Toledo Area Metroparks officials have eyed the banks of the Maumee River for years, looking for a place to turn vacant space into recreational land.
Yesterday the Metroparks board agreed to purchase 28 acres of land just south of the Anthony Wayne Bridge and east of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza with hopes of turning it into Toledo's first riverfront Metropark.
Using a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the parks bought the land from the Samuel Geraldo Trust for $1.25 million.
"We're very fortunate to have the resources to get this waterfront property that has been unused and abused all these years," said Jack Gallon, president of the Metroparks' board of commissioners.
"We would want to make that area grow again with trees and a place for the public to walk on trails."
The purchase ends a several-month process that included environmental testing. The tests showed that no soil removal or remediation was necessary, although the site will have to undergo a significant surface cleanup.
An upriver area that is a part of what is known locally as the Middlegrounds, the project includes 2,300 feet of frontage along the Maumee River. The site consists of a mixture of old fields, young wooded areas, and open water.
Park officials hope to one day create a natural oasis near downtown, which would also be the only Metroparks presence in urban portions of Toledo.
But that transformation will have to wait a while.
It will probably wait at least likely until the next vote on an operating levy, because officials estimate it will cost about $80,000 to clean up the site and about $1.5 million to develop a park.
Tim Schetter, land acquisition agent for the parks, said the land has long been identified by Metroparks officials, who have been on the lookout for riverfront property after voters identified it as a high priority.
Currently, the parks own four riverfront parks, but none is located in Toledo.
The park would join Side Cut Metropark in Maumee and a string of parks from Waterville to Grand Rapids, including Farnsworth, Bend View, and Providence metroparks.
The project would join Swan Creek Preserve Metropark and the Toledo Botanical Garden as the only Metroparks properties located within the city of Toledo.
The project area was at one time a railroad yard, which was very active in the late 1800s, said John Jaeger, director of natural resources.
In fact, Norfolk Southern Railroad still owns a half-interest in portions of the land that the parks recently purchased, meaning that the railroad would be required to sign off on any proposed plans for the 9.5 acres fronting the river.
According to information given to the board of commissioners, the railroad could "prohibit public access on the portion of the property for which they share one-half interest" but they could not build anything on it that the Metroparks considers harmful to its interests.
"It is a significant chunk of land," Mr. Jaeger said. "This project offers accessibility for people in the urban centers of Toledo."
Mr. Schetter said that the money to buy the property was secured with the help of Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
In February, 2005, the Metroparks were designated by Miss Kaptur to receive nearly $1.5 million through NOAA's Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program.
The purchase is even more welcome because the trans-action does not involve funds from local taxpayers.
Lucas County voters approved a land acquisition levy in 2003 that has allowed the Metroparks to purchase more than 1,500 acres for preservation and recreation.
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