Friday, January 31, 2020

Life Abounds -- Even in Winter . . . An Explosion of Mallards

Check out a new video just posted to our YouTube channel -- make sure you turn up the volume to enjoy the satisfaction in Roy's simple narration; also click the square in the lower right (after clicking the Play arrow) to see the video in full-screen mode (click Esc to leave full-screen)

This was another week dominated by time behind a computer. It was also another week dominated by constant cloud cover and temperatures cold enough to give the illusion of being cold without being consistent enough to produce frozen ground (much less much frozen water or snow). It continues to be muddy, damp, and dark.

That's why the video -- taken by Roy late this afternoon and sent to me just this evening -- made my day. It can be tempting to hole up indoors when the weather does what it is doing . . . especially when it does so for days (and even weeks) in a row. Because the lush greens of spring and summer still seem like a lifetime away this time of year, it is also easy to convince oneself that all of nature is dormant for these dark months of winter. But the explosion of life captured over one single minute at Standing Rush -- yet another "Moment in the Marsh" -- is a good reminder that life abounds in a wetland -- 365 days out of every year.

P.S. People often ask "How many ducks just took off there?" Roy is pretty good at estimating, but I haven't had a chance to ask him how many he would guess were in front of the camera. Without being there in person, I'd really be guessing. But I'd say north of 1,000, and probably more like thousands. It was likely enough birds that you could literally FEEL their wing beats as they took flight. One thing that I can quantify is that all the birds in this video -- likely mostly mallards with a few black ducks sprinkled in -- were all using an area less than 20 acres in size. That's some duck density.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A Memorable Day on the Trapline in Pursuit of a Truly Renewable Natural Resource

One of the 32 muskrats we recovered from 48 sets in the Tower Marsh;
check out an article we posted a couple springs back about this important player in the coastal marsh ecosystem
Thus far, the month of January has been dominated by grant-related writing, administrative logistics relating to our conservation easements (first secured and second pending), and accounting work to ready us for 2019 tax preparation -- all important stuff, but none exactly thrilling subjects for a blog post. That said I've been wanting to write about the one shining exception that pulled me into the field for a day in the marsh the week before last.

Muskrats prefer cattails to construct their
mounded dens (as evidence by the
isolated Phragmites left standing)
We were fortunate enough to be able to host a long-time friend of Roy's (who also happens to be an exceptionally nice guy and expert trapper) at our bunkhouse for the entire week of January 13. Darl and Roy go back all the way to their college years, but he has been trapping the creek bottoms, river banks, shorelines, sloughs, and beaver dams of northeast Ohio even longer (like since he was eight). This is a guy who proudly confesses he's been trapping Ohio for more than half a century -- without missing a season.

Until very recently, Darl did all of this while holding down a full-time natural resource position for a local park district and (in more recent years) overseeing a family maple syrup farm that operated near the Pennsylvania line for a full hundred years. Now retired, he can devote even more time to what is clearly a passion.

I couldn't get to the marsh till almost 8:30 that Wednesday morning. Darl had already been up for a few hours (at least!) and had already checked more than 30 of the traps that he set the day before by the time I got in his punt boat. While I have some exposure to trapping -- mostly as a young kid watching an older cousin and in reading books on the subject -- I learned more in six hours than I could have learned any other way. It was a memorable day (to put it modestly). Below is a photo depiction of some of what I saw and learned.

Where's Waldo? (or more accurately, Where's Darl?) This overview shows one large den constructed primarily of surrounding
cattails; this is a particularly large den, so Darl is placing two sets, marked by hardwood stakes tipped with bright orange paint

One of our punt boats loaded with gear
In the natural history-focused article that I wrote on muskrats back in 2017, I mentioned that local lore suggests 10,000 (ten thousand!) rats were routinely trapped off of the Bay View marshes a hundred years ago. I've now heard that statistic repeated from multiple sources. My single day with Darl involved 48 "sets" (discrete traps), 32 successes (not a bad batting average at 0.667), a couple dozen over-ripened apples, 2 sweaty guys, 1 muddy boat, and a lot of gear.

