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New round of Ohio open space grants include funding for proposals in Stark, Wayne counties

The land that will become Killbuck Creek Headwaters Preserve after acquisition by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy currently sits as farmland. The land will be used to grow soybeans for one more growing season until restoration begins this summer.
Andy McDowell
Western Reserve Land Conservancy
The land that will become Killbuck Creek Headwaters Preserve after acquisition by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy currently sits as farmland. The land will be used to grow soybeans for one more growing season until restoration begins this summer.

Four parcels of open space in Northeast Ohio will be preserved as part of the latest round of funding from a statewide conservation program.

The projects in Stark and Wayne counties received a combined $1.5 million from the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program, part of the Ohio Public Works Commission.

“The program is dedicated to environmental conservation to the acquisition of the green space to protection and enhancement of what are known as riparian corridors, so waterways,” said Ohio Public Works Commission Director Linda Bailiff.

Local government, park districts, conservation districts and nonprofits devoted to conservation and environmental work in Ohio are eligible to apply for the grants, Bailiff said.

The selection is advised by Ohio's 19 Natural Resources Assistance Councils, groups focused on conservation of green spaces across the state. Each council usually designates between three and five projects in their region, she said.

14 conservation project agreements in seven counties were awarded grants for totaling $8 million.

Stark County green space to be preserved after years of housing and retail developments

Officials in Plain Township in Stark County have been trying for nearly two years to get the funding to acquire the property which will be known as Monarch Meadows Preserve. They’re using the $417,730 grant toward the purchase of 19.79 acres for the preserve.

The property sits to the east of Plain Township Veteran’s Park and wraps around Compassion Church. Scott Haws, Plain Township Board of Trustee member, spearheaded acquiring this piece of land.

“There's really an extremely limited amount of green space left in the township, just due to the development over the years,” Haws said.

The property is home to a high number of bats, including the tri-color bat, an endangered species, he added. There are also some level three wetlands, which are considered high-quality premium wetlands, on the property he said.

For now, the Plain Township Board of Trustees will maintain the property as it is. In the future, they plan to work with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and Stark Parks to develop a fund for possible improvements, such as adding walking trails and boardwalks.

“So folks can enjoy the passive recreation and see butterflies and birds and bats and everything,” Haws said.

There is also the potential for collaboration with local schools and their science programs in the future, he said. Glen Oak High School is just north of the land, with Oakwood Middle School to the east.

The acquisition of the property must be completed by June 1, per the contract.

“We're saving green space, we're helping to avoid the disruption of high-quality wetlands, as well as hopefully eliminate the potential displacement of rare, rare bat species,” Haws said.

The other grant recipient in Stark County is the Natural Areas Land Conservancy for the Dorn Forest Preserve Acquisition.

The Conservancy received a $492,911 grant for the property, located in Lawrence Township.

“The property is primarily mature mixed mesophytic forest and contains valuable natural resources and habitats, including 1,750 linear feet of streams, freshwater ponds, Buttonbush swamp, moist to wet shrub swamp, and emergent marsh, ravines, and vernal pools,” according to the press release about the recent round of grants.

The property provides opportunities for hiking, bird watching and observing nature, the release states.

Wayne County projects to focus on bike trails and farm land

One of the grant recipients in Wayne County is the City of Orville for the Heartland Trail Wetlands and Greenspace acquisition.

The city was awarded a $200,000 grant for the 22-acre property that will connect to the Ohio-to-Erie trail, which runs from the Ohio River in Cincinnati to Lake Erie in Cleveland, according to the press release. The trial will also be a part of the Great American Rail Trail which goes from Washington, D.C. to Washington state.

“This project will provide pedestrians and cyclists with opportunities to be on the trail through this natural property and to provide yet another recreational amenity with the addition of 22 acres of open space parkland,” according to the press release.

The other recipient in Wayne County is the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which will use the $457,300 it was granted to acquire and restore farmland which will comprise the Killbuck Creek Headwaters Preserve.

Vice President of Field Operations Andy McDowell said the area is “marginal farm ground” since it cannot be fully farmed due to especially low areas that easily flood.

“If you were looking at this farm from the road, or even an aerial photograph, you’d clearly be able to see an area of the field that just always wants to be wet,” McDowell said.

The project will involve wetland restoration in the low area and planting pollinator habitat and trees, which McDowell said will improve the surrounding area.

“It certainly adds a water filtration component because the wetland area we’re going to be restoring will act as a natural filter for nutrients and other things on the remaining agricultural land,” McDowell said.

Nearby farms will also benefit from having the pollinator habitat to attract bees and other insects, McDowell said.

The area will remain a preserve for a few years, but McDowell said the conservancy’s goal is to eventually give the land to the Wayne Country Park District.

“Part of our vision, especially in more rural counties that either don’t have a park district yet or have very small park district, is to acquire land and hold it until those park systems are ready,” McDowell said. “There will be some management going on the next couple years, but hopefully by the end of ’24, mother nature will be doing her thing.”

Alexandra is originally from Northeast Ohio, but that did not stop her from exciting and new adventures. Before interning at Ideastream Public Media, she interned at The Facts in Clute, Texas, in the summer of 2021.
Jenna Bal was a news intern at Ideastream Public Media from January 2023 to May 2024.