project status with me and explaining why certain decisions were being made and how the project was developing. From my perspective it was apparent that the park system would not have the financial resources to build this project and address the needs of many other significant projects that were on hold. Consequently, I recommended to the Park Commissioners that the agency pursue a new levy in the fall of 2012. And with the hard work of a number of people, the support of many organizations, institutions, and the majority of voters in Lucas County, the levy proposal successfully passed.
With funding in hand, the project continued to move forward. I requested that the planning team incorporate amenities into the project design that would go beyond simply restoring and creating wetlands on the property. I was hoping the finished project would provide the maximum amount of opportunity for the citizens and visitors of Lucas County to experience a wetland.
What the team produced was remarkable. In addition to the habitat and ecological services associated with a large wetland restoration there are over 6 miles of walking trails, boardwalks and water trails for kayaking and canoeing.
I have enjoyed a great career acquiring and restoring open spaces and providing opportunities for outdoor recreation. The four and a half years that I spent in Toledo was certainly the capstone of my experience in the public sector.