FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP — The Morrow County Park District (MCPD) and The Trust for Public Land announced Friday the acquisition of 124 acres for the creation of a new Morrow County Park that will be named Flying Squirrel Preserve.
The new park was made possible thanks to a Clean Ohio Grant of $845,752 from the State of Ohio’s Clean Ohio Greenspace Conservation Program and a private gift donation of $306,904 from Brent Hayes.
“This new addition to the park district is a gem, and we are extremely grateful to Mr. Hayes for his generous contribution and to the Trust for Public Lands for their skill and expertise in the long process of developing and administering our Clean Ohio Grant,” said James Overmoyer, Park District Treasurer who served on the board since MCPD was created in 1996.
“Without the large grant award from the Ohio Public Works Commission that administers the program, we would not be able to offer this wonderful new preserve to the public,” Overmoyer added.
124 wooded acres
The majority of the new park preserve is located in Chester Township with an additional ½-acre located in Franklin Township. The 124-acre block of forested land is south of Township Road 121 and west of Township Road 176. The property is a portion of the former Presbyterian Church youth camp called Buckhorn, which closed several years ago.
Overmoyer said the park board settled on the name of Flying Squirrel Preserve having heard that the previous owner had seen and been hit by a flying squirrel when he was walking in the woods at night. He said that flying squirrels aren’t well known in Ohio because they are primarily nocturnal, but there is a large population of them in the state.
Park Board Chairperson, Bill Loebick, who worked for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for 35 years, described the woods on the new preserve. It includes about nine acres of wetlands and mixed woodlands dominated by beech, tulip, maple and oak along with some hickory, black walnut and cucumber. These thriving forests provide substantial buffer along the river banks in the headwater streams and wetlands of the Scenic Kokosing River.
Loebick said the MCPD began considering the area in the spring of 2019 when they were approached about acquiring it for the park district. They just took possession of the property this year in August.
Plans are underway to establish a comprehensive trail system that can be used by almost every level of hiker. They also have a building that can be used as a headquarters for the park district. They foresee using the building and property for meetings, group gatherings, and events; although considerable work will be needed before it can be made available.
Other possibilities they are considering is an observation area for birds and wildlife. There is an outdoor chapel area that was used by Buckhorn that is overgrown with weeds and bushes. The park board is considering how it can be used for groups as a place of reflection and outdoor gathering.
The MCPD Park Board forecasts that there will be a formal opening of the park in 2021. It will take much time, effort and dedication until the park is ready for unlimited visitation. However, special access permits can be obtained from the district through board secretary, Cathy Robinson by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about park use.
The MCPD and the Trust for Public Land are committed to pursue acquisition of additional land to expand the Flying Squirrel Preserve by submitting a second Clean Ohio Grant application this December.
“The Trust for Public Land is very happy to have partnered with Morrow County Park District on this project to help protect key natural resources and provide close to home outdoor recreation opportunities for the residents of Morrow County,” said Shanelle Smith, Ohio State Director for The Trust for Public Land.
Morrow County Park District now includes six parks located throughout Morrow County with more than 400 acres of land under permanent protection. All are available for recreational opportunities such as hiking, birding, Jogging and general nature observation.
There are many opportunities for volunteers at the Flying Squirrel Preserve and at other parks in the district. The public is welcome to attend the MCPD meetings, which are held on the second Monday of each month. For information contact the park district at www.morrowcountyparkdistrict.org and find it on Facebook.
Bill Loebick contributed to this report.