Wednesday, April 11th, 2012
By Shelley Grieshop
Grant sought to preserve lakeshore land
  MONTEZUMA - The county is seeking more than a half million dollars in grant funds to buy 40 acres along Grand Lake as a natural habitat.
The property is located near Prairie Creek, behind the Aqua View subdivision and adjacent to an ongoing project to restore littoral wetlands along the lake's south shore.
The owner of the land is Rick Uppenkamp of Aqua View Sites Inc., Maria Stein.
Mercer County Commissioners on Tuesday approved submission of the grant application that requests $534,270 from the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund. The total project cost is $890,450; the majority - $880,000 - is for the land purchase.
If the grant is awarded, the remaining funds will include $80,000 donated back from Uppenkamp; an in-kind contribution of $4,500 from Mercer County Pheasants Forever; $250,000 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; and $21,680 from the Lake Restoration Commission.
The project's focus is to permanently preserve the land so it cannot be developed for residential or commercial purposes, explained Jared Ebbing, the project manager and county community development director.
"We want to buy the property to preserve the existing wetlands," he said.
Preserving and restoring the wetlands will help reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the lake that feeds the harmful blue-green algae. Toxic algae has plagued the lake in recent years and cost the area millions of dollars in lost tourism dollars.
A portion of the project includes the preservation of forested areas, the enhancement of the existing floodplain and the restoration of 15 acres to be seeded to native grasses. Other positive outcomes are the reduction of soil disturbance and erosive losses and the preservation of the natural stream channels.
Another goal is to "increase habitat protection including that of the bald eagle and other endangered species," the application states. A pair of bald eagles has nested for several years within 800 feet of the property.
The property will be accessible to the public by pedestrian and bicycle trails that wind through Franklin Township. The area will be maintained by the county.
The project is dubbed Phase 2. Phase 1 is in progress nearby and includes the installation of floating wetlands, an Airy Gator to infuse oxygen into the water and other measures to improve water quality.
Ebbing said three other properties were looked at by LRC members before they chose Uppenkamp's land at Prairie Creek. It more closely met the criteria needed to obtain the grant, he said.
"The LRC also felt they should continue the momentum started at Prairie Creek," Ebbing said. "It's kind of like the last piece of the puzzle. We wanted to finish what we started."
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