Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District has plenty to offer
By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
Kevin Haver takes a lot of phone calls, often beginning as early as 6:30 a.m. at his house before he even gets to the office.
Such is the life of the director of the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District.
But a few years ago, he received a phone call that wasn’t like any other.
Carole Hermon, a former Elida resident then living in southern California, called him on a Thursday evening and said she would be on a plane to Ohio shortly — and she wanted to meet him at 10 a.m. Monday.
That first meeting was a 2 1/2-hour session of Hermon and her sister, Susan, peppering him with questions about the park district. Five days after that original meeting, Hermon called him and put all her cards on the table: She had just been diagnosed with her fourth round of cancer, and it was terminal. She wanted to leave half her estate to the parks foundation, and that money would be used to buy and create a park in rural Elida in honor of her parents.
“She was as brave a person as I’ve ever met in my life on her own pending death … which impressed me. A lot,” Haver said.
After a Clean Ohio Grant was applied for and earned, gaining $464,000, that gave the district about $1 million. He immediately set to work, concerned with the five-year deadline, the parameters of location and desire for a natural area. Hermon didn’t want tennis courts and recreational activities. She wanted the focus on nature.
Haver used Google Earth to scan the landscape and cross referenced the ownership, reaching out to three parties — and they all fell through. The fourth party — Frances and Anne Guagenti — was thrilled to be involved in the project, and Haver said they sold their wooded acreage at less than market value.
Hermon Woodlands Metro Park was dedicated in May 2016 and is special for several reasons, Haver said.
“It’s just unusual … there aren’t that many 68-acre woods around anymore,” he said. “It’s just a super serene area.”
American Township is the most populated township in the district, and it was not home to a park prior to Hermon. And this location, at only about a half mile from Bresler Reservoir, could allow for trails to be connected.
The two shelterhouses are enclosed wood structures, made in a log cabin style to Haver’s specifications by Technicon Design Group of Ottawa. Being enclosed, the shelterhouses can be used year-round if people who reserve them for parties choose to bring in an electric heater during the colder months.
The ImagiNature Playscape is a play area for children, but it doesn’t include traditional play equipment. Instead, children may use a pile of sticks from the woods to make a fort, for example. There is also improved access to the creek, which allows kids and families to venture down to see the wildlife.
“We’re going to have to retrain parents to allow their kids to get wet and dirty,” he said, with a sparkle in his eye.
There are two miles of trail in the new park, and the trails themselves are unique. They are a minimum of 10 feet wide and are compacted limestone — which means no mud to trudge through. One of the trails is called a “storybook trail” for children, and it includes pages of books mounted on pedestals with suggestions for activities.
Haver and the district are also working on Lauer Historical Farm, part of Ottawa Metro Park. The house and barns are from the 1930s-‘40s era. The district bought that property in 2005, but state budget cuts have prevented work since. Haver sees it as a living history museum, complete with a working kitchen that would be ideal for large events like weddings.
And that underscores the long-term plan. There are parks for solitude, there are parks for swimming, there are parks for fishing, there are parks for just enjoying the beauty of the natural scenery.
“We’re trying to do something different in each park,” Haver said. “Different by nature.”
Haver’s personal favorite park? Kendrick Woods.
“Because I like quiet. I like that escape from the planes, trains and automobiles,” he said.
What is the value of a park?
“Quality parks bring value to any community. And when I say value, they increase property values,” Haver said, explaining national studies have shown that properties are worth 15 to 22 percent more if they are adjacent to a park or greenway. The value stays at 13 percent more even if the property is several blocks away from a park.
“It definitely brings quality of life parameters. For example, the obesity issues. Virtually everything we do is a healthy activity,” he said.
“It’s not just physical, it’s mental health as well,” he said.
He remembers watching a family pile out of their car at a park one day. The kids were grousing, the parents were stressed — the typical modern family. They disappeared down a trail. When they came back, their attitudes were completely different.
“By the time they leave, they’re all calmed down,” he said.
Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District
The district was created in 1972, and the first park was McLean Teddy Bear Park. The name is a reference to R.A. McLean, who gathered teddy bears to distribute to hospitalized children in the area. The effort was later taken on by the Lima Area Jaycees. The Jaycees had tended the little park that was formerly on the site.
Allen County Farm Park
1582 Slabtown Road, Bath Township, Lima
Features: 79.3 acres, barn, accommodates 200, refrigerator, serving counter, banquet tables/chairs, 2.5-mile bridle trail (free, open and accessible to the public every day during daylight hours), 1860s log cabin (may be reserved for 24 people)
Fort Amanda State Memorial
Auglaize County, just south of Fort Amanda Road
Features: 11 acres, one reservable shelter, 1/2-mile hiking trails, War of 1812 Monument, fishing access to Auglaize River
Agerter Road River Access
15410 Agerter Road, 3 miles west of Bresler Reservoir
Features: 3 acres, access to Auglaize River for fishing and canoeing
Reed Road, Shawnee Township
Features: 81 acres, three reservable shelters, 2 miles of hiking trails, 1-acre pond (fishing/skating), paved Rotary Riverwalk access
From Heritage Park through Lima to Ottawa Metro Park
Features: 14 miles of paved hiking/biking trail
Deep Cut Historical Park
22900 state Route 66, just south of Spencerville
Features: 8.5 acres, access to 45-plus miles of trail along the Miami Erie Canal, with a grassy towpath appropriate for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking
971 N. Defiance Trail, west of Lima
Features: 475 acres, three reservable shelters, 1 1/4-acre pond (fishing/skating), 5 miles of hiking/cross-country skiing trails, .33-mile All People Trail (boardwalk/handicapped accessible), Kiracofe Prairie, wetland, Evans Archery Range (three areas, including an elevated platform; daylight only; sign in at platform; field points only)
McElroy Environmental Education Center (park office)
2355 Ada Road, east of Lima
Features: Classroom, nature library, administration
McLean Teddy Bear Park
2004 N. Dixie Highway, Bath Township
Features: 134 acres, two reservable shelters, three ponds (fishing), 3.5 miles of hiking trails
Lippincott Bird Sanctuary
3093 Bellefontaine Road, east of the Allen County Fairgrounds
Features: 37 acres, variety of wildlife habitats, .6-mile hiking trail, 5 acres of wetlands
Motter Metro Park
10740 Columbus Grove-Bluffton Road, Bluffton
Features: 105 acres, grassland habitat, Little Riley Creek
Ottawa Metro Park
2632 Ada Road, Bath Township
Features: 287 acres, 89-acre reservoir with swimming beach, camping, three reservable shelters, sand volleyball courts, 18-hold disc golf course, amphitheater, boating (electric/wind powered), Evan’s Arboretum, fishing (license required), paved perimeter trail, Rotary Riverwalk access, Lauer Historical Farm (development to come)
Veterans Freedom Flag Monument
1191 Buckeye Road, Lima
Features: Permanent flag monument made of red, white and blue bricks to honor veterans
Hermon Metro Park
485 N. Wapak Road, Elida
Features: 71 acres, two reservable enclosed shelterhouses, 2 miles of 10-feet-wide compacted limestone trails, ImagiNature Playscape, improved access to creek