Picture Ohio! – Mentor Marsh, Lake County

Dawn near Zimmerman Trail, Mentor Marsh

A fiery dawn lights up the sky at Mentor Marsh, an old channel of the Grand River near Lake Erie in northeast Ohio. In the lower left and middle right of the wetland stand the dying remnants of invasive Eurasian Common Reed, Phragmites australis, which covered most of the 855-acre  marsh until recently in a 10- to 15-foot tall blanket of impenetrable vegetation like a bamboo forest. 

In the middle distance are some of the buildings of the Morton Salt Company, which together with its neighbor to the south, Osborne, Inc., produced much of the salt runoff and dust which polluted the marsh for decades and created the acidic soil that killed off most of the native wetland plants but allowed the salt-tolerant phragmites to thrive. Several times during recent decades the phragmites ignited and fires blackened the skies and threatened the thousands of homes in the residential Mentor suburbs that surround the marsh.      

Swamp Rose Mallows at Shipman Pond, Mentor Marsh

The photo above was taken about 30 minutes after the red dawn image along the shoreline of Shipman Pond at the north end of Mentor Marsh near Headlands Road. In mid-August the surface of the pond is covered with a luxuriant growth of green duckweed, which contains more protein than soy beans and is an important high-protein food source for waterfowl like the wood duck, shown in the photo below.

Female Wood Duck, Mentor Marsh

The duckweed also make an attractive, color complementary background for the large, purplish-pink flowers of Swamp Rose Mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos, which bloom in mid- and late summer along the edges of the marsh.        

Swamp Rose Mallow Flowers at Shipman Pond, Mentor Marsh

Photographers and other visitors should note that there is a parking lot on Headlands Road, just west of Shipman Pond at the top of the hill on the left side of the road. This is also the northern terminus of the Zimmerman Trail, which skirts the northern section of the marsh for about 2 miles through a woodland which includes some large oak trees.

Canada Wild Rye and Swamp Rose Mallows along Corduroy Road, Mentor Marsh

Some of the best views of Mentor Marsh are along Corduroy Road, just west of the Carol H. Sweet Mentor Marsh Nature Center. There is no parking along Corduroy Road where it passes through the marsh, but there is a bike and hike lane along both sides of the road that offers grand vistas of the marsh and large colonies of Swamp Rose Mallow and other marsh plants alongside the road. Park at the nature center and walk west along Corduroy Road. 

Sunrise along the Wake Robin Trail, Mentor Marsh

For an immersive marsh experience, take a stroll along the Wake Robin Trail in the western section of Mentor Marsh. Just west of the marsh, turn left from Corduroy Road onto Woodbridge Road and drive 0.4 miles to the Wake Robin Trail parking lot. Walk through the woodland at the rear of the parking lot to the Wake Robin boardwalk, which stretches about 1/4-mile into the marsh, as shown in the panoramic photo below.

Panorama from Wake Robin Trail boardwalk, Mentor Marsh

The Wake Robin Trail is a popular destination for local birders, especially during the warm months, when Sora and Virginia Rails frequent the marsh together with unusual passerine birds including Marsh and Sedge Wrens, Nelson’s Sparrow and LeConte’s Sparrow. The Sora Rail shown below appeared during a recent visit to the boardwalk and allowed me to take a few images before scurrying back into the marsh vegetation. 

Sora Rail, Wake Robin Trail, Mentor Marsh
Male Goldfinch, Wake Robin Trail, Mentor Marsh

Goldfinches are regular visitors to Mentor Marsh, and often allow a close approach as they feed on seeds in the marsh grasses.

If you visit Mentor Marsh using Google Maps and zoom in with a high magnification you will note that the surface of the marsh is crisscrossed with the tracks of the Argo swamp buggies used by restoration staff from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History to spray pesticides on the phragmites and other invasive plants as well as haul more than 50,000 plugs of wetland grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers for planting, like the Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, shown in the photos of the Monarch and Fiery Skipper butterflies shown below.     

Monarch Nectaring on Swamp Milkweed, Wake Robin Trail
Fiery Skipper, Wake Robin Trail, Mentor Marsh

The Wake Robin Trail boardwalk is a great place to hone your skills in bird and butterfly photography without getting wet feet. In addition to butterflies, dozens of species of flies, bees, wasps, beetles and other insects may be observed along the boardwalk, including the ghost-like Phantom Crane Fly, Bittacomorpha clavipes, which flits among the grasses and whose black-and-white legs render it almost invisible in the dappled shadows of the marsh.      

Phantom Crane Fly, Wake Robin Trail

The scenic photographs in this article were all taken with my iPhone 11 Pro, using techniques described in my eBook, iPhone Landscape & Nature Photography, which may be downloaded from the Home Page of my website:


The bird and butterfly photographs were made with a handheld Nikon D500 or D7200 SLR camera and the lightweight, inexpensive, and tack-sharp  Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens. 

Below is a map of Mentor Marsh, which was designated in 1971 as Ohio’s first State Nature Preserve.

For more information on the history and restoration of Mentor Marsh, check out the Youtube presentation – “Mentor Marsh: History, Tragedy, Recovery” by Dave Kriska, PhD, the Biodiversity Coordinator for the Natural Areas Program of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Here’s a link:

In addition to Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve, there are two other natural areas in Mentor that are well worth a visit: Mentor Lagoons, which is just west of Mentor Marsh,  and Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, which is north of Mentor Marsh along the Lake Erie shoreline. Additional information on Mentor’s natural areas is included in my book, A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio – Volume 1, published by Ohio University Press and available from my website. 

For more information about Mentor Marsh, visit the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s website.    






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