Progress: Park district to encourage boating on river

By JIM MAURER
STAFF WRITER
The Hancock Park District is floating a plan to encourage more boating on the Blanchard River.
This month, the park board approved a resolution to seek a grant for construction of two concrete canoe and kayak launch/landing areas at Liberty Landing and Blanchard Landing, west of Findlay along the river.
The park district also wants to promote more canoe and kayak traffic downstream from Eastpoint Area on East Main Cross Street and Zonta Landing in Riverside Park, west toward Ottawa.
“To do so depends on signs, safe and well-constructed portages so that paddlers can safely bypass the obstacle-ridden section of the urban waterway, and quality launch and landing areas to support multiple entrance and exit points along the river to maximize recreation opportunities,” park district Director Gary Pruitt said.
At the same time, a “state water trail” designation is being sought from Eastpoint to Blanchard Landing, near Ohio 235.
The park district is seeking a grant and the state designation through the state Department of Natural Resources, Division of Watercraft. Both applications will be submitted together and are due April 1.
The distance between Liberty Landing and Blanchard Landing is a half-day trip by water, he said. The park district is also in discussions with Putnam County personnel to develop and/or promote a canoe and kayak launch and landing area in Ottawa. The additional distance would make it a full-day trip.
To promote canoe and kayak use on the river, the park district for a fee may offer guided tours of the waterway and a return shuttle service from Ottawa to Findlay.
Aeraland Recreation Area
Trail improvements at Aeraland Recreation Area and stocking the lake with fish, in conjunction with the state Department of Natural Resources, are planned this year.
The property was acquired by the Hancock Park District in January 2013 via a donation from the Washington Township trustees.
The 74-acre property is located on Washington Township 243, northeast of Arcadia. The park is open to the public. It offers meadows, rolling countryside, vistas and ravines, views of the south branch of the Portage River, woods, a lake, and wildlife. There is potential for outdoor recreation, too.
“The acquisition was viewed as an opportunity to extend the Hancock Park District’s reach into the rural confines of Hancock County, maximize the land’s potential for public use, and further the development of a regional park system,” Pruitt said. “It affords the opportunity for park visitors to picnic in a quiet country setting, fish at Goose Lake, and hike the Highline Trail along the (river).”
Park improvements will begin this year with plans to improve the trail with signs, and additional trail construction and maintenance, he said. Also, development and implementation of a fishery management plan for Goose Lake is envisioned.
“Long-term capital improvements may include the removal of two barns along the frontage, the addition of picnic tables and benches at the gathering area to improve picnicking opportunities, construction of multi-use asphalt trails, and the development of a playground,” Pruitt said.
Paving the parking area, with assistance of a state Department of Transportation grant, is tentatively scheduled for 2015 or 2016. A restroom building will be constructed at the site, too.
“The management plan for the park envisions a nice combination of conservation and outdoor recreation with the appropriate support facilities in place to promote visitation and a quality stay,” he said.
Last year, an entrance sign was installed, swimming pool filled in, playground equipment removed, railings installed on a footbridge, wooden stairs in the forest removed, and the area was cleaned. The park was the first to have the newly-created design for park district entrance signs.
The area had previously been the Atlas Employees Recreation Area, but was donated to the township when the company closed its Fostoria manufacturing plant. The township could not afford to make necessary improvements to maintain the property.
Blanchard River Nature Preserve
A separate acquisition last year by the park district was the 63-acre Blanchard River Nature Preserve, purchased in April with a Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Grant in partnership with Black Swamp Conservancy. It is along the Blanchard River, about three miles south of Mount Blanchard on Hancock County 17. The area is closed to the public until some improvements are made.
The land includes a small house with an enclosed back porch and a garage. The house could be used as a field office for the park district, a shelter and bunkhouse for program participants, a nature center for school groups, a retreat center for staff programs, or a rental building for groups, Pruitt has said.
The Black Swamp Conservancy holds a conservation easement on the property, while the Hancock Park District has the title and has maintenance and management responsibility.
“The acquisition was viewed as an opportunity for the Hancock Park District to preserve a special place and in time give the citizens of Hancock County an opportunity to enjoy a unique nature preserve with a river observation area and wilderness-like hiking experience,” Pruitt said.
The nature preserve contains “over 7,200 linear feet of natural river channel, over 50 acres of wooded riparian flood plain, and riparian oxbow wetlands and vernal pools that provide excellent, high-quality aquatic and terrestrial habitat for a wide variety of native species,” Pruitt said.
Park improvements will continue this year and beyond, he said, including removal of a cabin near the river “in an effort to reduce maintenance costs;” development of a river observation area with picnic tables and benches; an improved entrance drive and parking spaces; and construction of a primitive nature trail.
“The management plan for the park envisions preservation first followed by public use for passive outdoor recreation activities, such as photography, bird watching, and hiking,” he said.
Trail plan
A multi-use trail plan is being distributed by Hancock Park District personnel, in conjunction with the Findlay city administration. But it may be years before extensive work is done to develop the plan.
The majority of a multi-use trail master plan was developed last year and was finished earlier this month. It will be distributed to city, regional planning and engineer offices, Pruitt said.
There will be “public conversations about the plan and the benefits of a multi-use trail system,” Pruitt said. It is a long-term plan.
The park district agreed to take the lead on development of the plan, and contracted with RCM Architects, which created the plan after input from the park district, individuals and members of a community focus group. The plan is being developed in conjunction with Findlay, as the city would have the lead in any final project.
The Hancock County Sustainability Coalition listed the idea as a “quality of life” issue when it was formed more than two years ago. An action committee within the coalition will keep the idea “active,” Pruitt said.
According to Pruitt, the benefits of a multi-use trail system, with paved trails along roads and greenways beside rivers, are these: “Trails spur economic development, attract tourists, and provide a valuable amenity for area residents. Trails draw joggers, walkers, and bike commuters on a daily basis. Trails serve as a tool for businesses when recruiting and retaining employees and increase home values by locating trails in close proximity to residential property. Trails evoke a sense of freedom that leads to a happier and healthier community.”
The plan includes a conceptual network and routes of multi-use trails along major roads, streets, and waterways throughout Findlay and a future trail system throughout Hancock County. Over time, within Findlay, existing sidewalks would be replaced with wider concrete or asphalt trails, and trails would be added where there are none.
Doing the work “within existing city right-of-way is the opportunity and challenge that the plan promotes,” he said.
The trail plan proposal would develop “a trail system that, when completed, will serve as the basis for a pedestrian-bicyclist oriented network of interconnecting trails that link neighborhoods to parks, schools, and other community places.”
Park district plan
The park district is also working on its own long-term plan.
The district last year sought input for development of a long-range “Strategic and Comprehensive Plan for Programs, Parks, and Recreational Facilities,” and 414 surveys were returned.
The survey results and organizational input “will contribute to an overall assessment of needs aimed in part at addressing gaps between current and desired services by improving existing services and correcting deficiencies,” Pruitt said.
The plan, initiated last year, is scheduled for completion late this year or early in 2015.
The plan will “prioritize recommendations and the allocation of fiscal resources,” as part of a five- to 10-year guide for the park district.
The survey focused on demographics and topics which included: trends in park visitation and activity participation; interest in nature-based outdoor recreation; program ideas and how they should be funded; program registration preferences; park and building priorities; value of multi-use trails and conservation; rating of quality of life in relationship to programs, parks, and recreational facilities; and level of satisfaction with communication efforts and marketing.
Park board
At the January 2014 park district board meeting, Gary Hirschfeld was re-elected board chairman. Scott Younger and Barb Deerhake will serve as vice chairpersons. Younger was also reappointed as board representative on the Hancock Park Foundation board.
The board is seeking a replacement for Margie Stateler, who will retire March 31 as visitor services manager after 25 years with the park district. The new hire will have the same responsibilities as Stateler, with an emphasis on marketing, Pruitt said.
Programming
There were 741 programs offered by the park district last year, both public and requested. There were 23,288 participants. In 2012, there were 826 programs and 33,300 participants. The decline was due to a reduction in the number of programming staff members offering the events, according to Stateler.
Programming for 2014 will include:
• A series of family events, referred to as “Kids in the Parks,” will take place through the year at a variety of locations on Saturday afternoons. The series has been created to promote outdoor fun, and for kids and their families to get outside once a month. Monthly topics will be related to seasonal changes and will cover everything from butterflies to nuts, kites to wildlife.
• “Art in the Park,” featured monthly through November, involves park district volunteer Sharon Hammer Baker working with professional and amateur artists to explore nature journaling techniques, including observation skills, sketching, painting and writing. Workshops will be held from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on the third Wednesday through November at the “Doc” Phillips Discovery Center in Oakwoods Nature Preserve.
• A series of camping clinics, including beginner and intermediate skills, will be held in May, June and July. The program will culminate with a community campout in October.
Hancock Park District program guides, listing public programs for two-month periods, are available at indoor park district buildings, at public programs, the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, Findlay-Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, the Cube, or online at www.HancockParks.com.
The park district also offers Raccoon Tales, an electronic newsletter sent out twice a month. It highlights programs and what is new in the park system. If interested, sign up online at the park district’s website.
Rental fees and security deposits are unchanged for 2014 for all park district shelters and buildings, and Waterfalls Pavilion at Riverside Park. They require reservations and are managed by Hancock Park District.
The Activity Barn at Litzenberg Memorial Woods and Brugeman Lodge at Riverbend Recreation Area are also available for rent.
Reservations, with payment, may be made up to one year in advance on a first-come, first-served basis at park district headquarters, 1424 E. Main Cross St., 419-425-7275.
The Richard “Doc” Phillips Discovery Center at Oakwoods Nature Preserve is not available to reserve. However, the outdoor porch area can be used by small groups on a first-come, first-served basis. Several picnic tables, electrical outlets and a wood-burning fireplace are available.
Users must provide firewood at buildings with wood-burning fireplaces.
For more information about the park district, call the office.
Reservations for shelters at Riverside Park or at other city parks can be made at the Cube, 3430 N. Main St., the location of Findlay Recreation Department offices. If interested, or for more information, call the city Recreation Department, 419-424-7176.
Online:
www.HancockParks.com
Maurer: 419-427-8420 Send an E-mail to Jim Maurer

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