|This 214-acre property along Little Darby Creek in Monroe Township will become parkland accessible by the public. The proposed parking lot is marked in yellow. The proposed mowed walking path is marked in pink.|
Sometime next year, a scenic tract of land along Little Darby Creek will become accessible to the public for picnicking, bird watching, fishing and hiking.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) recently purchased 214 acres in Monroe Township from the Robert T. Florence family. The Madison County commissioners will manage the acreage as parkland under a lease agreement with ODNR, which purchased the property to further protect the Little Darby, a state and national scenic river.
"We knew the state planned to purchase the property and are pleased ODNR provided us the chance to manage this area for the benefit of our local residents," said Madison County Commissioner Robert D. Hackett.
The plan is to create a five-car gravel parking lot on the north end of the property, near the junction of Arthur Bradley and Woods West roads. The Monroe Township trustees will mow and maintain a walking path that stretches the length of the property (to Grewell Road) and runs parallel to the river, a distance of about one mile.
The park won’t contain ball fields or playground equipment and will be closed to motor vehicles. The use of the land for hiking and other low-impact recreation is exactly what the previous owners had in mind when they went looking for a buyer.
The Land’s History
"When we decided to sell, we called the Ohio Nature Conservancy first. When they found out the Little Darby ran through the property, they told us to call Bob Gable with the (ODNR) Scenic Rivers program," said Eleanor Rosellini, who with her brother and sister inherited the land several years ago from their father, Robert T. Florence.
The land has been in the family since 1950, when Rosellini’s grandfather, Walter T. Florence, originally purchased it to raise corn and soybeans. However, the property’s hilly contours and erodible nature didn’t make for ideal farmland.
Twenty years ago, the family enrolled the land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and it hasn’t been farmed since. Through the CRP, parts of the land have been planted in grasses to provide ground nesting habitats for birds. The result is a mix of meadows and forest.
"Over the years, the property became more valuable as land for houses than for agriculture," Rosellini said. "We had many solicitations from people who wanted to buy parcels to build homes."
Rather than see the land developed residentially, the Florence family wanted to find a way to not only preserve it as open land but also make it available for others to enjoy.
"It should be enjoyed by people in the area. I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they see what a pretty piece of land it is," Rosellini said.
The arrangement also needed to involve local management of the land, as the owners live out of state. (Rosellini resides in Massachusetts.)
ODNR and the County
When the Florence family originally made connections with Gable, ODNR’s Scenic Rivers Program manager, ODNR did not have the money to purchase the land. The solution, Gable found, was to submit an application to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Program (WRRSP).
The Ohio EPA gives low-interest loans to municipalities for waste water treatment facility upgrades. If the municipality agrees to partner with a third party for a conservation project through WRRSP, the municipality receives a one-tenth of 1 percent reduction on their loan and the interest goes to the third party.
When Gable submitted an application to WRRSP in October 2004, the municipality was Plain City and the conservation project was preservation of the Florence property. The interest on Plain City’s waste water treatment project yielded $968,000, which ODNR used to purchase the land.
ODNR then turned to the Madison County commissioners to provide management of the new parkland, which means the county is responsible for the expense of developing and maintaining the park. The low-impact plans should keep costs down, Gable said. Additionally, the Florence family is providing the county with $25,000 to help facilitate the improvements needed to open the land to the public.
"This is a state and local government partnership that’s evolving here," Gable said. "It’s a great example of how we can develop an amenity like this with limited expense to any one entity."
ODNR’s Scenic Rivers Program and its corps of volunteers will monitor the park’s use to ensure that Little Darby Creek is not negatively impacted. The creek contains state and federally endangered species of freshwater mussels and an array of other aquatic life. Fishermen will find smallmouth bass, rock bass, sunfish, and other species of suckers and chubs in the creek’s waters.
The purchase of the Florence property brings to 417 the number of acres now protected on Little Darby Creek through outright purchases or conservation easements negotiated by ODNR.