Hidden havenInside Winous Point Marsh Conservancy - Ohio's oldest duck-hunting club turned conservancy

As the narrow, paved Lattimore Road turns from pavement to gravel, the landscape changes from farm fields to marshes and trees along the Mud Creek Bay that empties into Lake Erie.

Great blue herons and great egrets wade in the pools and ditches along either side of the road, snapping up fish and other aquatic species in their large beaks. 

An eagle flies overhead, gracefully slowing to land in a nearby tree. Behind it, the sky resembles a watercolor painting of pink and orange as the sun sets in the distance. 

Just ahead, a deer grazes by the side of the drive and slowly walks across it before disappearing into an area of trees. 

Gradually, the gravel drive opens into a clearing, and a group of buildings and the expanse of the Mud Creek Bay become visible. These buildings are the Winous Point Shooting Club, the oldest duck-hunting club in North America, and Winous Point Marsh Conservancy, a research organization developed through the duck hunters conservation efforts to help protect Lake Erie marshes and the creatures that live in them. 

There are no signs around the buildings. The nondescript road, which begins through farm fields before turning to gravel at the marsh, has only a small sign that says “WPSC” visible from Ohio 53, just before Lattimore Road south of Port Clinton.

Conservation and research overlap, and the research projects Winous Point sponsors contribute to conservation efforts. (Courtesy of Winous Point)The club and conservancy are private, and one must have an invitation or a membership to be there. On the 3,000 acres Winous Point owns – 2,000 in Ottawa County and 1,000 in Sandusky County – a wide array of research ranging from monitoring bats to shorebirds to invasive plants to turtles quietly has taken place there since the 1940s. 

“We’re kind of under the radar because we’re way off the road,” says John Simpson, executive director of Winous Point Marsh Conservancy. “You would never know if you didn’t have a reason to come back here. There’s an exclusivity and mystique around the shooting club. It’s not our public face. Slowly, over time, as our marsh conservancy grows, so has awareness.”

Shooting club leads to marsh conservancy

In 1856, a group of duck hunters founded the Winous Point Shooting Club to take advantage of the pristine marshes and plentiful waterfowl. Through the years, they kept records of the numbers and types of ducks they harvested. 

The Winous Point hunters, like hunters at other duck clubs in the area, began noticing that wetlands were being developed, and habitat for waterfowl and other species was being lost. Additionally, there were no regulations at that time for hunting animals, so people could take as many as they wanted and hunt any time of the year. 

Around 1900, they realized some types of ducks - canvasbacks and redheads - that were once prevalent there, had mostly disappeared, Simpson says.

So Winous Point and its hunters set their own restrictions on how many of the ducks could be harvested. By 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal law, was enacted and was the start of hunting regulations.

“The duck hunters were the ones who protected and preserved those marshes,” Simpson says. 

He echoes Kelly Schott, education specialist at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, who credits the duck hunters with preserving the land that is totally Magee Marsh and neighboring Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor. Both occupy land that once housed hunt clubs and are today considered some of the best spots to see migrating birds in the world. Winous Point has many of the same variety of birds found at Magee and Ottawa.

Schott also credits Winous Point for helping preserve the pristine marsh habitat for ducks, shorebirds, and other animals. 

Winous Point didn’t stop at setting its own regulations and working with the state of Ohio. In 1999, it founded the Winous Point Marsh Conservancy, a non-profit organization, to continue that work, as well as expand into other areas of conservation. 

The conservancy has a case of birds that date back to the 1800s. (Photo/Kristina Smith)The conservancy has three areas of focus: Education, conservation, and research. It accomplishes all of these through partnerships with local, state, and educational agencies. 


Helping the public understand the importance of conserving habitat and species – including those that aren’t considered cute and cuddly, such as native mussels and bats – helps create advocates for the future who will continue to protect those resources. 

Winous Point does that in a variety of ways, especially with students. 

Each year, it works with the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District – and Simpson’s wife, Becky, district environmental educator – and other agencies to offer the Day on the Wild Side at the marsh. During this event, middle school kids have learned about bird species and bird banding, practice archery, go fishing and take a punt boat ride. 

“There are young adults we run into who were in that program and have been inspired to do something in this field,” Simpson says. “That’s important to us. We’re trying to expand that program.”

Winous Point also works with Port Clinton City Schools to bring seventh-grade science classes there for spring field trips. Throughout the trips, Winous Point uses hands-on activities to show the links between predator and prey animals, ecology, and water quality. 

For example, they compare samples of Sandusky River and water from Winous Point marshes. The river water is muddier and tends to have nutrients in it, while the water from the marsh is clean. 

“We show how wetlands purify and clean that water,” he says. 


By collaborating with community programs and agencies, Winous Point has been able to help fight invasive plants that push out important native species, restore wetlands, and work to steady bird populations. 

“It’s all by partnerships and pooling and sharing resources,” Simpson says. “That’s how things get done in conservation.”

Winous Point is part of the Lake Erie Cooperative Weed Management Area, which brings funding and awareness to removing invasive marsh plants, such as phragmites, purple loosestrife, and frogbit. These were brought in through shipping and the garden plant trade and escaped then grew into the wild. 

“It causes a lot of problems,” Simpson says of frogbit, which resembles lily pads. “It grows super dense and clogs everything.”

They created a plan and best practices to eradicate invasive plants, and it has been implemented in areas from Huron to Toledo. 

“It’s made a noticeable change on the landscape in reducing invasives,” he says. 
The conservancy also works with Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, on the H2Ohio program. This program works to restore wetlands throughout the state. Winous Point helps to monitor some of these wetlands to determine their impact on wildlife, Simpson says.


Conservation and research overlap, and the research projects Winous Point sponsors contribute to conservation efforts. 

In March, Winous Point and ODNR gave $1 million to Ohio State University to endow the Winous Point Wetlands and Waterfowl Endowed Faculty Support Fund. This money will ensure that OSU staff have funding to continue research projects that benefit Ohio’s wetlands and waterfowl. 

For more than a quarter century, students from Ohio State and other colleges and universities across the country have come to Winous Point to complete research projects, ranging from studying the Blanding’s turtle, an Ohio threatened species; spring waterfowl migration; and populations of secretive marsh birds, such as rails and bitterns; and avian flu. 

Nearly 120 graduate and Ph.D. students have worked at Winous Point on these projects, says Simpson, who also did research at Winous Point on mallard ducks as a master’s student from southern Ontario. They have come from Ohio State, Michigan State University, University of Saskatchewan in Canada, the State University of New York in Syracuse, and other institutions. 

“A lot of my job is coordinating research and delivering our research projects,” he says.

Again, he stresses, the work wouldn’t be possible without these colleges, universities and agencies working together on funding, sharing information, and resources.

 “None of the things we do on our own,” he says. “That really is important to everyone’s success in this.”