Old Woman Creek estuary extends upstream about 1.3
miles and covers about 75 acres. Visitors can view
the estuary from an observation deck.
Ohio — An estuary is simply a coastal place that’s
Old Woman Creek estuary is different from Lake Erie, and
different from other streams that empty into the lake on
Ohio’s North Coast. The estuary’s water is generally
brackish and chemically different from the lake and the
coastal sanctuary in north-central Ohio also features
important ecological habitats. It is a rare and rich
has one of the longest names you will encounter
anywhere: Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research
Reserve and State Nature Preserve. The 573-acre reserve,
popular with birders, lies 3 miles east of Huron on U.S.
6 in Erie County.
semi-enclosed wetland is one of the finest natural
estuaries in the Great Lakes and an important spot for
the study of coastal habitats. Much of the preserve is
undeveloped and off-limits to visitors because of its
sensitive ecosystems and scientific research.
than 90 percent of Ohio’s historical wetlands have
been lost. Estuaries are critical to the health of the
lake, but virtually all estuaries along Ohio’s Lake
Erie shoreline have been affected by human development.
Old Woman Creek is one of the last naturally functioning
estuaries along Ohio’s 312-mile shoreline.
serves as an ecological line of defense. It filters out
sediments and pollutants that flow off the land into the
water. It’s an important habitat for fish, migratory
birds and other wildlife, and buffers the surrounding
areas from storms and floods.
Old Woman Creek preserve includes marshlands, open water
dominated by leafy American lotus, a barrier sand beach,
mud flats, upland forests, vernal pools, prairies,
scrub-shrub and old crop fields.
has a visitor center and five short trails covering 2.75
miles, with boardwalks and observation areas overlooking
the wetlands. With luck, you might even spot bald eagles
that nest on the much-studied reserve and frequent the
reserve is not a park: No pets, picnics, swimming,
fishing or hunting. Nothing that might affect Mother
Woman Creek is not big: It flows 15 miles and its
watershed covers 27 square miles. It is flooded for the
first 1.3 miles upstream from Lake Erie. The waters are
rich in floating microscopic plants and animals called
plankton that are basic to the estuary’s food chain.
was impressed by the small beach where Old Woman Creek
empties into Lake Erie, filled with dead fish and
storm-tossed trees. Its look changes, depending on waves
and wind conditions on the lake. The beach, about 760
feet long, sits on the north side of U.S. 6 at the
northwest corner of the reserve.
fact, the shifting beach will periodically close the
mouth of the creek and keep its water from entering Lake
Erie. Such closures are temporary.
has 169 public access sites along Lake Erie, 55 miles of
accessible coast. A total of 9.9 miles of public access
is in Erie County.
can also explore the reserve via water. On a June
evening, I got a chance to paddle a canoe on a guided
trip at Old Woman Creek.
flotilla of canoes and kayaks put in and headed south
under the U.S. 6 bridge. The instructions were simple:
Remain in the channel and out of the vegetation. The
estuary widened into a swamp. We paddled past 10-acre
Star Island that was timbered in the 1880s and later
slack water was dominated by leafy American lotus that
will have fragrant basketball-sized blossoms in July.
There is also pondweed, coontail and white water lily.
If the water levels are low, the area may be giant mud
paddlers headed south under a railroad trestle and into
the narrow tree-lined creek. Aerial-blown cottonwood
seeds looked like summer snow. From the water, the
bankside vegetation towered above us. The key feature is
a wooded flood plain. Forests and old farm fields
surround the stream.
put-in and takeout spot is north of U.S. 6 and near the
reserve’s beach, but paddling into Lake Erie is not
permitted because of dangerous currents where the
estuary meets the lake.
reserve’s visitor center was expanded in 2007 and
named in honor of Mike DeWine, former U.S. senator and
now Ohio attorney general, for his support for Lake Erie
projects. The research and education center has
interactive exhibits, a classroom and a laboratory.
will learn about the Great Lakes, Lake Erie water
problems, northern Ohio weather and its effects on the
estuary, and diverse habitats found on the preserve.
There are also aquariums, dioramas, videos, natural
history exhibits and nature artwork. The exhibits
include information on what you can do to help save
wetlands and watersheds.
preserve is owned and managed by the Ohio Department of
Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife, in
partnership with the federal National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration that provides much of the
funds for reserve operations and research.
hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1
to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday from April through
November. From November to April, the center is open 9
a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
reserve’s trails are open dawn to dusk daily. The
estuary is open for canoeing and kayaking within certain
guidelines. Only five permits per day are issued.
center also conducts estuary programs, outings,
workshops and laboratory programs throughout the year.
It will mark National Estuaries Day on Sept. 28 with an
open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
more information, see