Marsh Restoration Paves Way for Return of Native Wildflowers

Project Summary: Restoration efforts are helping control the invasive weed Phragmites, and allowing native plants and wildlife to return, including bald eagles.

Project Name: Restoration of Mentor Marsh

Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Description: Mentor Marsh is one of the largest examples of a natural marsh and wetland along Lake Erie. Before 1959, the area largely had been a swamp forest. Then the forest began dying rapidly, in part due to salt from a mining operation and landfill leaching into the water. Efforts to protect the marsh began in the 1960s. In 1971, the marsh became one of the first State Nature Preserves in Ohio. The salty water is tolerated by the invasive Phragmites, which quickly established itself as the dominant vegetation in the marsh and by 1979, it had crowded out native plants. The dense invasive plant is persistent and difficult to control.

Pink swamp milkweed, a native flower, growing along the boardwalk Mentor Marsh. (Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

Pink swamp milkweed, a native flower, growing along the boardwalk Mentor Marsh. (Courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History)

Since Phragmites exploded across the marsh, fire has swept the marsh nine times, with the stands of the invasive plant providing a large source of fuel. At 850 acres, the marsh provides critical spawning habitat for Lake Erie fish and serves as an important stop for migratory birds. The marsh is home to 12 state-listed endangered or threatened species. Most of the marsh is managed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, which is fighting back against the invasive Phragmites. Only a remnant of the original swamp forest survives and it is being preserved as an important source of seeds for future restoration efforts.

Approximate cost of project: Stewardship activities cost about $10,000 annually.

Resource challenges addressed: Invasive Phragmites had created a uniform habitat, unsuitable for native wildlife.

Key partners (public and private): The Cleveland Museum of Natural History maintains Mentor Marsh. Key partners in the preservation of the marsh included the state of Ohio, city of Mentor, and many local individuals.

Types of jobs created: Ongoing restoration work supports the jobs of naturalists as well as contractors who apply herbicide.

Results and accomplishments: Continual maintenance and restoration efforts have removed Phragmites and transformed several acres around the Wake Robin boardwalk. Today, visitors can stroll the boardwalk, enjoy native wildflowers and spot several rare birds that have returned. More than 200 species of birds have been sighted in the marsh, including the return of bald eagles in 2010.


Originally Published: August 22, 2013