My biggest takeaways from the day:
(1) trapping -- even when it is 45 degrees and sunny in January -- is a heck of a lot of work (the best kind of work);
(2) trapping requires a sound understanding of animal behavior, but when it comes down to it, it can be fairly simple (like so many things in the outdoors, it is immensely gratifying because it often boils down to 'cause and effect');
(3) trapping could easily slip into the realm of a passion for me (and I think for my kids); and,
(4) 10,000 is one hell of a lot of muskrats!

Darl setting a trap is kind of like watching the mechanics of a baseball pitcher on the mound -- it's pretty much automatic;
he could identify the proper location, prepare a cavity to receive the set, engage and place the trap, bait and stake without
 even looking at what he was doing (his skinny skills proved to be equally hardwired as I watched him later in the day)

Most of the sets utilized were "leg holds" but Darl
couldn't resist setting a conibear when
presented with the perfect opportunity
I shadowed Darl for a meager 18 sets (out of ~250 he set for the entire week). That meant we checked 18 traps that he set the day before, recovered 18 muskrats (yep, we batted 1.000!), and placed 18 new sets to be checked the following day.

Darl's experience and technique insure that the animals are killed quickly and humanely. And while the fur trade continues to struggle to rebound from an artificial over-supply (thanks to hundreds of millions of farm-raised mink introduced into the trade from China about a decade ago), every animal is carefully handled and fully utilized.

As the balance of the photos below demonstrate, a 3-4 pound healthy muskrat has a beautifully rich and amazingly soft pelt. It is truly a renewable natural resource. Darl works through the largest and oldest fur buyer in North America (up on the Hudson Bay) and if everything works out just right, he stands to make about $3-$3.25 per animal this season. Considering that he trapped and skinned 152 rats over the course of the week -- and that he still has to "flesh" (remove fat) and stretch each pelt before selling to his buyer (sometime in March), he is not doing this for the money. He does it because he loves it -- the entire process . . . from the early mornings to the full days, to the anticipation of what the new dawn will bring. As a 60-something, he enthusiastically admitted that he still lies awake at night retracing his day's efforts, restless in anticipation of which traps will bear out. Pretty cool.

Hair color ranges from reddish blond to brown and even to black; condition, color, and proper presentation are all
keys to maximizing price on the market

One day's haul (left), lying outside to allow for further drying after being individually towel dried with a bath towel;
a freshly skinned muskrat (right) received a few more hours of fan-assisted air drying before being rolled and frozen for
further processing after the trapping season closes (for most species, by the end of February in Ohio)

Aside: To read more about why all this effort helps us from a management perspective, check out an article we published last spring. Darl worked 12+ hour days for five straight days (not including the time to mobilize and demobilize from his home a couple hours east). He concentrated on just 60 acres of wetland at Standing Rush. He was obviously very successful, but there are plenty more muskrats even in those waters. The only thing that stopped him was a quick freeze. Open water or safe "walking ice" present ideal conditions, but trapping is tough when we're stuck in between as we are now. We hope he'll be able to come back sometime in February to continue his efforts. He'd start by concentrating on dike banks, another area (besides dens) that unfortunately tend to draw muskrats in concentrated numbers. If he comes back, I hope to be able to get back out there with him. Still so much to learn.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Glimpse of Winter

The few weeks following Thanksgiving weren't kind to the waterfowl hunters at Standing Rush; "hard water" formed fast
and before we knew it, we were almost to "walking ice" stage -- never ideal with a closing date rapidly approaching

With today's temps already approaching record highs (near, if not surpassing 60-degrees . . . before noon!), I thought it made sense to share a few winter scenes from last week at the marsh.

Ohio's Christmas was anything but white -- and the extended forecast looks more like Spring Break till well after the New Year -- but we still enjoyed a great holiday.

Thanks to all who contributed to a great 2019 at Standing Rush and all the best for an even better 2020.

Happy Holidays!

Blind #16 (upper right of center) suspended in a couple, few inches of clear ice

A few inches of (unexpected) snow early last week really brightened up the property
(and made it easier to see where the deer have been moving)

What was a nearly completely frozen Sandusky Bay just a few short days ago may be completely open water
again by the New Year -- hoping we get back to seasonable temps by January . . . 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #6 -- On-line and Flowing Clear

Check out a new video just posted to our YouTube channel -- Roy narrates as water is finally free to move through our newly constructed Structure 2

Another milestone was reached in the last week when Standing Rush's "Structure 2" was officially brought online. A functional second major water conveyance structure on the West Marsh means surface and subsurface water run-off (largely from agricultural land uses upstream) can now be directed into nearly 200-acres of coastal wetland (our West Marsh) rather than all being discharged directly into Sandusky Bay -- and ultimately into Lake Erie.

This functionality culminates four years of planning and active restoration on the site; it provides a mechanism for tremendous improvement in water quality on a landscape scale and also serves as a blueprint for future restoration activities, ideally both on Standing Rush's East Marsh and beyond.

The dark blue arrow in the schematic above represents water conveyance
from Structure 1; the light blue arrow represents the newly established
water conveyance through Structure 2
Some version of the visual depiction to the left has been floating in my mind for days . . . or if I'm honest, for weeks, months, or even years. The green shaded area to the left of SR 269 is our West Marsh. The green to the right of the north/south highway is our East Marsh. The yellow shading depicts wetland areas owned by four neighbors.

The green arrows represent the "surface and sub-surface run-off" water alluded to above. The small green arrows are new (very intentional) inputs into the marsh; large green arrows depict run-off from surrounding lands. Water generally runs south to north generally in our area. Much of the surrounding landscape is farmed, either for row crops or animals/ livestock. Most of the ground is tiled and ditched.

Understandably, a farmer's goal is typically to remove surface water from a field as quickly and efficiently and possible. This means water is engineered to follow straight lines wherever possible until it terminates at the lowest elevation -- in this case, the bay (or lake).

Prior to Standing Rush's restoration activities, much of the run-off water west of SR 269 and south of the West Marsh ended up in a terminal ditch that flows directly into Sandusky Bay -- depicted by the black, dashed arrow above. This is great for efficiency of water transport, but it is not very good for water quality. [To build on the "wetlands as kidneys" analogy, this is analogous to letting harmful byproducts bypass the kidneys without enabling the crucial organs do what they are designed to do. When they are located in the right place and have the capacity to function as designed, such a bypass just doesn't make much sense.]

Stone placement and rough grading took place
just yesterday to wrap up our 2019 construction
year; finish grading and final touch-up at the
structure will wait till spring/early summer
Keep in mind, we're not just talking about Standing Rush's ~550 acres either. The total area shaded (green and yellow) represents 1,200-1,300 acres or ~5% of all the coastal wetland remaining on all of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

So with the holidays coming, maybe it's time to lift a glass . . . but we have a lot more work to do. Our efforts on the West Marsh can be replicated -- in many ways, almost identically -- on our East Marsh. And we have opportunity to continue to collaborate with our neighbors to further magnify not just meaningful water quality improvements, but also other shared priorities like long-term conservation, enriched wildlife diversity and usage, increased recreational opportunities, and educational outreach.

Wrap all this up together and bear in mind that there finally seems to be political support -- both federally and at the state level -- to make these types of crucial projects happen and we feel that we have the recipe for meaningful progress. Bottom line: we have a working model to meaningfully help address a very timely issue -- namely, how nutrients can be utilized within a coastal wetland setting before they are liberated into the open lake where they are demonstrated to wreak havoc in the form of harmful algal blooms.

Structure 2 (facing north) as of this morning; Roy had to push himself out in a punt boat over an inch of ice to capture
this shot -- easy for me to say, but worth it considering all the work we went through to get to this point

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #5 -- Almost Operational!

Structure 2, looking essentially "downstream" (north);
note the aluminum stoplogs (center/bottom) topped with
a carp/debris screen -- the gate (painted orange), guardrail,
and newly poured concrete crossing in the background
Steely-gray late autumn days have made for some tough conditions for photography -- not to mention for earthwork -- in the marsh as of late. But progress has most certainly continued at Structure 2 in spite of the unseasonably cool (sometimes downright cold) weather and a Thanksgiving holiday.

We're into those muddy months, it feels like a bit earlier than usual. We have had a decent number of mornings with solid ground frost, and at one point even went four consecutive days without getting above freezing.

So there have been some decent days for the contractor . .. . at least from an access perspective. But if you are not cold from the damp chill blowing off the bay, you are carrying two pounds of heavy mud on each boot from the periodic rains we have been getting. Everyone is getting antsy to officially put the 2019 construction/management season in the books. It's getting to be that time.

But we have a few to-dos left on the list before we can wrap up our second major GLRI-funded project, at for this calendar year. The "guts" of the new structure have now been installed. Steel and concrete are all in place.

We just have to oversee the removal of the earthen cofferdams so that we can let water pass through the new connection for the first time. Some grading and stonework should put us in good shape to address finishing touches (e.g., final grading, seeding, collateral damage repairs, etc.) next spring/early summer.

The "guts" of Structure 2 from above; flows will typically be from right to left
(over stoplogs and through a 36" screw gate); horizontal grating is to facilitate access for maintenance

The third week of November brought a much needed window of dry cold that allowed us to pour the crossing;
image above taken one day before the arrival of the concrete truck

The pour in action

Finished pour (facing south) just prior to installation of screw gate and stoplogs

Friday, November 15, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #4 -- Concrete Floor in Place

Structure 2, featuring a completed cap (and dry ground -- a rare occurrence over the last month) 

While progress has been steady on Structure 2, our new connection between the two major management units on our West Marsh, much of the last month hasn't been terribly photogenic. That's partly due to where we are in the construction process (several tedious steps that do not translate to big visual advances), and partly due to more than our fair share of cold, wet weather -- at least for early to mid-November.

Rebar in place on the bottom of the new structure
just prior to the arrival of concrete
The fabrication and placement of the rebar reinforcement structure that will serve as the backbone to the floor of the flume is case and point. Layout, wire wrapping, and welding are each methodical and inherently slow. But the devil's in these details in terms of long-term durability and structure longevity.

The guys were really got a workout slopping through the shin-high muck as they welded all the metal sheer studs and rebar lattice underlayment into place. Rainy days during the last week of October coupled with sensitivity for the start of the latter half of duck season (which officially opened on November 9th) presented an anticipated challenge in terms of finding the right window for the next major step in this process: the concrete pour for the structure's floor.

We really wanted to "rest" the marsh the last couple days before hunting resumed (meaning keep the construction crew -- and everyone else -- out of the marsh to allow the birds to acclimate and find regular refuge). We fortunately got the right weather window, and the pour went off without a hitch last Tuesday.

Slow and steady proved to be the name of the game when it came to prepping for the first of two concrete pours;
the structure's floor was poured last week and the bridge crossing is set for next week

Mixer truck in position to feed the concrete hopper

The concrete hopper being loaded prior to positioning within the structure's flume

Positioning of the concrete hopper once loaded

Field testing of wet concrete prior to placement

Once the wet concrete was roughly placed in the flume via the concrete hopper, it was floated and continuously shot
to confirm the targeted finish elevation

A finished view down the ~40' x 4.5' flume as the fresh concrete continues to cure

Fall turned to winter early this week when rain quickly transitioned to snow and overnight temperatures plummeted into the single digits. Afternoon highs barely got above freezing this week, insulated by the first accumulating snow (3-4") of the season. The marsh completely froze by Tuesday and we may have as much as 2-3" of ice cover in spots as of today.

