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Published: Sunday, 12/5/2004

Park to cultivate farm theme

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Steve Gruner of the Sandusky County Park District inspects the future site of Creek Bend Farm Park. The planned park will emphasize farming from the early to mid-20th century. Steve Gruner of the Sandusky County Park District inspects the future site of Creek Bend Farm Park. The planned park will emphasize farming from the early to mid-20th century.
WADSWORTH / BLADE Enlarge

LINDSEY, Ohio - For more than a century, the sprawling fields and woods along Muddy Creek in Sandusky County have been farmed by the same family. Now that farm will be preserved as a family-farm showplace.

The county's newest park - Creek Bend Farm Park - will take visitors back to the family farms of the early to mid-20th century, when farmers began moving from horse-drawn plows to early tractors.

The Sandusky County Park District will unveil plans for the new park with a historic farming theme - encompassing 310 acres of cropland, woodlot, pasture, and floodplain along the creek just south of Lindsey - at a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity United Methodist Church on Maple Street in Lindsey.

Steve Gruner, director of the park district, said he envisions a managed habitat for migrating Lake Erie fish and waterfowl and a working farm that will demonstrate how the site's former owners produced crops from the 1930s through the 1950s. That project will be led by members of the Sandusky County Restorers of Antique Power, who collect vintage farm equipment.

Group president Richard Flahiff, 66, who grew up on a nearby farm, said the period farming will teach visitors about agricultural methods that have virtually disappeared from memory.

"Even my children have no knowledge of the methods of farming from the '50s," Mr. Flahiff said. "Myself, I even have to rely on a lot of what I see and learn about the '30s. It's very exciting for us to preserve this and present it to people."

Park officials are restoring a livestock barn and a horse barn, both built in 1871, and plan to provide 7 to 10 acres of cropland to Mr. Flahiff's group, which will use horses and antique, gasoline-powered tractors to cultivate oats and other crops starting next spring.

Another 85 acres will be used to produce crops using today's equipment and methods, Mr. Gruner said. "We can demonstrate and show modern agriculture right next to the '30s, '40s, '50s-era farming," he said. "As such, it really opens up an opportunity for us to expand our programming."

A tractor, left, pulls a plow, disc, and harrow in April, 1938, through a field at Creek Bend Farm in Sandusky County while a horse-drawn planter follows. The farm, along both banks of Muddy Creek, will become the county's newest park. A tractor, left, pulls a plow, disc, and harrow in April, 1938, through a field at Creek Bend Farm in Sandusky County while a horse-drawn planter follows. The farm, along both banks of Muddy Creek, will become the county's newest park.
Enlarge

Other plans include construction of a 3,000-square-foot visitors center, dirt walking paths, gravel wagon trail, and an 8-foot-wide bridge linking the north and south sides of Muddy Creek. Park officials hope to have the trail system open to the public by the end of next year.

Planners also want to restore farmland along the creek to wetlands and maintain a fruit orchard and a 25-acre woodlot of oak, maple, and ash trees that has served as a tree farm since the mid 1940s.

The park district director estimated that developing the site would cost about $1.5 million, funding he hopes to obtain through grants and donations.

"This property is a real jewel," he said. "It's not going to be a project that's going to happen overnight."

Thanks to a series of state grants, the park district acquired the property two years ago, in three transactions.

The biggest parcel, 187 acres, was purchased from the Roush family, which had farmed the land since the mid 19th century. The park district received a Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant of $422,522 to buy the land, and the heirs of former owner Robert Roush provided a 25 percent local match by agreeing to accept the grant amount as the full purchase price, Mr. Gruner said.

Besides the Roush property - which is where the name Creek Bend Farm comes from - the park district bought about 120 acres from James and Margaret Schwartz, using an Ohio Great Lakes Coastal Restoration grant of $216,400.

That land, south of the Roush property, runs along both banks of Muddy Creek and will be returned from agriculture to wetlands, Mr. Gruner said.

The park district also acquired 2 1/2 acres from Robert Rakay, Sr., with $24,000 in Clean Ohio funds.

The Roush property, with its cavernous brick-red barns, still-active cropland, and woodlot, is the heart of the planned park.

Mr. Roush, who died in April, 1999, at 86, was mayor of Lindsey in the 1960s and later served as a Sandusky County commissioner. He was also known for practicing and advocating conservation.

Mr. Flahiff said Mr. Roush plowed his fields in a circle, avoiding gulleys or "dead furrows" that resulted from traditional, back-and-forth plowing. He also established the tree farm, the first to be certified by the state of Ohio, at a time when most growers viewed trees as something to be cut down to make way for more cropland or cow pasture.

"The tree farm would have never been established if it hadn't been for the Roushes and their foresight on conservation," Mr. Flahiff said. "I'm sure that he would be thrilled to death to know that someone took a hold of this and was pursuing his ambitions."

Mr. Gruner puts the site's preservation this way: "The Roush family made this possible. ... We are somewhat humbled by the fact that the Roush family has entrusted the Sandusky County Park District with their family jewel."

In addition to helping the park district acquire the farm, the Roush family also contributed more than $25,000 toward the barn restoration.

Before she died earlier this year, Mr. Roush's widow, Frances Mae, gave the park district daily journals kept by the couple and Mr. Roush's parents, plus a collection of photos taken on the farm over the past several decades.

Those materials will be included in a historic display at the visitors center, Mr. Gruner said.

"We want to celebrate the family farm in general, but we definitely are going to focus in on the role that this particular farm family had on this particular piece of property," he said.

Contact Steve Murphy at: smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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