The Herons Will Be Fine (And Then Some!)

Due to some bad info, and a failure to follow-up with other sources (on my part), some very erroneous information was put out last week, concerning what was thought to be the destruction of the better part of the heron rookery along the Black River. Phones were ringing fast and furious, at my home, and others, to put out a fire that I ignited. I am back to apologize for my failure to “do my homework” (though I did on the rest of the article), and shed some light on what is going on over there.

 

With Loraine Ritchey’s help and playing middle-man (person?), I was able to get a tour of the site and surrounding area with Utilities Director Corey Timko. Corey took me to the site that Mike Kennedy and I had visited to explain what was really happening. The area we saw was being leveled and graded, with new grass planted to restore the area to a natural state, hopefully as close as possible to what it was in its original prime. Over the years that US Steel has been there, the property there had become a dumping site, for metal trash, slag, and other byproducts of the steel making process. With the realization over recent years that we should be taking better care of Mother Nature, this is what prompted the land’s donation to the City. The City was then able to get federal funds to clean it up. Should the City ever renege on keeping the property in its pristine natural condition, it would be responsible for paying back the $6+ million it received for the clean-up.

Lime

Corey informed me that the City is doing a very thorough job bringing this property back from the condition it’s been in for a long time. The slag, lime, scrap metal, dead trees and wood and other ‘waste’ generated by the Mill is being consolidated into individual piles, for recycling, processing, and eventual removal from the area. The wood is being shredded and will eventually be used for compost and/or mulch. The lime can eventually be used to ‘sweeten’ ground, making it produce better vegetation, by increasing the pH of acidic soil, providing a source of calcium for plants, and improving water penetration for soil. 

Scrap metal

According to Corey and the Master Plan, the restoration actions laid out for rescuing the area include installing fish shelves to create fish habitat at feasible locations, slag pile remediation, wetland restoration/construction and stream bank stabilization. Great care is being taken with this entire project. Returning 80 to 100 acres of the land to a natural state is a source of pride to all involved. Eventually, the entire area could be an eco-tourism sightseeing venture, with boat rides up the river. Paths are being mapped out and constructed along the northern side, so people can walk or ride bikes to see what’s been done.

 

When I asked about the low level of the river banks, and the fear of the river overflowing and flooding the area, Corey told me that they hope that it will, and possibly create a small stream through the leveled area, allowing nature to take its own course through the area. Having the site be reconstructed naturally will make the land even more habitable to/for native species.

Approaching another area along the river, we came upon hundreds of planters with young bushes and plants. These were flora native to the area and the habitat. These would eventually be put in along the riverbank.

We drove down a steep hill, coming to a stop almost level to the river. To the left of us was a large stand of trees. Corey pointed up into the tops of the trees.

Here’s the start of the rookery. Just in this photo alone, there are 8, possibly 9 nests. According to Corey, the herons do migrate south, contrary to the report I cited in last weeks article. We didn’t see a single heron while we were down there.

Eventually, after the acreage is restored, and the scrap is removed, attention can be turned to the other part of the property the City owns there. There are hopes to relocate the treatment plant there, which would clean the river up even more, and a source of cooling water provided to the steel mill. There are other ventures being planned for the area, all of which would create jobs, and be environmentally friendly.

So, the herons are fine, their protection and habitat preservation was of utmost importance in the implementation of this restoration plan. As the preserve matures, it is hoped that the population continues to flourish here, with the river being cleaner, a thriving area conducive to more of the native species, and land that is much more natural.

Clicking on the map above will take you to the pdf file of the entire Master Plan for the ecological restoration of the Lower Black River. I encourage you to look it over.

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Will the Herons Come Back?

(Editor’s Note: A mistake was made concerning the location of the rookery. The rookery is STILL intact, and just a little farther up the river. I will be going there early next week, and will bring photos and more information. Thanks to everyone that was concerned! Apologies about the mistake. See Loraine for for the update. -mjt)

On September 21, of 2009, Lorain City Council discussed the donation of the turning bin parcel, also known as the Heron Rookery, from US Steel Corp. Amounting to 10.16 acres of land, its donation was a goodwill gesture by the company, as it is a prime location for a nature preserve. Previously used for some dumping, and as a slag pit at one time, “it was not considered in need of huge environmental remediation..”, but did require some clean-up. It would require a “very minimal investment on the City’s part” and it would save one of the nicest areas on the Upper Black River.

