With strip malls and subdivisions eating away at undeveloped portions of northwest Ohio, Toledo Area Metroparks is asking voters for money to preserve thick slices of green space and history.
“If you want to go for a drive in the country, you have to drive a lot further today than you had to in 1980,” said Scott Carpenter, Metroparks spokesman. “It's a quality-of-life issue.”
Voters on Nov. 5 will be asked to approve a 10-year, 0.3-mill capital levy that would set aside $2.3 million a year for land acquisition.
Metroparks officials are eyeballing 4,200 acres - some of it large slabs of land, but much of it bits and parcels that could be pieced together - as expansion of or connecting routes between the system's 13 parks.
Among the possible purchases are 65 acres of a former CSX railroad line that could connect the northeast corner of Maumee to West Toledo, eventually intersecting the seven-mile University/Parks bike trail that runs roughly east.
If the levy is approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $9.19, and Metroparks would collect $2.3 million every year, according to Tom Nichter, Lucas County's chief deputy auditor.
Metroparks now collects a 10-year, 1.4-mill operating levy approved in 1997, Mr. Nichter said. The owner of a $100,000 home pays about $34.42 a year for that.
Though that levy is mostly set aside for operations, it has paid for some capital purchases.
In just under a decade, the Metroparks system has expanded by 920 acres - the bulk of which was an addition to Wildwood Preserve Metropark, the purchase of the Fallen Timbers Battlefield, and the Blue Creek Conservation Area near Whitehouse - to its current 6,983 acres.
Also in the hopper is the pending expansion by more than 300 acres of Pearson Metropark in Oregon and the possible purchase of 55 acres of the Miakonda Boy Scout Reservation in Sylvania Township.
Still, the local park system remains the smallest in Ohio in terms of acres, said Jim Spengler, executive director.
The Columbus and Cleveland area parks systems dwarf Toledo Area Metroparks, though admittedly, so do those regions' population bases.
“Back in the early '70s through 1997, there was no land acquisition at all,” Mr. Spengler said.
In the meantime, Lucas County development has spread out 30 percent, while the population remained fairly stable.
In short, green space is quickly disappearing, putting the parks system in the position of trying to buy the land before the money is available to develop it.
Meanwhile, some landowners have offered to sell their acreage to Metroparks to conserve it.
That means some of the new land could continue with the same uses as they now have, even though Metroparks would hold the deed.
Tractors may continue rumbling through park-owned fields years before paths and park benches go in - at least until local fund-raising, government grants, or even the next operating levy in 2008 set aside money for expanded operations.
“If we wait until we have the money to operate those lands, it might be a few more years, and by then, the green space will be gone forever,” Mr. Carpenter said. “We're kind of in an emergency situation now.”
Mr. Spengler agreed.
“The trails and park benches are important because that's what active users want, but you also want to conserve those areas to protect animals and plants native to this area.
“And before you think about trails and park benches,” he added, “you have to get that land.”
The new money would pay for six major expansion efforts: