Geauga County residents are on their way to having the addition of a centrally located park after the Geauga Park District Board of Commissioners approved seeking design engineering services for the Veteran’s Legacy Woods’ master plan.

During their regular May 12 meeting, Director of Planning and Operations Matt McCue and park planner Dan McConnaughy presented the three-phase plan, a result of a year’s worth of work with Mr. McConnaughy, park planner Annie Lynche and park biologist Paul Pira, Mr. McCue said.

He explained that at this point, the park district will begin seeking design engineering services and architectural planning firms so they would be ready to go out to bid for the project in 2021.

The Geauga Park District acquired the 180-acre park, formerly the Wicked Woods Golf Course, in late 2018. Located within Newbury and Burton townships, Mr. McCue said the park is centrally located in the county and will provide accessibility to county residents.

Mr. McConnaughy said the property is mostly shrub land, goldfields and grass, with the next largest condition being made up of lawn grass from being a former golf course. He said about 31 acres are made up of hemlock, beech, maple and oak forest habitat with a significant portion also being wetlands with the west branch of the Cuyahoga River running through the property. He added that existing facilities include the banquet center, formerly the golf clubhouse, and a maintenance building.

“We’re looking at our master plan in a three-phase project over several years,” Mr. McConnaughy said. “Our first phase is the core park development projects that will be up by the banquet center.” He said this would include the installation of ADA accessible loops and trails and some wetland and stream education elements.

Phase two, he said, includes the primary restoration work on the property, including reforestation of all the greens and fairways and stream and wetland restoration.

Phase three will be for future enhancements like trailwork. Mr. McConnaughy explained that because the “trails” are actually former cart paths designed for a golf course, they don’t flow as if a person would be walking through a park. There is currently an existing 4.5 miles of trails on the property, he said.

Focusing primarily on the first phase of the project, Mr. McConnaughy presented to the board that work would include adding 0.6 miles ADA accessible trails around restored meadows near the banquet and maintenance building.

Mr. McConnaughy explained that bioswales and bio-retention would be implemented at the bottom of the slope of the parking lot to help with stormwater management.

The plans also include memorial plazas for veterans, gardens, stormwater management in the parking lot and potential educational plaques or observance decks that look out over the river.

“The goal in designing this area was to blend environmental concerns of stormwater runoff and nonnative planting of grasses with the blending of a memorial park for veterans and the multiple user groups that visit our parks throughout the seasons,” Mr. McConnaughy said. “The intent is to have both user group flexibility, as well as environmental flexibility for the developed park areas.”

Mr. McCue said the district is applying for Ohio 319 grant funding for the project. He said the application is in and they are hoping to find out later this year whether they will receive any state funding. He explained that the restoration work is in phase two of the plan to give the district more time to seek out and secure funding.

Mr. McCue added that other amenities for visitors would include incorporating a sledding hill and amphitheater near the clubhouse to extend use of the park throughout all seasons.

He said adding these amenities provide the opportunity to provide programming throughout the summer like music events or naturalist presentations. He said having a sledding hill gives the park district more opportunities to provide winter activities, adding that the amphitheater could also be converted to space for a skating pond.

“We’re trying to look at programming that’s throughout the year,” he said.

Executive Director John Oros added that the plan is to continue to use the banquet center for family gatherings and events, and the district is still considering remodel work for the first floor and to potentially utilize it for veterans services.

In phase one, the project is centered on the area around the old clubhouse, looking at the parking lot and opportunities for continued use throughout the seasons, including a potential amphitheater, sledding hill and veterans’ memorial plaza.

Sam Cottrill started reporting for the Times in February 2019 and covers Auburn, Bainbridge, Bentleyville and Chagrin, Kenston, Solon and West Geauga schools. She graduated from Kent State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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