Mayor Tony Krasienko said it was the City’s intention to leave it in its natural state, and improve it so it continues to flourish as a wild life preserve. It is also considered a future viewing point for a planned leg of a bike trail, in cooperation with the Lorain County Metro Parks. The area is very key as a wild life preserve. It will be a strategic viewing site for wild life and something that we want to include on that trail.

In the “Lower Black River Ecological Restoration Master Plan“, dated December of last year, the Rookery is one of the assets listed in the area. The Lake/Lacustuary Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (LQHEI) is a tool used to rate the habitat quality of portions of shorelines, as well as serve as a “guide to direct restoration efforts towards those activities that are most likely to result in improved habitat values.” The Ohio EPA documented the area as having aquatic life scores in the exceptional range, and the LQHEI gave the rookery a score of over 60, thus rating it as an “area of exceptional habitat.”

Great Blue Herons are an oft photographed bird here in Lorain, and usually breed in trees close to lakes and other wetlands. Groups of them together are known as a rookery, or heronry, and can number between 5-500 nests, with an average of 160 nests per colony.

Earlier this year, a group of 25 students from Lakeview Elementary were treated to a tour up and down the Black River. The kids were fortunate to see a Great Blue Heron fly past the boat they were riding in, and worked together to find more nests high up in the trees.

Mike Kennedy and I took a walk along the Black River Wednesday, and I was stunned at what I saw. Gone were the trees that these large birds called home.

(viewed from the north)

The entire area appeared to have been plowed down, and there were trucks spreading straw on what was probably recently seeded ground. According to a former councilman that voted on this clean up, part of the discussion in Council entailed being careful as to not harm the rookery.

(viewed from the west)

Of the entire area pictured above, the majority of it was populated with trees. Now,

 

the right-most area is all that’s left. And in the trees that are left, we were only able to find

one nest.

A lot of questions have been raised about this, and, unfortunately, only time will get us the answers. Are the majority of the herons gone for good? The males settle usually where there are nests from former years, either building a new one or restoring an old one. Will they build nests on the opposite side of the river? We didn’t see any on the northern or western side where we walked. The herons in this part of the country usually are permanent residents, and do not migrate south when the weather turns cold. Why did the entire shoreline area need leveled? Hopefully, someone will be able to tell us.

Below is video shot on October 1, with Mayor Krasienko discussing the clean up of the Black River shore line.

Back on the Henderson

 A few weeks ago, I did a “Random Shots” piece from the Henderson Bridge. Loraine Ritchey sent me an email, asking me to do another panorama once the leaves were out on the trees. Well, the leaves are out, I got the shot, and all of this is the result of that trip.

Thanks, Loraine!

 

Before I went to the Henderson, I stopped by the boat launch off of Broadway, which put me right on top of the area that someone told me was called “Bum’s Woods.” Whatever its name, there is an unload area for freighters from many moons ago. Above this, is a concrete wall that has a lot of grafitti. There are some real artists out there somewhere.

One more thing I found while on the Lofton Henderson Memorial Bridge:

Did you know that you can see the Lighthouse from the Bridge?

I do now.

Bur Oak MetroPark – The Black River

I was in Elyria yesterday, when I heard on WEOL that the Black River was overflowing its banks, and that at its current height it ranked in the top 5 of record heights recorded. Hearing that, I had to check it out for myself. Ford Road was closed at the bridge, as it has been for the last few weeks. Residents in LaGrange were warned they may have to evacuate. See for yourself.

A view of the overflowing Black River from the entrance of Bur Oak MetroPark

The Black River, west of the Ford Road bridge, and just east of Bur Oak MetroPark

Recently driven from his home, he’s not happy

A view of the Black River, south of the Rt. 254 bridge, just west of Gulf Road

A view of the Black River, north of the Rt. 254 bridge