That said progress continued at the project site this week. The guts of the structure (screw gate, aluminum stop logs, carp screen, etc.) have been delivered on site. Good headway was made on the fabrication to receive all these components, and if all goes well (and weather cooperates), the concrete crossing will be poured next week. If the marsh gods shine favorably down upon us, we could be operational by Thanksgiving. Call me a skeptic, but based on recent weather trends, I'm betting on early to mid-December. We'll see.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

A Lesson in Geology: Soil Sampling at Standing Rush

Soil color chart in hand, science in action at Standing Rush -- today marked the first time in our tenure
that formal soil science was conducted on the property

Early this week, I received a phone call from ODNR's Office of Coastal Management asking if Standing Rush would be willing to participate in an evolving project that will be conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. As it turns out, discussions had been underway for some time, and the window of opportunity had arisen to host two research scientists from the Corps' ERDC Environmental Laboratory -- one a soil scientist and the other a wetland ecologist -- to do sampling throughout northwest Ohio this week.

A core being collected from a vegetated
region of our Rest Pond (West Marsh)
Both arrived in Ohio last night and I accompanied them into the marsh first thing this morning. While we will be learning more about this collaboration as it evolves, the basic premise seems to hinge on a better understanding of baseline concentrations of fundamental nutrients (primarily phosphorus and nitrogen derivatives) and several elemental trace metals with the goal of developing a predictive model as to how much "capacity" wetland soils/sediments can house and ultimately prevent from entering into adjacent waterways -- particularly (in our case) Lake Erie.

So said more simply, if we know how much "bad stuff" is in the soil around and under the water of the marsh today, we may be able to better predict how much more "bad stuff" it can "absorb" (again, keeping it in layman's terms) before excess nutrients just bypass the system and enter the lake. Obviously, there are a lot of complicating factors -- e.g., one big one: what plants might be living in those soils and at what densities -- but this is the heart of the research. If a basic premise is that wetlands serve as kidneys ("filtering out" what we don't want to end up in the lake), it makes sense to build confirmation of this capability quantitatively.

The sample tube being analyzed just after extraction
As with about every aspect of the marsh -- or any wetland, for that matter -- there is a lot more going on below the surface than meets the eye. The field crew was efficient, energetic and enthusiastic in their approach and within minutes of sharing a boat, I was learning. [I actually assisted with sediment sampling early in my career when I worked for a civil engineering firm, but the motivations for those sampling efforts were quite different from today's.)

I had to smile as my guests scrambled across the deck of the jon boat to take measurements, record data, and even capture pictures. Because Standing Rush hosts some pretty unique geology, their sampling produced some pretty "funky" cores (contents of each clear tube pushed into the bottom substrate to allow for sample collection). I was reminded of fishermen at a landing net each time the sample tube was extracted -- eyes would light up in anticipation and then broad smiles would emerge each time the contents became visible above the water. "Clean" marl (almost snow-white and often seemingly free of imperfections), waxy clays in blues and grays, and discrete layering of mineralogy and organics were the highlights of the day. Such diversity is a hallmark of lake front property where deposition is directly impacted by varying water levels, wind, and wave energy. Change is the only constant through time.

Bright marl sandwiched between layers of
organic deposition (dark brown) and mineral-rich
clays (grays on top and bottom of core)
Our guests appreciated the crisp, dry fall air and autumn colors -- as well as the unique and varied composition of the substrates in our marsh. With LOTS of rain in the forecast for the balance of the week, I hope they can keep their positive momentum going. Tomorrow they head to Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Maumee Bay State Park. They will then turn their attention upstream -- sampling soils in the headwaters of some of the Western Basin's largest tributaries. Makes sense: when working to understand nutrient transport into Lake Erie, one can't limit the discovery to the lake shore . . . best to include the farm fields themselves as well.

NOTE: It is a complete oversight that after more than 18 months of journal entries about Standing Rush, I have yet to write about marl and the importance this strange calcium-rich "mud" has played on the history of the property. I promise to circle back and tell the tale of the Sandusky Portland Cement Company and Medusa Cement very soon. As we have come to understand it, if these industrial endeavors of the late 1800s and early 1900s would not have discovered rich deposits of these chalky-white deposits between what is now Standing Rush and Cleveland, our marsh may have been lost to other uses a long time ago. Again, more on this interesting history lesson soon.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Oh, What a Night -- Sharing a Blind with the Kids

Nothing like a duck blind selfie!

