Paul Shelley loved taking care of animals. For several decades, he raised ducks, geese and even fed the occasional deer on his wetlands.
Shelley died 11 years ago. His son James Shelley wanted to keep the memory of his father alive, so he and his wife, Nancy, decided to donate 17 acres of land commonly known as the Gravel Pit to the Sandusky County Park District.
"I think it's wonderful because it will keep it as it is," said Paul's wife, Kate, who sold the land to James years ago. "I think my husband would have loved it."
On Dec. 28, the property was renamed the "Paul and Kate Shelley Wetland."
The property at the corner of County Roads 292 and 177 is worth about $60,000, but is a much more valuable than that, said Steve Gruner, director of the Sandusky County Park District.
"It's invaluable," Gruner said. "It would take decades to restore property to the condition this place already is."
James and Nancy said the decision to sell the land was not difficult since it would become a benefit for everyone.
"It's a natural wetlands, and there's not many of them around," James said. "It's good that it can be for public use."
James said he remembers playing with ostriches, guinea hens, peacocks and all sorts of waterfowl in the wetlands.
"It was a zoo," James said. His father "had critters all his life. That was his hobby. He just liked animals."
The property has been in the family since the 1930s, and Paul has owned the land since 1949, but James said the park district would probably get more use out of it than he could.
The property will provide an ideal location for wetland preservation and restoration and become part of environmental education programs, Gruner said.
"It's a wonderful addition for us," Gruner said. "It will let them get out and stomp around through the wetland."
The Shelley Wetland includes two ponds, several cedar and cottonwood trees and a grassy clearing. It is the ninth park in Sandusky County.
The property is open for scheduled program use only, but could soon become open for public use.
The area needs a few amenities such as a parking lot and picnic tables before it is opened to the public, Gruner said. The land could also become part of a bike trail under construction between Clyde and Bellevue.
"I can't say enough about the Shelley family sharing their special place with Sandusky County," Gruner said. "We're kind of humbled that the Shelley family would entrust this land to the park."