Mt. Gilead State Park got a great boost Thursday afternoon when local and state officials met to announce funding coming Morrow County’s way for capital improvements to the campgrounds, dams and facilities.
Ohio State Parks have received an unprecedented $88.5 million for capital improvements to strengthen the infrastructure and modernize facilities in the most recent capital budget. The Ohio State Parks capital improvement projects were made possible through the support of Governor John Kasich, Senate President Keith Faber and the Ohio General Assembly.
“Mt. Gilead State Park is a gem for the Morrow County community,” said Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director James Zehringer. “With this unprecedented $88.5 million capital improvement investment, we have the opportunity to make substantial improvements and improve the experience of everyone that chooses to visit our Ohio State Parks.”
Ohio is one of only seven states in the nation where admission to state parks is free. Last year, 2.3 million people spent at least one night in an Ohio State Park campground, cottage, cabin or lodge.
Zehringer said many state parks were built back in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and some need dire improvements.
“That $88.5 million is your money, so we asked you to tell us - what do you need to improve the parks in your area?” he said. “We received 5,000 different suggestions.” He explained how individuals can go to ODNR’s website and choose your park, then check which amenities you would like to have.
Through the monies now being made available from the state, local improvements will include:
- Building a new washhouse, to include flush restrooms, showers and laundry facilities
- Adding full hookup campsites
- Improving the playground equipment
- Completing the disc golf course (e.g., signage, benches)
- Repairing the Mt. Gilead dam
- Clearing the path to the lake and removing fallen trees
- Renovating the aging trail infrastructure
- Increasing trail signage throughout the park, including ‘confidence’ markers
Municipal water and sewer service will have to be extended to the park to enable showers, flush toilets and laundry facilities.
A separate capital improvement plan will allow for work on both dams at the state park.
“One of our top priorities at the State of Ohio and ODNR is to make sure the dams are safe,” Zehringer said. “We have two here that are in the design phase and we will be making improvements on them.” Zehringer promised the monies would be used wisely to improve - not expand - parks.
Rep. Jeff McClain spoke, saying he was thankful to be a part of the project, and was grateful to the governor, legislature and especially the park volunteers.
“It’s such a beautiful place and I’m very excited about what it’s going to become and how it will make the area so much more enjoyable.”
“The park has been here awhile,” said Commissioner Tom Whiston. “I think we’re going to make the park something most people never envisioned it could be. (It’s) the partnership we have with the state and the vision the governor has had with the legislature to work with all the personnel and volunteers we have.”
Friends of the Park President Linda Harper thanked Director Zehringer for coming to announce the upcoming changes.
“Our park is great,” she said. “We have three entities working behind the scenes that alot of people don’t know about.”
The first, she said, are the VIPs, who host and present the weekend breakfasts.
“They put on these breakfasts 31 times every season and work very hard,” she noted. “They also do five festivals.”
She also acknowledged the Nature Center, which “is so strong and community-oriented that they serve up more than 250 programs every season.”
She added the Nature Center also takes 100+ programs into the schools during the winter.
The Friends of the Park also supports the park and are getting newly organized.
Zehringer and other officials acknowledged the efforts of those who worked hard to keep the Mt. Gilead park opened when it was faced with closure years ago.
“We could not do what we do at Ohio State Parks without ‘friends’ groups,” Zehringer said. “We have over 4,000 volunteers throughout the state and I know here, at Mt. Gilead, it isn’t the biggest park, but it could be one of the most passionate parks - and it’s because of the ‘friends’ groups.”
He noted projects such as the playground equipment, the disc golf, the gazebo, and shelter house were there because of the work of the volunteers.
Sen. Dave Burke was enthusiastic about the possibilities for the park.
“This is the first capital bill that I’ve passed in Columbus in my six years being there,” he said before the ceremony. “I was ecstatic when the governor was going to focus on rural areas just like ours, and focus on parks and community oriented projects.”
He said for Morrow and Marion counties, he thinks they did very well on this budget, ‘bringing money back home to taxpayers that they haven’t seen in a decade, for infrastructure projects I believe will not only be used studiously, but we will see a return on investments.”
Burke said Mt. Gilead State Park has what people typically look for in a state park; fishing, big trees, hills, trails.
“It’s a positive and much needed investment in a county that can use the investment,” he said. “It makes sense to me; it’s a step toward remediation. I think we need to continue these investments as people do more ‘staycations.’ It’s a strong asset for the county.”
Randa Wagner can be reached at 419-946-3010 ext 1803 or Twitter@MorrCoSentinel.