Russell Township Citizens’ Park District board members voted this week to turn over $548,000 in grant money from the Clean Ohio Fund to the Geauga Park District to purchase 63 acres of forested land adjacent to Music Street.
The decision comes after the Citizens’ Park District’s proposed 1-mill, five-year levy failed on the March 17 ballot. That election was extended until April due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Russell citizens’ park board chairman Roy Podojil said his district is turning the money over to the county park system so the land can be preserved.
“The grant was going to supplement the purchase price and we would have to make up the difference of the purchase price,” citizens’ board member Stephanie Snevel said after a meeting on Sunday. “Without the grant, we do not have the funding to do that.”
Now that the Geauga Park District is buying the land, Ms. Snevel said, it will be protected. Nobody can purchase or develop the land for commercial purposes, which Ms. Snevel said is a good enough compromise since the citizens’ district can’t purchase the land at this time.
Board secretary Maria Livers said that the Western Reserve Land Conservancy will be in charge of taking care of the land through a “protection in perpetuity” easement.
Ms. Snevel said board members were hopeful that the levy on the primary ballot would be passed. “We worked very hard to get it passed,” she said. “We had people helping us and we had a great scenario with all these pieces coming together, with the grant being approved and the property. But, the citizens of Russell Township, it’s their right and they spoke,” she said of the levy failure.
She added that board members can always try their hand at another levy in the future, so long as they get their eye on new property. The acreage along Music Street that the district pinpointed for purchase was comprised of a 300-acre property owned by the Gallo Family Limited Partnership.
The Russell Township Citizens Park District met again on Wednesday to officially sign the revised grant agreement over to the Geauga Park District.
Last week, the Geauga Park District board authorized Executive Director John Oros to work with the park district’s legal counsel to purchase the Gallo property in Russell.
The mostly-woodland property, valued at $729,000, is adjacent to the Geauga Park District’s West Woods Nature Center.
The Clean Ohio grant will pay for about two-thirds of the total cost.
“The board did give me permission to work with our legal counsel to hopefully acquire the piece of property,” Mr. Oros said, adding that “it’s a worthy acquisition” because of the Clean Ohio funding available.
“Clean Ohio has a long history of setting aside prominent, natural areas, and it speaks to the heart of our mission to preserve and serve and protect those areas,” Mr. Oros said last week.
The 63 acres will be an addition to more than 1,000 acres of the West Woods, Mr. Oros said, adding that “it’s an exciting acquisition” with its current habitats and ecosystems.