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Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Complex

small state map showing location

Oak Harbor, Ohio


History of Black Swamp

The impenetrable Black Swamp was a foreboding home to the Indians who lived here long ago; settlers would not set foot in the area for fear of their lives. Bartering furs for the white man's tobacco and corn, these Indians called themselves traders, or "Ottawas."

In the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, the Ottawa Indians were defeated and forced out of Ottawa. Their departure opened up the area to white settlers. Soon, "progress" prevailed: the formidable Black Swamp was drained; farmers and farm fields replaced Indians and forests; eagles and panthers were supplanted by the blackbird. The Great Black Swamp was reduced from 300,000 to 15,000 acres.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge

Fortunately, part of the Great Black Swamp has been preserved on the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. The Ottawa NWR complex is made up of three National Wildlife Refuges and two divisions:

Collectively, they total 8,318 acres and are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge manages many different habitat types for a wide variety of plant and animal species. They include marshlands, open waters, hardwood forest, shrub, wooded swamplands, croplands, and grasslands. Such management practices help maintain a diversity of flora and fauna reminiscent of the area's early days.

Ottawa NWR was established in 1961, with land acquired under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, to preserve diminishing Lake Erie marshes. Its 4,683 acres are managed from refuge headquarters, where visitors can learn more about the refuge, the National Wildlife Refuge System, wildlife and other relevant topics. Refuge trails, part of the National Recreational Trail System, wind through the refuge and are a great way to explore, close-up, Ottawa's habitat and wildlife.

Ottawa is truly a wildlife oasis in the midst of an urban biological desert. Located within the Detroit/Toledo/Cleveland megalopolis, it is only an hour's drive for more than ten million people!

Darby Marsh and Navarre Marsh

In 1966, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service traded Navarre Marsh, an essential component of the Davis Besse Nuclear Power Station, to Toledo Edison in exchange for 520-acre Darby Marsh. Darby is located near Port Clinton and is host to a diverse number of wildlife species.

Although Navarre Marsh is jointly owned by Toledo Edison and Cleveland Centerior Energy Corporation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service still manages its 591 acres. Abundant wildlife species live in the shadows of the imposing 500-foot nuclear power station cooling tower which dominates the skyline. They include many bird species, mammals (muskrat, raccoon, fox, mink) and plants (American lotus, rose mallow and water lily). Access is by permit only for both units.

West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge; Home to Herons and Egrets

In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established West Sister Island as Ohio's first national refuge. The refuge sits nine miles off the north shore of the Ottawa Refuge. It was here, on September 10, 1813, that Oliver Perry sent the immortal message to General William Harrison after the Battle of Lake Erie:

"We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop."

West Sister Island houses a rookery for black-crowned night-herons as well as great blue herons, great egrets and other migrant birds. Because the water around the island is too deep for them to fish, these birds travel periodically to the mainland to feed. West Sister Island, closed to the public, is a priceless, living laboratory and was designated as a Wilderness Area in 1975. Access is by permit only.

Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge

Cedar Point is a 2,445-acre marsh located where Maumee Bay meets Lake Erie. It was donated to the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1965 with an estimated value of $1 million! It differs from the Ottawa refuge, which attracts primarily larger concentrations of Canada geese, in that it's immense pools beckon vast numbers of ducks from the Mississippi and Atlantic flyways. Access is by permit only.

Eagles at Ottawa

Bald eagle nests once dotted the Lake Erie shoreline. But as the area was developed, its habitat destroyed, and the use of pesticides became prevalent, eagle populations plummeted to the point where they were placed on the Endangered Species list in 1978. Only 417 active nests were recorded in the entire contintental United States in 1963. Fortunately, DDT was banned in 1972 and the protection afforded by their endangered status resulted in an increase to 700 breeding pairs by 1975.

Today, thanks to increased protection and careful monitoring, eagle numbers continue to rise; in 1993, there were 24 breeding pairs in Ohio alone! Nesting sites on the refuge are closed to the public, but, if you look closely from open areas and trails, you can still pay homage to America's national symbol as it soars high above the refuge.

Activities at Ottawa (Education/Recreation)

People are encouraged to explore Ottawa's seven miles of interpretive trails which traverse through a variety of habitats. In addition, opportunities to photograph, hike, birdwatch, hunt, and in winter, cross-country ski, are also provided. Detailed leaflets are available at headquarters.

Environmental education opportunities abound at Ottawa and are valuable tools for providing "hands-on" educational experiences that children and adults alike enjoy. The refuge provides students with an outdoor laboratory for exploring and examining nature while having fun. For teachers and college students it provides an appropriate setting for experiencing and understanding environmental education as it relates to their course studies.

Ottawa also hosts a variety of nature-related workshops for the public throughout the year. Schools, scout groups and others take advantage of the many leaflets, slide shows, films and speakers that are available. Arrangements for other special events can also be made at refuge headquarters.

Habitat Managment

Land restoration at Ottawa is an on-going process. As with other national wildlife refuges, Ottawa is being developed according to a master plan. Throughout the year, water levels are manipulated using dikes, ditches, and water control structures to produce optimal marsh habitat. Water levels in moist soil units and marsh management areas, called "impoundments," are regulated for specific plant growth.

Managed wetland units are drained in the spring or early summer to allow natural plant growth, and re-flooded in the fall to provide food and habitat for migrating waterfowl. These moist soil units also provide habitat for other wetland-dependent wildlife.

Cooperative farmers surrounding the refuge plant corn, sorghum, and buckwheat as part of the refuge's waterfowl food production program. This wetland and upland habitat management results in annual waterfowl populations in excess of 25,000 geese and up to 60,000 ducks (12 or more species). Upland habitat is also managed to provide food and habitat for deer, pheasant, rabbits, and other wildlife.

Waterfowl "Rest Area"

Ottawa is located within the Mississippi/Atlantic flyway and serves as a sort of highway "rest area" for migrating waterfowl; replenishing them with food and water essential to the completion of their long, exhausting journey north, in the Spring, or south, in the Fall.


For further information contact:
                      Refuge Manager
                      Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
                      14000 West State Route 2
                      Oak Harbor, Ohio 43449
                      Telephone: 419/898-0014

Equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, programs of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is available to all individuals regardless of age, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or disability. Persons who believe they have been discriminated against in any program, activity, or facility operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should contact:

                      U.S. Department ot the Interior
                      Office for Equal Opportunity
                      l849 C Street, N.W.
                      Washington, DC 20240

This resource is based on the following source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  No date.  Birds of Ottawa National Wildlife 
     Refuge Complex, Ohio.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  No date.  Birds of Ottawa National Wildlife 
     Refuge Complex, Ohio.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
     Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     http://www.npwrc.usgs.govottawgen.htm 
     (Version 22MAY98).

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