<< Front page News April 9, 2004

Nature preserve to form just outside of Oberlin

A four-phase plan drawn up by New Russia Township trustees promises to turn 160 acres of farmland just north of Oberlin city limits into a multimillion-dollar recreation, garden and nature center for township and city residents.

The preserve, to be constructed on land just north of Kendall at Oberlin, will include 15 acres of arboretum, 7.2 acres of water contained in three lakes, community gardens, a horse ring, backpacking trails and camping space.

Right now, the land is grassy at the northern end with twin ponds, melting into woods at the midsection and turning into wetlands at the southeastern edge.

The township has been planning the preserve for more than five years.
“We had a vision of doing expansion, but we were tied up with our current facilities,” John Piwinski, a township trustee, said.

The township bought the jigsaw-shaped land in three parcels, the first dating back to the mid-1990s. Subsequent purchases expanded the scope and possibilities of the preserve, adding land south and east.

“There was land available, and we looked into the crystal ball and saw a need for a lot of open space,” Piwinski said. The trustees had made land purchases a priority for years, but the contiguous land just north of Oberlin made their ideas “all fall into place.”

Township Clerk Elaine King said phase one of the project is nearly complete. The $850,000 construction included grading, earth moving, clearing out of paths and leveling roadways.

Phase two, which will begin after budgetary meetings with the architect and contractors, will likely include community gardens and an equestrian ring in the rectangular area bordered by Route 58 and Butternut Ridge Road. One of the most distinctive artifacts on this section of the preserve is an old windmill visible from Route 58 coming into Oberlin. Further southeast, the township will begin constructing a new cemetery off of an entrance from Oberlin Road.

“The plan we have is ambitious and aggressive,” Piwinski said. “When the lake’s full and the grass is green, that will be a good first step.”

Further plans for the property include protected wetland areas, two toddler lots, a camping ground and perhaps even a township amphitheater.

Construction is expected to take five to ten years, mainly due to budget constraints.

“The amphitheather is in Phase Four,” Piwinski said. “That’s an extra if we build that.”

King said that one of the first steps in developing the preserve was studying the wetlands and other natural features of the site.

“We tackled these issues right off the bat,” she said. “We wanted to know what here we were going to be able to use.”

As a result of the study, more than 26 acres of land has been set aside as wetland mitigation areas.

The budget for the project has been adhered to in most cases, according to King. Since no money was set aside at the beginning to fund the construction, each phase must be funded directly from the township’s annual budget. Piwinski said that roads and other township maintenance would take precedent over working on the preserve.

“This is a work-in-progress type of deal,” Piwinski said. He put the project in perspective:

“Hey, we got this money here, what are we going to do with it? We wanted to give it back to the residents.”

So far, the community reaction has been positive if muted. The township gave a presentation at Kendall, where residents gave the plan widespread support. Kendall’s property borders the southern edge of the Route 58 section of the preserve.

Township residents have been less responsive.

“We didn’t get droves of people, it was on an individual basis,” Piwinski said. He said the initial meetings drew roughly 30 to 40 people. “There was some planning, some talking, then some going to the checkbook.”

He was quick to add, however, that the preserve was definitely a trustees’ initiative.

“This will be a landmark,” he promised. “We hope this will be our legacy.”


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