Steve Madewell, conservationist and musician, has a passion for the natural world. He talked recently on the intrinsic value of protected public open spaces during a presentation at a Protect Geauga Parks’ Conversation series, held at the West Woods Nature Center in Russell.
Large, protected open spaces contribute to clean water and air, recreational and health benefits, and help define what makes the region special, Mr. Madewell said.
“Active outdoor lifestyles provide emotional and mental benefits,” he said. Studies also show that time outdoors enhances test scores, reduces stress and health care costs.
“We need to do something on the existence and value of open space,” Mr. Madewell added. There is an economic impact as well, he noted. Houses are worth more near open space. Residential property values increase near large natural areas, he said.
A trail at Howard Marsh is named in Mr. Madewell’s honor. He was the director of the Toledo Metroparks from 2012 to 2016. During that time period the park district was working on plans for the Howard marsh project, the largest wetlands restoration in the Great Lakes.
In that plan, he insisted that there should be year-round use for the public, and to accommodate bird watchers.
Mr. Madewell said it is important work that the Protect Geauga Parks, the Geauga Park District and citizen support groups are doing. Geauga Park District is one of the top ten park districts in Ohio as far as size. “It’s a great park system and it is important that a friends’ group is supporting it,” he said.
Mr. Madewell has been involved in all areas of park operations, which was inspired by his childhood spent on rivers and in woodlands. He shares those experiences through his singing and guitar playing. He and his wife, MJ, live in Concord.
He remains involved in conservation initiatives in national, state and regional conservation projects.
Mr. Madewell noted how he grew up in southwest Ohio, where there was mostly farmland and his father was very involved in the outdoors. He played in the woodlots and areas with rivers and streams.
“I was influenced by my father,” he said. He recalled how when they were riding in the car one day, they passed a shopping center and his father said, “I used to hunt rabbit and pheasants where that shopping center is.”
“It resonated with me,” Mr. Madewell said. “It was one of those moments where I really thought about how things change over time and how important it is to keep the things we value the same.”
Mr. Madewell studied environmental science at Miami University in Ohio. He worked in the Greene County Park Districts right after college. “When I was in Greene county, I had the opportunity to work with the Scenic Rivers program on the Little Miami River.
“My director in Green County Park District gave me the go-ahead to write grants and stewardship policies,” he said. “It was a great learning experience.”
Then the Geauga Park District had a job opening and he left Greene County in 1986. He was chosen to serve as deputy director by then Director Don Meyer and the park board.
The park district’s office was a house trailer on Robinson Road at the time. “We had some money to buy some property in 1986. The park district had passed a second levy and they were committed to buying Kelso Lake.
“They purchased it shortly before I arrived, and there were problems with grant reimbursements, and I was able to resolve the issues. I learned a lot in Geauga County. I met a lot of people in Northeast Ohio, and I continued to learn about conservation in Northeast Ohio. I was involved in designing Geauga Park District’s Meyer Center, working with architect Anthony Paskevich.”
Mr. Madewell then went to Lake Metroparks, where he was assistant director and then the director. He then went on to Toledo Metroparks.
At his presentation at West Woods Nature Center, he talked about outdoor activities and the benefits to physical and mental health. Fly fishing, he said citing an example, is the perfect way to engage in the outdoors and develop a lifelong skill.
The value of protected open spaces and park lands is intrinsic, he said. There are the ecological services, which includes clean water and air and healthy habitats. There are the economic impacts on real estate values. A number of studies across the country illustrate protected open spaces have positive impact on real estate values.
There is the physical and mental health associated with active outdoor lifestyles, and an increasing amount of research illustrates how important this can be for physical and mental health, he said.
And there is the retention in the population and the work force in an area where there is outdoor space. Yet another category is defining and describing a sense of place. Protected open space and parklands help protect and preserve the attributes that make a region unique or special, Mr. Madewell said.
There is a long history of protecting open space in Northeast Ohio. “We have groups here protecting open space, like the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the Metroparks across the region and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“I got involved in preserving open spaces, and I recognized rivers and river corridor are an important part in those conservation efforts. That is when I became enamored with wetlands. I realized wetlands across the country continue to be destroyed at an alarming rate,” he said.
During his career, he met Fritz Neubauer who was building wetlands in Newbury. “We became good friends. I appreciated his efforts to restore the wetlands,” Mr. Madewell said.
As to parks, he said the top amenity is the trail system. “They don’t have to be paved. Trails are used year around and are multi-generational,” he said.
And there are economic assets of outdoor space and activities, he said. They draw people, including the snow belt sports. “It makes our part of Ohio attractive,” Mr. Madewell said.