By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
It doesn’t seem likely the Wood County Park District would suffer from an identity crisis. Where else can county residents hike, bike and revel in nature 365 days a year in 20 different parks with 1,125 acres? Where else can adventure lovers go kayaking, rappelling and geo-caching?
But as the county park district nears the May 8 election, there is some concern that Bowling Green voters will confuse the Wood County Park District levy with the city parks and recreation levy that was passed last November.
“There is some confusion between the parks,” Wood County Park District Director Neil Munger said. “I’m hopeful that we get the word out.”
That word includes the fact that the park district is trying for a levy renewal – meaning no extra millage. Board President Denny Parish stressed recently that the renewal will be same millage sought when the park district last passed its levy in 2008.
“Which means no new taxes,” Parish said. For the last decade, the levy has generated about $2.8 million a year. That amount is expected to grow to $3 million a year because of new construction in the county. “It won’t cost individual homeowners more than they’ve been paying for the last 10 years.”
If approved, the 1-mill levy will cost the owner of a $150,000 home a total of $39.54 per year.
Munger said the district is committed to not raising the tax burden on local residents.
“We aren’t asking for any additional money,” he said.
The park district also wants local residents to know that when they make suggestions, the park district listens. New programming has been added – both educational and adventure activities, Munger said.
“Everybody likes what we’ve been doing,” he said. “We’ll keep listening to the public to see what they want to see for their parks.”
In 1986, the county park district consisted of two parks – Otsego near Grand Rapids and Harrison near Pemberville. The two part-time maintenance employees used an old beat-up pickup truck with a “Dewey for President” bumper sticker, according to Bob Callecod, who was a park commissioner then.
At that point, the two parks were in poor condition, with non-functioning restrooms and rickety railings, Callecod said.
Since then, the district has grown to 20 parks and shares its wealth with smaller community parks by awarding $100,000 in local park grants every year. More than $2 million has been given out in grants, he said.
Not only the park acreage, but also the programming has grown.
In the past few years, park programming has been expanded to add kayaking, rappelling and archery.
“We’re always listening to the public about what they want,” Munger said.
During the last several years, the park district has focused funding on land acquisitions. But that focus is about to shift.
“I think we’re looking at a maintenance phase,” Munger said.
Future land acquisitions will rely on grants or other funding options, he said. “We will be looking for other sources of funding rather than going to the taxpayers.”
The Wood County Park District has 20 sites throughout the county, including Adam Phillips Pond, Baldwin Woods Preserve, Bradner Preserve, Beaver Creek Preserve, Black Swamp Preserve, Buttonwood Recreation Area, Carter Historic Farm, Cedar Creeks Preserve, Fuller Preserve, William Henry Harrison Park, W.W. Knight Preserve, Otsego Park, Reuthinger Memorial Preserve, Sawyer Quarry Nature Preserve, Slippery Elm Trail, Rudolph Savanna Area, Cricket Frog Cove Area, Wood County Historical Center, Zimmerman School, and the park district headquarters.
Jamie Sands, volunteer services and communications specialist with the county park district, said many county residents don’t realize what the district has to offer.
“A lot of people don’t know all the parks and services,” Sands said, stressing the number of free programs and wellness-based options. “We’re touting the health benefits of being in nature.”
Park district adventure activities include archery, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hiking, geo-caching, hunting, rock rappelling, bicycling and bouldering.
Programs are offered throughout the year, including classes on wildlife, bird migration, nature photography, stream studies, fire building, seed cleaning, beekeeping, trees, yoga, tai chi and camping. There are also full moon walks, senior nature hikes, wildflower walks, and summer nature camps.