Two happy spotters
Conditions were just too ideal not to get out in the marsh last night. Truthfully, it was even more ideal for the hunters than it was for the birds. Temps were in the low 50s, the sun was shining bright, and the colors were rich and vibrant in the marsh -- plus, our guys don't have school today, so a little later Sunday night was no problem.

This was literally just my second time out (regretfully) thus far this season. Not a single outing during teal season. Life has just been TOO CRAZY.

The good news: The kids and I enjoyed birds in the air more or less all night, and there definitely seemed to be a shift to more mallards flying than woodies (as compared to a week ago). Ducks are using the marsh. We always had something to watch, be it waterfowl, heron, eagle, or "Tweety bird" (anything that isn't a duck when we are duck hunting).

The bad news (at least from a hunting perspective): Very few individuals or groups responded to my calls or really decoyed in the slightest. I took one shot at a big greenhead that came in from directly behind us. One of those shots where you find yourself laughing as you pull the trigger because you know you don't have a snowball's chance. But man, was it a nice way to spend an evening. Lots of smiles, lots of laughs, tons of fun. Need to find more time for nights like last night. So blessed.

A decoy round-up is always a great way to wrap up a great evening in the marsh

Friday, October 11, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #3 (& Duck Opener!)

Woodies should be part of mixed bags this
coming weekend
The only day without progress on the job site this past week was on Friday (today) -- the eve of this year's duck opener. We asked that the guys move the construction trailer and relocate the larger equipment in preparation for what we hope will be a fun weekend for our hunters.

So Friday was all quiet in the marsh -- at least from a construction standpoint. But as the photos below will show, the crew made hay in nice weather Monday - Thursday and got a lot of welding accomplished. We'll have to feel our way through the next couple weeks (first split of the waterfowl season closes October 27th), and then hopefully the weather will cooperate to really push toward completion during the break (which runs October 28 - November 8th this year).

Our lease groups recognize that restoration activities have to be priority number one, especially while pressures from high lake levels are so acute. But we still want to do all that we can to encourage waterfowl activity and successful hunting. As I've written about several times before, responsible hunting is just too much a part of this amazing place's heritage.

I stuck around past sunset one evening mid-week and saw a decent number of birds "working" the marsh -- preparing to settle in for a restful overnight. Our punters had some similarly encouraging reports. It is supposed to drop from the mid-70s (this afternoon) to the mid-30s (by sunrise tomorrow). We'll see how it goes!

Structure 2 at the end of the work day on Thursday

Cross braces and angle steel, mid-installation

Once plate steel is added to the top of this angle, the crew will move on to prep for the floor and dike crossing

Friday, October 4, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #2 -- And Then There Was Sheet Pile

The drone was literally in the air for under 60 seconds before the first large rain drops started to fall late Wednesday
afternoon -- but the very brief window of opportunity afforded the chance for a good overview perspective of progress

Despite a couple rain-out days over the last week and a half, the project site has transformed pretty significantly since the last update. Where there was just a hole in the ground (or more technically a long, deep trench) during the last few days of September, there is now a complete channel of sheet pile connecting the "Main West Marsh" to the south (left in the photo above) to the "Rest Pond" to the north (right above).

This juvenile Pied-billed Grebe offered
some distraction while I was photo-
documenting progress at the project site
Earthen cofferdams still hold water back from both sides. This will remain the case until construction is about complete. The next steps are to 1) add a steel "cap" (upper frame of welded plate metal) to the top profile of the sheet pile walls; (2) add horizontal bracing at the top of each wall; (3) prep the bottom of the channel for the concrete floor; (4) prep the top of the cap for the eventual crossing; and, (5) backfill around the outside of each wall to add stability and to further prepare for the two concrete pours (channel floor and crossing deck).

It's our hope that much of this work will happen over the next week or two. With opening weekend of the main duck season set for Saturday, October 12th, the goal is to have the heaviest lifting behind us. By getting the largest machinery off the dike, we should be able to minimize the disturbance to the immediate area and the marsh in general.

