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Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Donation will give hikers, nature lovers new woodland

Auglaize County

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - Auglaize residents soon will have access to 15.84 acres of wooded land just north of St. Marys for hiking and other nature activities thanks to a donation from a local family.
Residents John and Alma Kuffner donated the land to Heritage Trails Park District in the memory of their mother, Dr. Elizabeth Yahl Kuffner. The area is adjacent to county Road 66A, just north of U.S. 33.
"We built our house 45 years ago on (state Route) 66 north of St. Marys," John Kuffner said. "During that time we always had an unobstructed view of that woods. We saw it in every season, and it's just beautiful."
Kuffner's mother also built her house there in the 1950s. The Kuffners wanted to retain that view for the future.
"In her off time, that's where she (Elizabeth Kuffner) would go to commune with nature," he said. "She loved it there; I thought it would be a good memorial to her."
Park district director Allison Brady said during a monthly meeting on Tuesday that members are still working out details and legalities of the deal.
"It's being divided from a larger plot of land so we're going through surveying the area and planning what all the park could offer."
Brady said it would be the first public wooded area owned by the district. One of the Kuffners' stipulations for donation is cutting as few trees as possible. Some would need cut for hiking paths and safety.
Brady met with Ohio Department of Transportation officials to discuss a parking lot near the woods. They found they could build a six-space lot with room to expand to 12 spaces without cutting down a single tree. The lot also would have room for school buses to back in.
"It's about a 1/2 mile from St. Marys middle and high school," Brady said. "It'll be a great place for studying nature."
Brady hopes Boy and Girl Scouts volunteer to help with projects. She said a seasonally wet stream runs through the property and will need a boardwalk for hikers.
Designs for trails are still in the planning stages. Work will be completed in phases as funding allows.
Board president Dave Stilwell said they are planning a private dedication at the site when the transfer of ownership is complete.
"Our goal is before the snow flies," Brady said.
The park will be called "Dr. Elizabeth Yahl Kuffner Nature Preserve."
"She has prominence in the county as one of the first female doctors," Brady said.
"And she has impressive Army credentials," Stilwell added.
Kuffner was a practicing physician and surgeon in St. Marys from 1938 until her retirement in 1985. She was one of the first local doctors at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital and was instrumental in its establishment, Brady said.
She joined the Army during World War II and rose to the rank of major just after the Korean War.
"She was quite a traveler," John Kuffner said. "She went to Alaska and all the other states; she even went to Antarctica."
John Kuffner said his son Kurt still laughs when he remembers her driving in her white Cadillac convertible through the field to the woods to go hickory nut hunting."
"She was quite a lady," he said. "She always did things her own way."
Also at Tuesday's meeting, Stilwell said the district needs an operating levy to maintain funding after 2013.
The district's primary source of income comes from local government funds given to Auglaize County. County commissioners have given the park district $30,000 annually since its founding in 1996. Donations pick up the remaining portion of the district's annual $53,000 budget.
Government funds were cut 25 percent last year and this year, reducing the district's funding to $18,792. Another 25 percent will be cut in 2013, the last year the district will receive funding.
The board expects to put a levy of less than one mill on the ballot in 2014 to replace the funds.
"We'll have to try to make the revenues stretch until then," he said.
Additional online stories on this date
MONTEZUMA - The county landed a much-needed $534,270 state grant to buy property for a wetlands restoration project along the shores of Prairie Creek and Grand Lake. [More]
MARIA STEIN - Before Tuesday's Mercer County cross country meet, Coldwater's coach Marty Schoenherr told his top runners to stay together when they ran the course at Marion Community Park. [More]
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