A Metroparks Toledo horticulturalist uses pine needles to fertilize a tree at Wildwood Preserve Metropark.
Metroparks Toledo is hoping to get more people engaged with nature by offering a wider range of unconventional recreational programs with the help of a nonprofit foundation that has been rejuvenated, reshaped, and given a new purpose.
Metroparks Toledo Foundation, formerly known as Citizens For Metroparks, began as an outgrowth of a campaign in the mid-1970s to create what became known as Wildwood Preserve Metropark in Sylvania Township.
Wildwood began with the 1975 purchase of the 475-acre Stranahan Estate. It has for years been the area’s most-visited park.
The foundation, though, went somewhat dormant in recent years, Scott Carpenter, Metroparks Toledo spokesman, said.
During an hour-long discussion at The Blade earlier this month, Mr. Carpenter and others laid out their vision for the foundation, which operates separately from the park district.
They said the foundation’s new mission is to raise private money from donors who want programs that aren’t normally funded by the park district’s latest countywide tax: a 1.4-mill levy that Lucas County voters passed in the fall of 2017 to generate about $9.8 million a year over a decade for normal upkeep, maintenance, and traditional programs.
The remade foundation is offering an expanded membership program.
One of its first goals is to send 500 disadvantaged youths a year to summer camp. It also wants to raise money for some of the unusual features expected to be offered in the Marina District’s future downtown metropark, to be built on the site of the former Toledo Sports Arena.
A “bridge-to-bridge” concept is being promoted to blend that project in with International Park and East Toledo businesses along Front and Main streets.
Privately raised money also will be used to fund one of the park district’s most unique programs for overnight visitors, scheduled to be unveiled in late September.
The new-and-improved foundation is initially to be led by an eight-member, volunteer board of directors chaired by Joe Napoli, president of the Toledo Mud Hens, Toledo Walleye, and Hensville. The district hopes his success at marketing and promotions will carry over to the park district as it reinvents itself.
Mr. Napoli said Metroparks have been quietly successful in their own right for a long time.
“As a community, we haven’t really touted it or bragged about it,” he said of the park district.
The board will likely be expanded to 15 members at some point, said Ally Effler, Metroparks Toledo philanthropy director and foundation liaison.
Scott Savage, Metroparks Toledo president, acknowledged the park district was once known more for serving primarily affluent parts of the city, the suburbs, and other outlying areas. But with the recent opening of the Middlegrounds Metropark and plans for more in both downtown and North Toledo, that’s changing — and parks are becoming accessible to more residents.
“We want to have a vision of being one of the best park districts in the country,” Mr. Savage said. “It’s all about access.”
Dave Zenk, Metroparks Toledo executive director, said the park district will continue trying out innovative ideas.
“We’re unapologetic about the aggressive and bold nature of our programs,” he said.
According to a new report published by the national Trust for Public Land, Toledo has 77 percent of its population living within a 10-mile walk to a park. But that figure is higher than the national average of 70 percent in large part because Toledo-owned parks still account for twice as much acreage as metroparks within the city limits.
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