How do you make a park?

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Beautiful Hemlock trees in a northern Ohio Park
Hemlock woods in a peaceful park

Parks and natural areas are vital to living a full life. Everyone loves them. But, do you know where parks come from? Do you know how they are created or could you name one person involved in creating a new park?

Some of you might be able to answer that question. Great. Many more of you will have no idea.  That’s fine too. We all use parks  and have no idea how or when it was created, or who did it.  What really matters is that the park is there, not who did it.

In many cases a park agency, like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks buys the land, develops the park infrastructure, and then manages the park for the benefit of the public and the plant and animal life found there.  Sometimes though, it is more complicated.  Just as in Nature, everything is interconnected and many factors can play a part in the process.

Park-making has its own ecology. A forest has its canopy trees, mid-level understory, saplings, shrubs, groundcover, soil, leaf litter, microbes, animal life, moisture and light conditions.   Park-creation does too. When one organization with a fixed budget and staff has to do all of the pieces-parts of identifying a potential park, making a deal with the landowner, raising the funds to pay for the park, developing the park infrastructure, staffing and maintaining the park, you have a less robust ecosystem in the world of parks. We don’t expect an oak tree to do the work of a trillium. We don’t expect a warbler to provide shade. Why would we expect agencies that are good at managing parks to also create them?

Luckily, there are some smart park agencies in Ohio. The Geauga Park District, the Portage Park District and MetroParks, Serving Summit County are just a few. These agencies work to effectively and efficiently create new parks in partnership with nongovernmental conservation groups. Working with partners lowers the overall cost of park creation. Savvy agencies are able to focus on their core strengths of managing and interpreting the nature within the parks. This specialization creates a better experience for the park visitor because it frees naturalists and park managers to interpret nature and keep the park running smoothly. Creating a new park takes a completely different skill set.

New parks are real estate deals. Negotiations, contracts, environmental due diligence, title reports, grant applications, private fundraising, bank loans, lot splits, lawyers, CPAs. If a nature-loving park administrator has to deal with these things on a daily basis, how would they ever run the park? Luckily, in the park-making ecosystem, the naturalists can be naturalists, if they understand that there is help out there. In northern Ohio, the complex and often tedious work of creating new park land is often played by Western Reserve Land Conservancy. The Land Conservancy, its trustees, staff and volunteers, all work together with willing landowners and partners to create an interconnected network of protected open space across northern Ohio. They work from Sandusky Bay to the Pennsylvania line, and south past Canton.

Through the Conservancy’s public land program, they help create new public parks. With a professional staff of over 30 experts in each aspect of park creation, the Conservancy provides massive value to all of northern Ohio, even though most people will never know about them. The Conservancy uses its own resources to purchase or finance land for parks when public funds are not immediately available. It then uses its expertise to raise funds and build effective partnerships in order to complete the acquisition of new parks for the benefit of all.

Beyond their public park-making, the Conservancy works with hundreds of landowners to preserve private land. Their efforts are important for plant and animal habitat, water quality protection, and scenic beauty. They also work to ensure agricultural land is protected, which in turn allows the region to rest assured that there will always be land available for the growth of local food. An example of this is Silver Creek Farm in Hiram. This organic farm was conserved by private buyers in partnership with Western Reserve Land Conservancy and will continue to provide wonderful, tasty, wholesome locally grown food.

To date, the Conservancy has helped 400 families leave a legacy by permanently conserving nearly 25,000 of natural and agricultural land. Most of that private preserved land is not open to the public, but it is vital for the region and to all of us personally, whether we know it or not!

People need parks, but parks cannot be created without the efforts of many people.  So,  parks need people too. If you want to take a personal stand for efficient, cost effective land conservation, take a moment to become a member of Western Reserve Land Conservancy today.


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