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Little Portage River
Ottawa NWR–Two Rivers Unit, O’Neal Rd. (restricted access)
Coordinates: 41.4979964, -83.0486394
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About Portage Rivers
The Portage River is a west-to-east flowing river in northwest Ohio that empties into Lake Erie at Port Clinton. The Portage begins approximately 40 river miles from the lake at the confluence of the Middle Branch Portage and South Branch Portage rivers which is just east of the intersection of OH-199 with US-6. Headwaters for the branches begin in Wood and Hancock counties, respectively. A northern branch flows into the Portage River at Pemberville, and an eastern branch flows into the South Branch in Montgomery Township about 0.25-miles south of the OH-199/OH-281 intersection (Wood County).
The Portage River Watershed covers 612 square miles (391,682 acres). The watershed is predominantly comprised of cultivated crops (78 percent) with pockets of urban development (11 percent), forested land (5 percent) and some wetland areas along the coast.
Much of the land now occupied by the drainage basin of the Portage was once part of the Great Black Swamp, a vast wetland ecosystem that included coastal marshes, poorly-drained soils, and lush forest cover. The entire swamp covered nearly 900,000 acres, land which today is completely or partially included in 13 counties in Ohio and one county in Indiana. Settlement and development of northwest Ohio were delayed due to the swamp’s presence.
In the 1850s, Ohio’s General Assembly passed the first of many laws authorizing the drainage of the Great Black Swamp. Consequently, many drainage ditch networks were dug in the watershed including the Jackson Cut Off project in Wood County. It drained 30,000 acres of wetlands in the upper Portage River Watershed and diverted the water nine miles to the Maumee River basin. The exposed land throughout the former Great Black Swamp offered tremendously rich and productive soils which are extensively farmed today. The drainage ditches and subsurface drainage tiles in the former swamp are also maintained to prevent the swamp from returning.
The lower twelve miles of the Portage River, between Oak Harbor and the mouth in Port Clinton, are essentially an estuary as the river’s water is influenced by Lake Erie’s water level. Measuring over 3,000 feet (0.5-miles) wide at some locations, the lower Portage is also extremely broad in comparison to other Lake Erie tributaries, with the exception of the Maumee. The river’s width makes it a prime location for recreational boating, canoeing, and kayaking. The Portage is also good for white bass fishing.
From Lake Erie Public Access Guide