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Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Auglaize park district seeks campaign volunteers

By Amy Kronenberger
WAPAKONETA - Officials with Auglaize County's park district are looking for volunteers to help with a levy campaign to fund the creation and maintenance of parks in the county.
Heritage Trails Park District Director Allison Brady said during a meeting Tuesday that local support was crucial to the district's survival. She's looking for volunteers, with some going door-to-door, to get the word out to residents and help with fundraising.
"A successful park district is one that is funded through county residents," she said.
Residents will vote May 6 on a seven-year, 0.6-mill levy that will generate about $300,000 per year.
Brady said the levy would primarily fund the local match needed when applying for grants and would pay the salaries of the director and any possible future employees. Brady, as part-time director, is the only employee of the district. The district's three commissioners are volunteers appointed by the county probate judge. Levy funds also could pay for land purchase and existing park maintenance.
The district maintains four parks in the county. One park - the Elizabeth Yahl Kuffner Nature Preserve north of St. Marys - is owned by the district through a donation from the Kuffner family. The other three parks - Lock 14 Park, Noble Township; Deep Cut Park, Salem Township; and the Miami & Erie Canal Towpath Trail - are leased from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The park district was founded in 1996 and has been mostly funded by local government funds. The district previously has received $30,000 annually from the state with the rest of the $53,000 annual budget covered by donations.
The state has cut funds to $15,000 per year. The state intends to continue phasing out funding, Brady said.
"We've known all along that to get to that next step, we need the support of Auglaize County residents," park district commissioner Dave Stilwell said.
Johnny Appleseed Metro Parks of Allen County Director Kevin Haver also spoke at Tuesday's meeting, saying a successful levy has allowed his park district to thrive.
"Johnny Appleseed started in 1972 with no staff, no land and no money," he said. "Now we have a staff of 14 people who care for 12 parks."
He said Allen County first successfully passed a 10-year, half-mill levy in 1983 and increased the levy to three-quarters of a mill in 1993. The levy was successfully renewed again this year, Haver noted.
With the help of the levy, Johnny Appleseed offers many educational programs for all ages, including attracting bus tours from outside the county, he said. Haver explained the cost of a movie and medium popcorn and drink at a cinema will pay for the use of a park and its offered programs for every day for more than 18 months.
"That's where we start to see the value of parks," he said.
He said parks attract businesses to communities, increase adjacent home values 11-18 percent and provide healthy and educational activities for all ages. The latest trend in parks is the development of trails for hiking, biking or jogging, he noted.
Donna Grube of the Auglaize-Mercer Counties Visitors and Convention Bureau said maps for hiking and biking trails are the first things visitors ask for when in the area.
Haver cautioned the small group at the meeting that initially passing the levy could be difficult, noting it took five tries before it passed in Allen County.
He said Heritage Trails is off to a good start, however, by advertising at area festivals and polling voters.
Brady said Wright State University-Lake Campus students volunteered to complete the poll for a class project. The students polled 256 primary election voters from every region in the county. The poll showed a two-thirds approval rating for the levy.
For anyone interested in volunteering for the park district levy campaign or for more information, call Brady at 419-202-6053 or email at info@htparks.org.
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