The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 15, 2012

Museum moves to buy swamp in Geneva

Star Beacon

— Even a gray, soggy November day can’t dampen Jim Bissell’s enthusiasm for the Geneva Swamp.

Bissell, curator of botany/coodinator of natural areas for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is especially excited these days because an effort is under way to expand the 329-acre holding by at least another 200 acres. The museum is seeking purchase/protection of the land and last week received the blessing of the county commissioners in that effort.

The resolution approved by commissioners supports the museum’s and Geneva’s effort to obtain a District 7 Clean Ohio Fund grant to acquire the property. There are 12 parcels in Geneva City and Township that commissioners recognized for protection.

Geneva City Manager James Pearson said he favors protection of the swamp land, which otherwise would not be viable for other uses.

“It’s a good asset for our community,” Pearson said of the museum’s tract. “We want to work with the museum to promote, where it’s appropriate, public access to the land.”

The parcels range from 1.5 to 48 acres each. Collectively, they represent a slice of what Bissell says was once very common in Lake, Ashtabula, Lorain and Cuyahoga counties: lake plain swamp forest.

“The cool thing about the Geneva Swamp is that it’s the last large example of wetland and sand barrens that once was common in downtown Cleveland,” Bissell said.

Thus, if you ever wanted to know what the mouth of the Cuyahoga River looked like when Moses Clevealand first arrived in 1796, head over to the Geneva Swamp. the wetlands is on both sides of Route 534 on the city’s north side, and spills into Geneva Township.

Bissell said there once were thousands of acres of this habitat, but developers — road builders were especially fond of the sand ridges — have wiped out all of it except at Geneva Swamp and the Sand Barrens in North Kingsville, also protected by the museum. The museum wants to shelter as much of the Geneva land as possible before it, too, falls to development and is lost forever. Estimates of the total area that could be protected have gone as high as 900 acres. Residential development is making inroads into the swamp in the Austin Road area, and the museum has acquired several of those housing lots to provide access to the resource, Pearson said.

Protecting habitat protects rare species. Museum naturalists who have cataloged the swamp’s occupants discovered at least three species of beetles new to science. Bissell said the beetles, which live in a mossy environment, include one that’s found in only two other places in the world — both in Ohio. Another one is globally rare and its discovery at Geneva Swamp marked the first occurrence in the state. It since has been found in the Morgan Township Swamp.

“It’s loaded with rare species,” Bissell said of the swamp’s plants, amphibians and insects.

The museum began acquiring swamp parcels in 2008. It plans to make the property available to the public via hiking trails and programming. Bissell said there will eventually be a trail to link Platt R. Spencer students the natural laboratory in their back yard.

Funding for the initial purchase was provided by $426,000 from the Kent Smith Charitable Foundation with matches provided by museum donors. The project received a $85,390.46 grant from Sustain our Great Lakes to control invasive species on 70 acres of the swamp.