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Nature enthusiasts who enjoy rambling through the Toledo Area Metroparks will soon have new regions to explore.
The Blue Creek Conservation Area, located in Waterville Township on the former Toledo Workhouse site, is scheduled open to the public this year.
Metroparks officials also plan to open parking this year at Bend View, which had been accessible only by walking a two-mile path from Farnsworth Metropark.
“The idea is to get new areas open to the public,” Art Weber, Metroparks spokesman, said.
Metroparks administrators have some big ideas for turning the 308 unkempt acres in the Blue Creek area into an attractive recreation zone. The area might eventually include picnic tables, controlled fishing, and a rehabilitation center for local wildlife.
The Metroparks spent $1.3 million to buy 205 Blue Creek acres last year. The Lucas County commissioners and the county's Soil and Water Conservation District control the remaining acreage.
The park system will manage its portion of Blue Creek together with the Bend View and Farnsworth parks. The Metroparks staff hopes to work with county officials to develop a master plan for the entire Blue Creek area, Mr. Weber said.
Park officials hope to spend about $664,000 to upgrade locations without flush toilets and $854,000 to add new water lines at Secor Metropark and Oak Openings Preserve. The Metroparks board will consider the budget later this month.
“The waterlines are a project that nobody sees but everybody appreciates,” Mr. Weber said. “The lines bring in clean water for the public to use.”
A more glamorous project is the development of a nature photography center that will be the only place of its kind in the country, Metroparks director Jim Spengler said.
“We should be able to bring in a lot of nationally known photographers,” he said. “It will hopefully become a tourist destination.”
The nature photography center, which will replace the Nature Discovery Center at Secor Metropark, is scheduled to open in the fall.
The Buehner Center at Oak Openings Preserve will also house new exhibits. The center's clearest attraction is the Window on Wildlife. The large bay window, completed in the fall, gives visitors an intimate look at birds and other animals that feed outside.
In recent months, numerous sightings of Pine Siskins, small birds rarely seen in the Toledo area, have caused a stir in bird watching circles. More than 200 birds at once have descended to feed on birdseed near the window.
“We want to make Oak Openings a destination for ecotourism,” Mr. Weber said.
Another tourist destination that the Metroparks acquired in the fall is the Fallen Timbers Battlefield Historic Site. The Metroparks will begin long-term planning this year for the 187-acre parcel.
“It's a project I'd like to see move forward,” Larry Sykes, the new Metroparks board president, said.
Purchasing the battlefield fits with the Metroparks' new emphasis on history education. The Metroparks administration will establish a department to plan historical programming.
“We will focus more on history programs as a separate, distinct area,” Mr. Spengler said.
Mr. Spengler just completed his first year as Metroparks director. Much of his time was devoted to staff meetings and strategic planning.
“I wanted to make sure we all had the same map we were following,” he said.
The parks conducted a phone survey of 300 registered voters to help guide their future vision. Responses were weighted to reflect the community.
“One of the things that was amazing to us is that 85 percent of the people in Lucas County use a Metropark at least once a year,” Mr. Weber said. “That number to me is incredible.”
About 69 percent of respondents said the Metroparks should convert more abandoned railways to walking and biking trails. Paving was recently completed along the north leg of the Wabash Cannonball Trail, which passes through Oak Openings Preserve.
Wildwood Preserve Metropark opened an 80-acre addition in June that received top honors from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association in the park area development category.
Mr. Sykes, the first African-American president of the Metroparks board, said, “I think the addition enhanced our position in the community.”