Magee Marsh Visitor Center Rookery Tree display (photo by Jim Vickers)

Step Inside the Revamped Magee Marsh Visitor Center

The makeover of the former Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center provides outdoor lovers a fresh look at our state’s prized bird-watching destination.

Just beyond the front door, the 20-foot-tall Rookery Tree rises from the center of the room. Visitors peer up at it with wonder, before climbing a stairway that provides a canopy-level view of herons, egrets and cormorants nesting in the branches of the carefully crafted hackberry tree. Overhead, a pair of birds are frozen in midflight, wings outstretched.

When the Magee Marsh Visitor Center re-opened to the public in early May 2023, it gave nature lovers a first look at the expansive makeover to the building that opened in 1970 as the Sportsmen’s Migratory Bird Center. The 5,700-square-foot space features a variety of intricately crafted habitat displays that showcase the incredible diversity of this area west of Port Clinton where the region’s vast marshlands meet the Lake Erie shore.

“They went down and actually made a cast of the bark of the [hackberry] tree, so that they could reproduce it on the tree inside,” Ohio Division of Wildlife district manager Scott Butterworth pointed out during the building’s May 4 dedication as he discussed the level of care Toledo-based Graphite Design + Build put into its work on the center. “So, that just shows you the level of dedication and detail that went into this building.” 

The center is a fitting first stop for visitors to Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, particularly those who don’t know a lot about the region’s rich birding heritage and the wetland habitats that draw songbirds and shorebirds, waterbirds and waterfowl. Yet seasoned birders will find much to love here as well. Second-floor displays also include exhibits that share the history of duck hunting in the area and the craft of decoy carving.

Other improvements that were part of the makeover include bird-friendly glass, new upper and lower outdoor decks, updated bathrooms, a chairlift, an accessible path around the building and the addition of a small gift shop.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Area — named after the Magee family that bought 2,700 acres of wetlands in 1903 and preserved them for 30 years — today spans more than 2,200 acres and is overseen by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. It is often mentioned among the nation’s top bird-watching sites, in no small part due to the wealth of colorful warblers that visit during spring migration, a fact celebrated each May during the Biggest Week in American Birding.

“We can live in a city, we can live in a suburb, but in a short period of time, you’re out here,” Gov. Mike DeWine said following the May 4 dedication ceremony. “It’s one of the great places in the world to see birds, and it’s just a lot of fun.” 

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