Nature Center marks 10 years
By Matt Echelberry
The Crawford Park District, along with community members, will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Lowe-Volk Nature Center on Dec. 16. In preparation for the event, CPD Director Bill Fisher invited some of the early supporters who got the District off the ground to come in for an informal discussion on the organization’s early history and the importance of the Nature Center.
Those who attended were Mike Blaising, Richard Carpenter, Emerson Eckstein and Mike Morton. The four of them brought in oodles of pictures and news clippings from years past. They looked through the memories and reminisced about the challenges and successes of their efforts.
The group agreed that the CPD was based on cooperation from the very beginning. Morton emphasized that it was a county-wide endeavor with a vision of “conservation, education and preservation.” This vision is evident, even almost two decades later.
Richard Carpenter is hailed as the individual most directly responsible for the creation of the CPD. A retiree of the current Pittsburgh Glass Works in Crestline, Carpenter said he started thinking about preservation when his neighbor’s daughters were collecting leaves in the woods on his property.
“They were just so excited about being in a woods and something hit me: There’s a lot of kids around like that who do not get to experience nature,” he commented.
Carpenter explained that he visited several parks throughout Ohio for inspiration, and even offered some of his own land to get preservation started in Crawford County. He credited Steve Prochaska for encouraging him and helping to set up some of the initial meetings to get others involved with the idea, which is how he got the other three men on board.
The four of them, in addition to several other individuals, initiated the political work to build support from local officials, as well as word of mouth to get the community interested.
Fisher said of Carpenter: “He was so positive when he started networking with coworkers, and leaders from the cities and the county. This was his vision from the beginning and he’s the one who convinced people to get involved.”
Carpenter and Eckstein recalled when the group went to Findlay in 1993 to look at Hancock County’s park system. A steering committee was then created. In addition to Carpenter, Blaising, Eckstein and Morton, the other committee members were: Dawn Hedges, Mentor Larsen, John Mizick, Gary Ogle, Steve Prochaska, Jack Shuck and Sonny Wechter.
Following a public hearing, CPD was officially founded on Nov. 16, 1994 by Probate Judge Steven Eckstein. The steering committee modeled CPD’s administrative and organizational structure after Hancock County’s park district.
At that time, CPD was funded solely through private donations. Conceptually, it is a state organization, but it is run by a three-member board of commissioners appointed by the Crawford County Probate Court. The first board consisted of Carpenter, Morton and Eckstein. (Carpenter still serves as a commissioner.)
An 18-member advisory board assists the commissioners with decision making and a director oversees the day-to-day operations. The first CPD director was James Little. Two others followed him, and then Fisher took the position six years ago. However, Fisher noted that no one “owns” the CPD.
Mike Blaising, a member of Crestline City Council, noted that in the beginning, some were skeptical of the idea of a park district. Many thought collaboration between different communities in the county would be impossible. In addition, Blaising said farmers thought CPD would take their land and hunters thought it was anti-hunting. Changing that perception was one of many challenges they faced.
Morton added that most people were not interested in preservation, so they had to do “something compelling” to stimulate interest. The first three projects CPD completed were: A walking trail at Outhwaite Reservoir in Bucyrus, bike trails with routes spanning the majority of the county and the Picnic Park at the County Fairgrounds. These projects were chosen because they were low cost, yet visible to the public.
The 63-acre Unger Park of Bucyrus was eventually acquired, the first of many land acquisitions for CPD.
Lowe-Volk Park came next in 1998, when Lloyd Volk donated 38 acres of his land on the outskirts of Leesville. In 1999, the park received the Outstanding Park Area Development Awarded from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association.
A “HOME FOR THE PARKS”
When talk began of creating a headquarters for park operations, CPD looked at several locations. Unger Park and a site on Lower Leesville Road and were both considered, but Lowe-Volk Park was eventually agreed upon for the location of the Nature Center for numerous reasons. For starters, it is located between Bucyrus, Crestline, Galion and New Washington; it also contains scenic views, hiking trails and a variety of native plants and wildlife species.
Funds for the soon-to-be Lowe-Volk Nature Center began collection in 2000. $750,000 was needed for project construction and the group applauded the Timken Foundation for its community challenge, in which it would match any money raised by private donations up to $300,000. Several large donations were received from community members, but they called the fundraiser more of a “grassroots effort” powered by the countless smaller donations.
The county and city governments also contributed substantial money. “To this day, I don’t know how we did it,” Eckstein joked.
Carpenter explained that an investment in the Nature Center meant an investment in the quality of life in Crawford County. The CPD is not only an opportunity to educate kids on nature—especially as natural resources disappear—there is also a potential for economic development in the county.
The Nature Center opened in Dec. 2002. The building has an eco-friendly design, and contains a passive solar heat and light system, an above ground leech bed and parallam beams. It currently features 25 exhibits on various topics, including live wildlife, and meetings and events are held in the community room every month. All of them agreed the site represents the education aspect of CPD’s vision. After visiting other park districts, they say it is one of the nicest nature centers they’ve seen.
The continued county-wide cooperation in financing the CPD makes them feel that the site represents a “county community.” Eckstein said the Nature Center is what started drawing people in. Now, he calls it “home to the parks.”
Lowe-Volk Park compliments it because of the variety of habitats located there, which are ideal for nature studies: Deciduous forest, pine forest, meadow, pond, sedge meadow wetland, marsh wetland, waterways and sandstone ledges.
The site is geographically significant due to the junction of Allen Run and Paramour Creek—the start of the Sandusky River. It is also historically significant, as Colonel William Crawford was captured in the area by Native Americans in 1782.
Another aspect the men noted is that the park is handicap accessible. The fishing dock on the pond and the recently completed sidewalk that leads back to the boardwalk can be used by people in wheelchairs in order to enjoy nature as well.
The Nature Center received the Excellence in Facility Development Award from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association in 2003.
CONTINUING THE VISION
CPD has not stopped with the Nature Center. When the Ohio Department of Natural Resources acquired Sears Woods, a contract was negotiated that allows the park district to maintain the land, which now entails 98 acres of some of the oldest woodland in the county.
Next, CPD developed a 35-acre hunting ground near Bucyrus called the Sandusky Wildlife Area. Heckert Nature Preserve, 43 acres of land located between Galion and Bucyrus, was acquired next, for which CPD has a partnership with the Ohio State University.
Earlier this year, ODNR acquired the Daughmer Prairie Savannah in the southern part of the county. As with Sears Woods, CPD has agreed to maintain that land as well.
Continued support from community members—and continued cooperation amongst communities—has been the most important factor in keeping CPD moving forward. Fisher finds that support “unbelievable,” adding that passing the levy last March will promise financial support for the next 10 years.
Summer day camps, which CPD has been organizing for nine years, have also been very successful. Also, schools take field trips to the various parks, and sometimes naturalists go to the schools to deliver nature-themed programs. A variety of programs are held at the Nature Center year round pertaining to nature or history. Other annual events the CPD sponsors include: Arrowhead Day, Riverfest, Living History Day and Unger Farm Heritage Day.
The open house for the 10-year anniversary will be held at Lowe-Volk Nature Center on Sunday, Dec. 16, from 2–5 p.m. It is located at 2401 State Route 598, Crestline. For more information, call the Nature Center at 419–683-9000 or visit the CPD website at www.crawfordparkdistrict.org.