Temps are FINALLY starting to normalize. After days of recording-breaking heat to end September and begin October, I dusted off the winter coat for the first time this morning when I went to take the dog for her morning run. We see a pattern of 60s/40s setting up in the 7-10 day forecast with more dry than rain. This should help move ducks and also should continue to help move the project along.

The crew setting one of the last "sticks" of steel on the southwest corner of what will become Structure 2

Another perspective of the newly constructed connection between our West Marsh management units;
this ~5'-wide channel will be a big improvement over the 18" pipe that currently serves as our only conduit

I never got a clear image, but I spent a good half hour trying -- this striking female Common Yellowthroat was seemingly
curious to monitor progress at the project site as well; despite fresh raindrops and this little warbler never holding still for more than a second, I couldn't help but try to capture a clear view before she continues on her migration south

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Here We Go Again -- Structure 2 Underway! (Update #1)

Site overview for Structure 2, looking west/southwest in Standing Rush's West Marsh;
40-acre Rest Pond in the foreground, 145-acre Main Marsh in middle, and Sandusky Bay in background

While equipment and building materials have been mobilizing on-site for going on three weeks now, our second new "water conveyance structure" (a.k.a. "Structure 2") is finally starting to look like something. "Structure 1" -- completed this past January -- connects Sandusky Bay to our West Marsh. The challenge is that it only provides ideal connectivity to the most adjacent management unit.

While we received the official green light on Structure 2 about a month ago,
the last few weeks have focused on mobilizing equipment and raw materials
(above: steel sheet piling being off-loaded from flatbed along highway)
When complete, Structure 2 will be an approximately 6' wide x 8' deep x 45' long steel and concrete, open-topped conduit (essentially, a simplified version of Structure 1) that will serve as connection between our 40-acre "Rest Pond" (adjacent to the bay) and the 145-acre "Main Marsh" on west side. As it stands today, any water exchange between these two units is limited to passage within 40-feet of 18-inch PVC pipe.

This immensely improved connection will encourage much broader access and use by a diverse population of fish species that benefit from moving in and out of the marsh. It will also allow us to convey much larger volumes of water across the entire site as we work to tie agricultural and surface water runoff (from the south) into the marsh.

Steel sheet piling lying in wait (Rest Pond to left; Main Marsh to right); Structure 2 will be built through this earthen
berm that was completely reconstructed by Standing Rush in 2016
With modest coffer dams in place and surveying complete, the trench within which Structure 2 will be built was cut
late last week (Rest Pond in background)
Temporary steel H-pile was placed last Friday as a guide
for the placement of the sheet-pile walls
(click here for a visual of  how it will eventually look)
Think improved water quality. Typical flows are south to north at the site, So Structure 2 will complete the structural infrastructure needed to "fully reconnect the kidneys." To complete the metaphor, as water from fields and ditches can be diverted into the upstream (south) end of the marsh, it can now gradually work its way downstream (north) through nearly 200-acres of wetland and near-shore estuary before entering the open bay. This significantly increased natural filtration area will provide dramatically  increased residence time, giving time for solids and particulates (which add to turbidity) an opportunity to settle out. Flow-through will also subject macronutrients like derivatives of both phosphorus and nitrogen (the biggest contributors to algae issues in the open bay and lake) to ideal conditions for uptake within the wetland footprint. Our mantra is we would rather "grow bigger cattails" than have those otherwise available fertilizers/nutrients bypass the marsh and enter directly into Lake Erie (to grow algae).

This project was originally conceived and proposed for funding in the spring of 2017. Funds were secured through GLRI (federal dollars) and ODNR (state dollars) for Structure 1 just over a year ago and construction took about five months (September - January). We kept at it over this past winter, resubmitted for Structure 2, and received confirmation this past spring of a second round of funding (utilizing the same awesome team of collaborators) that will allow us to complete Structure 2. Our goal -- especially consider this simplified design involves no pump, no electricity, and significantly fewer parts -- is to have this project buttoned up well before the snow flies. With temps continuing to bounce from the 50s or 60s at night into the 70s, 80s, and even the 90s, that seems a long ways away. But as we know too well, you can never count on the weather.