can find a wild, retreating Lake Erie barrier beach
at Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve near Huron,
Ohio. It stretches 1.13 miles and protects the
wetlands from Lake Erie waves.
Ohio — Sheldon Marsh is not Magee Marsh. But the
465-acre state nature preserve on Lake Erie near Huron in
Erie County in north-central Ohio is equally good.
Marsh near Oak Harbor is generally hailed as the No. 1
birding spot in Ohio, especially its boardwalk, where
migrating songbirds are often at eye level.
Marsh is just as good. The only difference is that the
migrating birds at Sheldon Marsh are in the tree tops,
says Ryan Schroeder, the district preserve manager for the
Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Nearly 300 species
have been spotted at Sheldon Marsh.
birds tend to feed and rest in the preserve’s wetlands
and woods at the extreme eastern end of Sandusky Bay,
before heading out across Lake Erie on their annual
journey north to nesting grounds.
preserve provides crucial habitat, shelter and food with
its old farm fields, hardwood forests, woodland swamps,
cattail marsh and open lake water. It is a critical
stopover for migratory birds. It is also prime bald eagle
May, the preserve’s trees and shrubs are almost filled
with colorful warblers, with 37 species recorded here. The
L-shaped preserve also attracts waterfowl and shorebirds.
You may see bald eagles and wading great blue herons. Rare
sightings include golden-winged warblers, piping plovers,
snowy owls and purple sandpipers.
may love Sheldon Marsh, but the preserve also has another
attraction: It is one of only three coastal wetlands in
Ohio not diked for water management. It is some of the
last remaining undeveloped shoreline in the Sandusky Bay
preserve is also home to a wild and very distinctive Lake
Erie barrier beach. Technically, it is a sand spit that
nearly separates Lake Erie from the eastern end of
Sandusky Bay. It is the best example of barrier beach in
Ohio and is the last one of its size in Ohio on Lake Erie.
stretches for 1.13 miles and protects the marsh from wave
action. The crashing waves strike the white sand beach,
not the biologically rich marshlands. It keeps Lake Erie
waters from filling the wetlands that lie on the south
side of the barrier beach.
can explore the east-west beach on foot at the preserve
between Huron and Sandusky. It is a 1-mile walk on a paved
walkway from the parking lot off U.S. 6 to the beach. You
will pass several short side trails that lead off into the
woods at the largely undeveloped preserve. Two wooden
observation decks offer wetlands vistas.
Marsh is one of the last remaining unspoiled sites where
beach turns to marsh and then into mature forests like
what once covered thousands of acres on Lake Erie’s
southern shore. It is also one of the most-visited state
nature preserves in Ohio.
beach was once part of the original seven-mile-long
roadway that led to the nearby Cedar Point amusement park.
In fact, Sheldon Marsh was once the beginning of the main
entrance to Cedar Point.
a brick-and-wrought-iron gate and a historical marker off
U.S. 6 marks where the access road began with a toll booth
and a flagpole.
1913, a motor road was extended from Cleveland Road north
to the lakeshore and then six miles west along the beach
to the amusement park. It was one of the first concrete
roads built in Ohio.
lake constantly washed away portions of the road and in
1919 the park owners were forced to construct an alternate
route two miles west of the present-day preserve entrance.
The remnants of the first road form the main walkway in
beach itself is in retreat, moving to the south at up to
18 feet a year. It is being reshaped constantly by lake
levels and storms.
1972, the west end of the barrier beach separated from the
rest of the 6.5-mile-long Cedar Point sand spit due to a
rise in lake levels and a major storm.
the last 40 years, the barrier beach has eroded westward
and retreated about 1,200 feet in places. That created a
broad U-shaped bay and shrank the marshland behind the
built at Huron four miles to the east keep sand from
depositing on the shore at Sheldon Marsh. The problem has
been studied and analyzed over the years by federal and
state agencies, with plans drafted to save and repair the
barrier beach. It is a major engineering project. To date,
the money has not been appropriated to proceed with
the beach to experience a touch of wild Ohio like it once
was. The beach was formerly off-limits to visitors from
May through September due to nesting birds: the common
tern, a state-endangered species, and the piping plover, a
federally threatened species. But that restriction has
been lifted because neither species is nesting on the
Sheldon Marsh beaches.
beach is framed by two man-made features: a water pump
station built by the federal government for the nearby
NASA Plum Brook facility and private condominiums that sit
on the spit to Cedar Point.
Marsh remains relatively undisturbed, in part because of
its previous owners. The original 56-acre tract was
acquired in the early 1950s by Sandusky physician Dr. Dean
Sheldon. It was nicknamed Sheldon’s Folly because much
of the land was swampy and often under water.
ardent conservationist, Sheldon spent many years improving
the site for wildlife. That includes adding farm ponds and
plantings that provide food and shelter for wildlife. He
built a small cottage.
1979, the ODNR’s Division of Natural Areas and Preserve
bought Sheldon’s property from his widow, Celestina.
state added 330 acres of marsh and barrier beach and it
was dedicated in 1980 as a state nature preserve. An
additional 75 acres were added later, thanks to grants.
preserve is known for its spring wildflowers that are at
their colorful peak from mid-April through June. That
includes Dutchman’s breeches, trout lilies and
trilliums. It is also home to the cardinal flower, a
striking red blossom that has been called America’s
are sunrise to sunset daily. Hunting, swimming, picnicking
and collecting are prohibited.
more information, you can contact the Ohio Department of
Natural Resources, 614-265-6561,