Magee Marsh Wildlife Area

13229 W State Route 2
Oak Harbor , OH 43449

419-898-0968   |
Open daily 24 hours

The Great Black Swamp and Its Legacy

Northern Ohio’s preserved wetlands have a rich history that visitors can interpret and enjoy when they visit Magee Marsh Wildlife Area.

The Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is part of the small portion of Ohio’s wetlands that still remains. Northwest Ohio was once covered by a dense forest and thick swamp land. In certain areas the swamp water was so deep, a person could stand and be covered up to their chest. As the leaves on the massive trees changed, they would fall into the surrounding water and it would turn a deep black color; thus, it came to be known as the Great Black Swamp. The swamp was a product of the Pleistocene Epoch’s Pre-Illinoian glaciations that formed over North America. Ohio was once covered by the Wisconsinan glacier that began retreating 18,000 years ago. During its 4,000-year long retreat, the glacier did not move regularly, and its path carved through the land underneath, paving the way for Ohio’s varying topography and the creation of the Great Lakes. This region was flat with deposits of clay sediments left behind by the melting ice, making the ground impermeable. Lakes formed by the glacial movement were much larger and covered more land than those today but overtime the lake water receded and Ohio’s current shore land resurfaced. What resulted was the foundation for the Great Black Swamp and the state’s marshlands. Settlement of the area was difficult because of the foreboding difficulty of clearing the swamp for farming, which was the impetus for western migration in the age of the frontier. Even native inhabitants found higher ground to settle, though they did venture into the swamp to hunt its robust wildlife, particularly the numerous birds that flocked there. Following the War of 1812 and the removal of the Native American’s from their land through the 1840s, settlement of the region exploded, and by the 1850s the swamp was rapidly being cleared for farming and development. Though the majority of settlers saw the swamp’s value as potential farmland, hunters were some of the first to see the value in its preservation. By the early 1900s duck hunters began purchasing marsh land to establish private hunting clubs. In 1951, 1,800 acres of this land was purchased by the state for the Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area after growing public concern for the region’s decreasing wildlife population. Since then, the state has preserved over 10,000 acres of marsh land, and because of these efforts the region’s wildlife continues to thrive, protected in the rich habitat.

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Notes for Travelers

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is considered one of the best places in the nation to watch the spring migration of millions of birds, especially warblers. One of the features of Magee Marsh is its boardwalk – known as the Magee Marsh Bird Trail – that offers birders a front row seat as birds land to rest and refuel before making the journey over Lake Erie to nesting grounds in Canada. In May, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory hosts the Biggest Week in American Birding to highlight the region’s spectacular migration of warblers and waterfowl. Bird watching here is not just reserved for seasoned birders; the Black Swamp Bird Observatory visitors center, located just off Route 2, will lend anyone a pair of binoculars, field guides, and maps of the area.

Additional Resources

Great Black Swamp Woods & Wanders: Nature’s Jewels in Northwest Ohio, Jim Mollenkopf.

The Late, Great Lakes: An Environmental History, William Ashworth.

The Warbler Guide, Tom Stephenson.