Nearly 200 acres permanently conserved in Portage County through partnership

Portage Park District and the nonprofit Western Reserve Land Conservancy have permanently conserved nearly 200 acres in Portage County.

The organizations partnered in leveraging grant funds to permanently protect 189 acres of high quality natural areas in the City of Streetsboro, an area under continued development pressure.  The project, referred to as the Tinkers Creek Greenway, is comprised of two separate tracts of land: 59-acres acquired by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy then transferred to the Portage Park District, and 130 acres acquired directly by the Portage Parks, who will develop and manage it as a public park.

“The Streetsboro project builds upon a corridor of nearly 300 acres of conservation land in the immediate area, including The Nature Conservancy’s Evans R. Beck Memorial Nature Preserve, Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s Gott Fen State Nature Preserve, the City of Streetsboro’s Wilcox Park, and more,” noted Chris Szell, director of conservation project management for the Land Conservancy. He added, “Within one mile of the property, you’ll find an additional 495 acres of preserved land.”

As with many park and conservation projects, the partners pulled in funding from multiple sources. The Land Conservancy’s tract was generously funded by the Ohio EPA through the Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program (WRRSP), with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD), being the sponsor in this case. The OEPA funds were used as local match for the Portage Park’s Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant, along with funds from its voter-approved levy. The landowners even helped out by selling the property at below market value.

The 59-acre property largely consists of high-quality wetlands, including approximately five acres of fen wetland habitat. Fens are fed with mineral-rich groundwater and are noted to have a high diversity of native plant species. Natural resource surveys of the property, conducted by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s Natural Areas Program, revealed some 295 species of flora and fauna, with 16 dragonflies and damselflies.

“The Land Conservancy is excited to help complete two vital wetland conservation projects in Portage County,” explained Alex Czayka, eastern field director for the Land Conservancy. “While these lands will be conserved forever, the Land Conservancy is especially grateful to work with the park district. Portage Parks will be the long term owner of these properties and at some point in the future will turn these natural assets into public access areas that can be enjoyed by the general public.”

The 130-acre property was a part of the estate of the late William Gressard, longtime nature columnist for the Record-Courier and passionate conservationist who originally dug the lake for his family’s fish farm business.  The Gressards’ children, Gwen, Bob, Bill (Cheri) and Richard are thrilled that it will be parkland. Robert Fageol Gressard shared his thoughts, “The creation of this park is due to the vision of those who could see what a great asset this would be for Portage County and the residents. I hope all who visit will enjoy the new park.”  It’s also a critical buffer to the adjacent Herrick Fen State Nature Preserve, which is home to several rare and endangered species as well.

“This project provides tremendous value to the community—by protecting rare and important ecosystems, protecting water quality, mitigating stormwater and creating a beautiful new public park for all to enjoy”, remarked Christine Craycroft, Executive Director of Portage Park District.  Over the next year the park district will be inviting the public to participate in planning for the new park site which includes woods, fields, wetlands and a 30-acre spring-fed lake, previously used as a commercial fishery. Possible opportunities listed by Craycroft include hiking, fishing, kayaking, picnicking, primitive camping and educational programming.  The public can stay up to date on the planning process by visiting the park district’s website and signing up for the e-newsletter.

Funding for the project was generously provided by the Ohio EPA through the Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program (WRRSP).  The conservation project was sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD).

The goal of WRRSP is to counter the loss of ecological function and biological diversity that jeopardize the health of Ohio’s water resources. Szell said the WRRSP “is an extremely valuable funding source” to protect natural resource-rich properties like this one.  “Many thanks for NEORSD’s continued efforts to improve water quality within our region and support of land protection efforts that advance water quality benefits,” Szell added.

Organizations, like NEORSD, can pursue low-interest rate-loans from the Ohio EPA Water Pollution Control Loan Fund (WPCLF) for planning, design or construction of wastewater, sewer and storm-water infrastructure projects. These organizations and municipalities have the opportunity to further improve water quality by sponsoring a WRRSP project that addresses nonpoint source pollution through the protection or restoration of streams and wetlands.

About the Portage Park District: Portage Park District conserves important natural areas and creates parks and trails for public use and enjoyment.  It manages over 1,870 acres of land and 14 miles of hike and bike trail, connecting communities across Portage County. Learn more at www.portageparkdistrict.org

About Western Reserve Land Conservancy: Western Reserve Land Conservancy provides the people of our region with essential natural assets through land conservation and restoration. The Land Conservancy has preserved natural areas and working farms in 17 counties in northern and eastern Ohio. Its urban program, Thriving Communities, works statewide to clean and green urban centers devastated by the foreclosure crisis. To date, the Land Conservancy has permanently preserved more than 670 properties and more than 50,000 acres; created more than 140 public parks and preserves; led the efforts to create 41 county land banks across Ohio; and planted more than 3,500 trees in the city of Cleveland.