State targets popular birding site

Friends of Magee Marsh unhappy about pressure from state to sign lease
Tom Jackson
Sep 20, 2013

 

The birds are singing a merry tune at Magee Marsh, one of the top birding attractions in the country, but a volunteer group at the state wildlife area is singing the blues instead.

The president of Friends of Magee Marsh says she’s unhappy the Ohio Division of Wildlife is trying to force her group to sign a lease to use space at the marsh. ODNR Division of Wildlife Chief Scott Zody says a legal agreement is needed to protect both sides from legal liability.

Sandy Burris, president of the Friends of Magee Marsh, says the Division of Wildlife has given her group an ultimatum: Sign the lease by Oct. 11, or the group’s bookstore will close. (The bookstore, Burris explains, is a counter at the visitor center that the group uses to sell books, T-shirts and other souvenirs.)

Burris concedes the Division of Wildlife has made changes in the proposed lease to try to placate the group and has lowered the amount of money it is asking for to $1,700 a year but says the group resents being pressured into signing alease. It has offered $25,000 to renovate the boardwalk at Magee Marsh but has not received an answer from state officials, she said.

“You know, it’s not a matter of being able to afford the rent. It’s a matter that we provide a service to the state,” Burris said.

Volunteers answer questions from visitors and greet people, providing a needed service for one of the top tourist attractions in the area, said Burris, a Sandusky resident.

“It’s always listed as one of the Top 10 birding spots in the country,” said Burris.

Zody said officials want a signed agreement to deal with legal liability issues and to be fair to another nonprofit at Magee Marsh.

If something bad happened and a lawsuit was filed, it would be helpful to have an agreement in hand between the state and the Friends group. That protects both sides, Zody said.

He said another nonprofit group at Magee Marsh, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, has had a lease with the Division of Wildlife since 2008. The Black Swamp group pays rent and does its own maintenance, Zody said.

“We need to make sure we are being fair and consistent across the board,” Zody said.

Zody said changes in the lease were made to please the Friends of Magee Marsh. “I view our relationship with the Friends as very positive,” Zody said. “I look forward to continuing a long and productive relationship with them.”

Burris said she’s also unhappy because she believes maintenance at Magee Marsh is being neglected.

One of the two observation towers there, invaded by bees in the spring, has remained closed. “Part of the boardwalk has not been accessible this summer because bushes and things have grown over it,” she said.

There’s lot of maintenance to be done at Magee Marsh and the state tries to do some every year, Zody said.