Who would have ever thought that a place once called "Sheldon's Folly" would become one of the Ohio's real natural gems?
Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve sits along Lake Erie just a few miles from the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, but it seems many miles away from civilization as visitors walk the trails, survey the wetlands and spend a bit of time on one of the best stretches of unspoiled barrier beach in Ohio.
Dr. Dean Sheldon was a Sandusky obstetrician and ardent conservationist when he purchased a 54-acre tract of land that included part of the original entrance road to Cedar Point in 1954. He built a cabin as a family retreat, but otherwise did little to develop the swampy land beyond adding ponds and plantings to provide food and shelter for the wildlife.
The State of Ohio purchased Sheldon's retreat in 1979 from his estate, adding another 330 acres of marsh and barrier beach to the property and dedicating it as a nature preserve the next year. Grants helped the state later add another 75 acres to the preserve.
The paved trail through the preserve is one mile long and runs along part of the original road bed of the Cedar Point Chaussee (Road) through varied habitat like hardwood plantings, upland fields, pine plantations and cattail marshes.
The main trail is wheelchair-accessible and has two wooden observation decks overlooking the marsh and wetlands.
A shorter spur near the end of the paved trail leads to the barrier beach, a 1.13-mile-long stretch of sand that is a great place to watch the sun set over Lake Eire. The barrier beach helps protect the marshland flooding cause by high waves on Lake Erie.
The preserve attracts wildflowers and wildlife, including nearly 300 different species of birds. This spot, like Magee Marsh and the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, attracts many birdwatchers in the spring and fall.
Spring is one of the best times to visit Sheldon Marsh Preserve because of the northward bird migration and blooming wildflowers.
Here are a couple of other interesting things I learned as I read about the Sheldon Marsh Preserve:
The beach once had a nearly straight shoreline, as aerial photographs from the late 1930s show.
Erosion caused the beach to retreat south at up to 18 feet each year and created a U-shaped bay in front of shrinking marshland. The rate of retreat varies over the years depending on wave action and storms, with lower water levels causing less beach retreat in recent years.
An Army Corps of Engineers report says that preservation and at least a partial restoration of the beach here is important to the ecological future of the preserve, as well as the ecological health of the entire region with its critical habitat for plants and animal communities.
I also found more interesting reading in the Army Corps of Engineers reports about a NASA pumping station formerly at one end of the beach (yes, I'm probably one of few folks that would read these things, but I was curious).
NASA built a pumping station at the beach in 1941 as part of a U.S. effort to create a munitions industry ready to supply the country's troops during World War II. After the war, a research center occupied this spot as NASA began building a nuclear test reactor. Later, the Plum Brook Reactor Facility was a primary research and test center for rocket materials.
The program at Plum Brook eventually fell to cost-cutting when programs like NASA's space shuttle program seemed to result in more (sorry, I have to say it) bang for the buck.
Reading about Plum Brook made me remember reading a book last year called "Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's First Female Rocket Scientist" by George D. Morgan. Mary Sherman Morgan developed the chemical cocktail to propel the United States' first rocket into space, but before that, she started her career testing explosives for a chemical company called Plum Brook Ordnance Works near Sandusky, Ohio during World War II. She lost that job at the end of the war and headed out to California to work as a chemical analyst and, yes, a rocket scientist.
Nature lovers, walkers and photographers will find much to enjoy year round at the Sheldon Nature Preserve, which is open every day from sunrise to sunset.
Enter the 465-acre preserve from a small parking lot along U.S. 6 or via the trail system through the neighboring Sawmill Creek Resort.
Thanks to the Lake Erie Shores & Islands Visitors Bureau for sponsoring my visit to the Lake Erie Shores and Islands area, providing lodging, meals, and help arranging visits to area attractions for my review, with no further compensation. I was free to express my own opinions about the stay and experiences, and the opinions expressed here are mine.
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved