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Published: Thursday, 12/16/2010

Backers of Bowling Green preserve park pass fund-raising goal

BOWLING GREEN -- After five years of fund-raising for the Bowling Green Parks and Recreation Foundation, Margaret Tucker is ready for a break.

The foundation had just managed to raise more than $700,000 for the Simpson Garden Park last year when Ms. Tucker decided the foundation's $480,000 "Save the Woods" campaign needed to wrap up by Dec. 23.

"For one thing, we've just been fund-raising enough," she said. "You can wear your donors out as well as those going after the donations. It was time to set a deadline, and Dec. 23 is my birthday."

Her present came this week when organizers announced they'd exceeded their goal to buy nearly 20 acres next to the Wintergarden-St. John's Nature Preserve on Bowling Green's west side.

The land had been slated for residential development in 2005 when the foundation stepped in to buy it. Bowling Green fronted the $480,000 loan with the understanding the foundation would raise the money to pay it off.

"It's been something that I just have taken a lot of joy in," said Ms. Tucker, who chaired the campaign. "A lot of things you get involved in are fun, but they may or may not be so worthwhile. It's rare that you get involved with something that will live on for generations."

She said she believes that idea -- saving woodlands within the city limits -- resonated with a lot of Bowling Green residents. More than 450 people stepped up to donate to the cause, and the foundation, with the backing of numerous other organizations, held a series of fund-raising events to get to its $480,000 goal.

Michelle Grigore, city parks and recreation director, said she can't get over the generous support residents have demonstrated time and again. "$1.2 million since 2005 -- I'm just flabbergasted -- and this is a little community," Ms. Grigore said. "These guys are just amazing. They really love their parks and they love the city. They put time into volunteering and donating."

Because the foundation in 2005 was just getting ready to kick off its $700,000 fund-raising campaign to develop the Simpson Garden Park, it waited until March, 2008, to begin soliciting support to save the woods. The rest is now history.

"I just think saving the woods -- not even these particular woods -- but just not allowing people to cut down old trees for more development has a great appeal to people," Ms. Tucker said.

Ms. Grigore said if any money is left over from the campaign, it will be used to develop a walking trail through the woods.

The city plans to work with an environmental impact statement class at Bowling Green State University to help determine the best spot for a trail, which could include a boardwalk to bridge the wet spots.

"They'll look at what the best location for a trail is because we have wetlands, we have wildlife habitat, and we've got people who want a nice, long walking trail," she said. "With some luck, maybe it will be open in 2011, maybe in the fall."

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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