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Published: Sunday, 8/19/2007

O'Dowd legacy encourages enjoyment of outdoors

Wally O'Dowd was a globe-trotting hunter and angler from central Ohio, a conservationist who saw every continent except Antarctica, but the southeast corner of the Buckeye State was his outdoors home.

Upland game birds, woodcock, and ruffed grouse, were his passion and the woods and briar tangles of the hill country southeast of Lancaster were the stage.

On June 18, Wally - formally Wallace H. O'Dowd - 76, of Powell, died at Riverside Hospital in Columbus. A Korean War veteran, he built a successful sales career and founded his own manufacturing business, Capital Polybag, Inc., which he ran until retiring earlier this year.

But it was as an avid outdoorsman that he left behind a special legacy, it was learned last week. It is one that sets the example for others to follow when it comes to preserving the outdoors heritage.

Wally left the Ohio Division of Wildlife a virtual small fortune, specially earmarked to purchase 5,000 acres of contiguous land to be open to the public for hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife viewing, hiking - the works.

"I was absolutely flabbergasted," summed Randy Miller, assistant chief of the division. "He wanted to set the stage for other people to do the same."

The exact amount of the bequest was not disclosed at the request of the O'Dowd family, but Miller put it this way: "The largest previous gift we had was $3 million for the Crown City State Wildlife Area in Lawrence County, from the Mellon Foundation.

"This one's larger than that, and when they told us to look for a contiguous piece of property of 5,000 acres at $1,000 an acre - you do the math." Actually, Miller acknowledged, the division does not know for sure the exact amount of the gift because it has been placed in a trust, and the fund will fluctuate with the stock market.

In any case, Miller added, "he gave us three years to buy the property, knowing the pace of government, and we are not planning to take that long."

"Wallace was a tremendous sportsman who hunted all over the globe but always came back to southeastern Ohio to hunt grouse and woodcock," said Jill O'Dowd, his widow. "He was a very generous man who wanted to leave a legacy for all those who shared his passion and love for the sport. He also hoped he would encourage others to 'pay forward.' "

In an interview this week, Mrs. O'Dowd also said: "Knowing his love for it, it was fine with me. This is about him and his bequest."

She said she will enjoy going on what amounts to a land shopping trip with wildlife personnel, who plan to assemble a package of property options.

"They're going to take me up in a helicopter," she added. "I don't have to put my marching boots on."

Her late husband had her do a little walking about during African safaris and elsewhere in their 14 years of marriage.

Wildlife spokesmen say that a good bit of credit for the division's connection with O'Dowd goes back to Mike Budzik, former wildlife chief. "He was good friends with Mike," said Miller.

"They met at a conservation club and hunted and fished together later. At one point Mike told Wally that Ohio ranked 47th in public hunting land available. That struck a note with Wally." Indeed it did.

O'Dowd was so serious about locking up land for future outdoors pursuits that he lifted language from the Ohio Revised Code and placed it in his bequest to assure the acreage that his bequest bought would be locked up forever, Miller said.

"Wally's generosity and forward thinking is a compliment to our division and the resources we work to manage and promote," said Dave Graham, state wildlife chief.

"We appreciate the gift and are looking forward to identifying and purchasing the property that will honor Wally while enhancing our wildlife resources and the public's opportunity to enjoy it.

Wally's gift to the citizens of Ohio will leave a lasting legacy."

No surprise, the new property will be declared the Wallace H. O'Dowd State Wildlife Area.

Speaking of following O'Dowd's example, northwest Ohioans have easy access to a Perrysburg-based organization, the Black Swamp Conservancy, that can assist in conserving land and land uses in several ways.

Since 1993 BSC has conserved 6,021 acres, including some 5,900 acres in conservation easements and 10 small parcels acquired totaling less than 300 acres, the latter mostly in the Lake Erie islands and at Forrest Wood Nature Preserve in Paulding County.

"There are at least three ways to contribute to conservation - with your time, your money and your land," summed Kevin Joyce, BSC, executive director.

"As a volunteer, you can donate your time. We have some great volunteers working with us already. They help in the office, are part of our speakers' bureau, visit properties and work on our committees.

"You become a member of our conservancy by donating your money. We're a nonprofit [entity], so gifts to the conservancy are tax deductible.

"Black Swamp Conservancy is the type of organization called a 'land trust.' So we also accept donations of interests in real estate.

Occasionally, that means someone will donate property they own to our conservancy and we maintain it in its natural condition.

"More often, though, people want to preserve their property without giving up ownership. In that case, we can enter into a perpetual land conservation agreement; we call it a conservation easement - with the landowner. Conservation easements don't involve a change in ownership: The owner just agrees to leave the land in its present condition, as farmland or as a natural area such as a woods, wetland or lakefront property. We visit our properties at least once a year to make sure the land is being protected as we agreed.

"Conservation easements are perpetual, which means that all future owners of the property are bound by what the current owner agreed to. Our protected properties remain as farmland or natural areas forever.

Just like a gift of money, donations of conservation easements are tax deductible too.

"We welcome calls from anyone interested in learning more about how they can help Black Swamp Conservancy preserve northwest Ohio's farmland and natural areas." BSC can be contacted at 419-872-5263.



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