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Barnes Preserve update: Dedication scheduled for 2 completed projects, more projects in the works

Wooster Kiwanis President Alicia Wallace, left, Wayne County Park District Commission chair Denny Jordan and George Shopbell from the Friends of the Wayne County Park District are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor as they stand on the newly constructed observation deck at Barnes Preserve.

Karen Skubik

“To be honest, I’ve been watching this corner for years,” said Alicia Wallace in regards to the intersection of Sylvan and Ely roads in the southeast edge of Wooster. It is the location of Barnes Preserve, a little-known county park that has logged hundreds of hours of volunteer labor in recent months.

In 1991 the Wayne County Park District was created with the goal to “ensure that selected natural areas within Wayne County are conserved for outdoor recreation, education and enjoyment by present and future generations.” And to date, the 76-acre Barnes Preserve is the only Wayne County park, but volunteers have recently completed a number of projects to meet the goals of the park district.

Park Commissioner Carole Van Pelt has been a driving force in securing the funding and volunteer labor needed to move forward on a four-phase project, which can be viewed on the park district’s website at www.waynecountyparkdistrict.org/barnes-preserve.

“I grew up in a nursing home (Wayne County Care Center) with my parents, and the people in wheelchairs couldn’t do much out in nature,” Van Pelt said. So when the idea of making the Barnes Preserve accessible to those with physical challenges, Van Pelt said, “everyone agreed — this is what we want to do.”

During the last few months of 2015 the Romich Pavilion, which is visible from the road, was completed thanks to funding from the Romich Foundation and a Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Van Pelt was quick to also credit Alan Ratliff with his donated time and skills in creating a beautiful structure that will be dedicated on April 24 at 3 p.m. in memory of Ben and Marian Romich.

Barry Romich, who has two stepchildren with disabilities, looks forward to bringing them to the preserve and said, “I am so appreciative of the park commissioner’s work,” and was quite pleased with the results of the final product that his foundation funded.

To make the pavilion even more usable for the dedication ceremony and beyond, Colin Stoll of Boy Scout Troop 63 has been working this winter building nine picnic tables.

A gravel parking lot currently adjoins the pavilion, but funds are also secured through the Ohio Department of Transportation to pave the parking lot to meet Americans with Disabilities Act Standards.

In addition, Van Pelt said by the end of this July a 0.9-mile asphalt- and wheelchair-friendly trail will loop through the preserve, once again thanks to numerous grants. Lisa Followay of the Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio helped in the grant writing to receive a $150,000 recreational trails grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Park Commissioner Denny Jordan, a retired Wooster High School science teacher, explained the need to adjust the placement of the path to be sensitive to the environmental impact of an ADA-approved trail.

“I’ve always had a passion for anything outdoors,” said Jordan, who enjoys his time in the preserve. “This gives me a chance to come outside and play and give back.” As both a conservationist and former teacher, Jordan said he believes their efforts will encourage youngsters of all abilities to get out and enjoy nature.

The second recently completed project is found a little deeper in the woods, where a ramp leads up to an observation deck set alongside a wetland pond. Once again numerous sources of funding were secured to create an ADA-accessible viewing area including the Taggart Charitable Trust, the Laura B. Frick Charitable Trust, an ODNR Nature Works grant and hundreds of volunteer hours from the Friends of the Wayne County Park District and the Wooster Kiwanis Club.

Kiwanis Club President Alicia Wallace said, “I was pretty excited when I heard about what was going on here,” and since it involved a building project she was quick to get Kiwanis involved. “That’s Kiwanis’ MO,” Wallace said.

The Kiwanis group brought many of their own experts like project foreman Craig Sanders, but Friends of the Park volunteer George Shopbell serves as the master handyman for any project. Van Pelt said when a tool is needed they look to Shopbell.

Although the spring dedication marks the completion of the two building projects, more enhancements are in the planning process as the Friends of the Park will continue to make the preserve welcome to all.

Published: March 26, 2016
New Article ID: 2016703269995