Portage Park District seeks operating, improvement levy

Alicia Crabtree

The Citizens for Portage Parks has launched a volunteer campaign in support of a half-mill operating and improvement levy for the Portage Parks District.

According to a Portage Park District press release, the levy, which is projected to cost a $100,000 homeowner $17.50 per year, will enable the parks to develop more hike and bike trails, open more park land, enhance public programming and address much needed maintenance.

Sally Kandel, marketing committee chair for the Citizens for Portage Park District and associate vice president of Kent State’s Academic Affairs Operations and Administration, is a longtime resident of Kent. When she heard about the park’s unsustainable circumstances, she said she knew she had to act.

“The situation is such that I felt compelled to volunteer and to lend my blood, sweat and tears to try and help them,” Kandel said. “Their budget is $99,500, and what has happened is that funding from the state and county has declined by 50 percent over the last two years. So they are relying on donations just to meet basic operations.”

Kandel explains that the Portage Park District owns 1,300 acres, but they’re not able to open 838 of those acres to the public because of a lack of staff and money.

“There’s only one full-time executive director and one part-time maintenance guy,” Kandel said. “We’re relying on donations just to keep what we have going on. We’re not able to keep up with the need. They’re in a really bad situation.”

Portage Parks Executive Director Christine Craycroft said she knows firsthand how much work needs to be done to expand the park and keep it functional.

“[The 838 acres], those are properties that we have gotten with grants or donations, and we just can’t take the next step to develop them or open them to the public,” Craycroft said. “We don’t have the signage and shelters and water fountains and even if we did get some grants or donations to do that, we only have one park maintenance person right now, no ranger, no law-enforcement person present.”

Craycroft said she would like to hire more maintenance staff as well as a naturalist or educator that would offer nature programs and work closely with the local schools.

“We definitely need to have more staff to be able to manage what we have,” Craycroft said. “I would like to have some sort of park officer or ranger position so that we’d be able to provide more security out in the parks.”

Craycroft said she would also like to do repairs on a historic, interlocking switch tower in the parking lot at Towner’s Woods County Park and possibly turn it into something more useful to the public.

The hike and bike trails, Craycroft said, are extremely popular with the public.

“Our hike and bike trails  — we’ve built them in phases over the years — and the oldest sections on our Headwaters Trail are really in need of some resurfacing,” Craycroft said. “The same goes for the section that we manage between Kent and Ravenna and the Portage Hike and Bike Trail.”

Craycroft said she and the park district have long-range plans for the trails as well if the levy passes.

“We’d love to extend our Headwaters Trail and the Portage Hike and Bike Trail all the way across the county,” Craycroft explained. “We’d love to work with local communities in developing a new trail from Wingfoot Lake north to Kent, that would connect several park properties.”

Kandel said she would like to see the community come together for the Portage Park District.

“The idea is that we want to get community involvement so that it is really ‘our’ park district,” Kandel said. “I think it’s important to know that it is the intention to have community involvement in the development.”

Kandel explained that neighboring counties have figured out that parks are important enough to support through levy dollars.

“If you look at Stark and you look at Mahoning, Geauga and Summit, they are all supported by levy dollars, and I think you can see what a difference it makes in their community,” Kandel said. “I think that a good park system can do so much to enhance the quality and the character of a community. I look at all the businesses that are in downtown Kent; the renovations that we’ve been doing are so amazing. The park can be a player in that.”

Any interested volunteers are welcome to attend the volunteer orientation Friday at 6 p.m. at the Portage County Gardeners Center, 5154 S. Prospect St., Ravenna.

Contact Alicia Crabtree at [email protected].