New entrance at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary

The Ohio Bird Sanctuary has a newly designed and landscaped entrance thanks to the efforts of the Friends and Flowers Garden Club and the family of the late George and Pam Fonseca. Bird sanctuary Executive Director Gail Laux, left, said visitors can now see the sign. Also pictured with Laux, from left, are Isaac Freeman of Liberty Lawn Care, and garden club members Mary Collet and Cheryl Callis.

MANSFIELD, Ohio -- The Ohio Bird Sanctuary has an improved entrance thanks to the family of the late George and Pam Fonseca and the efforts of the Friends and Flowers Garden Club.

“The garden club has helped us for 10 years,” said Gail Laux, executive director of the Ohio Bird Sanctuary. “They’ve been real troopers because as the sanctuary grows, we put in new gardens, and one thing the garden club wanted to stay involved with was the entrance.”

The Ohio Bird Sanctuary has been the garden club’s project for the last 10 years. Even before that, they planted at the former Boy Scout camp. But the entrance to the site was a consistent problem. Club Secretary Cheryl Callis explained there was a deep ditch; and dandelions, crabgrass, and poison ivy were a problem. Deer ate some of the club’s plants.

The site was also blocked by large trees and didn’t receive much rain. The sign at the entrance was easily lost in the vegetation. After a tornado destroyed the large trees, succession growth posed a problem.

But club member Pam Fonseca said she knew someone who could help.

“And then she went to Florida for the winter,” Callis said.

In the spring, club members began making plans for the project for when Fonseca returned. Tragically, George and Pam Fonseca didn’t make it back to Mansfield. Their twin-engine plane crashed in Smyth County, Virginia, during their return flight in May.

“It just hit us like a ton of bricks,” Callis said.

After coping with the loss of a friend, they needed to decide how to proceed with the project.

“She was the one who was really the instigator and the contact with Joel (Darling) and Isaac (Freeman). As it turned out, her children were willing to go ahead and fulfill her financial support,” Callis explained, noting that the Fonescas had planned to finance the project.

The Fonesca family paid for the labor and materials.

“We just wanted to highlight, in her memory, and their labor and donation and generosity, what was done,” Callis said.

Isaac Freeman of Liberty Lawn Care, Bellville, designed the landscaping.

“We reused some of the plants that were already here to fill in different areas," Freeman said. "Most of them are deer resistant and don’t take a lot of care. Once they’re established, they won’t have to worry about watering.”

The plants were watered this summer by Mary Collet and her husband after they devised a way to use a 50-gallon garbage can to water the new plantings. Joel Darling of JD Darling Masonry constructed the stone retaining wall.

“People couldn’t see our sign coming down the hill,” Laux said. “People would come in and say, ‘Wow, we didn’t know how nice this place was.’ It was because the entrance didn’t look like much.

"That was when Pam came forward and said, ‘I think what we need to do is tack on and create boundaries on this upper part. It was Pam’s brainchild to bring in the experts and create this retaining wall.

“It’s made all the difference. I’ve had a lot of complements on it and people can now see the sign.”

Gail Laux

Executive Director Gail Laux hopes funding will become available for a new sign at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.

What’s next for the entrance?

The next goal for the Ohio Bird Sanctuary is to get a new sign. The current sign was erected in 1995.

“We now have a permanent logo and Wordsmith has designed us a new sign and it has our logo on it. And it’s blue; you’ll see it when you come over the hill," Laux said. "So our plan is, when we have some funding, to put in a new sign to go with our new landscaping."

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Managing Editor Rhonda Bletner likes to fit in some reporting, too. A Richland County native, she lived in Colorado Springs before returning to Ohio. Before embracing digital media, she shared the news via newsprint as an editor and a staff reporter.