|Before the Beginning
The 1913 Flood
On Sunday, March 23, 1913, heavy rain began to fall throughout the length of the
Great Miami Valley. By Wednesday, the muddy, swirling water had reached a depth
of ten feet in downtown Dayton. The levees had failed. Debris and drowned animals
littered the streets when the water receded on Friday. Property damage was in the
millions. Survivors promised "Never again."
Flood Control System
Within two months, the citizens of Dayton raised more than two million dollars to
plan and construct a flood control system. In 1914, the State of Ohio passed the
Conservancy Act, which authorized stream drainage areas to form flood control agencies.
On June 28, 1915, the Miami Conservancy District was created and headquartered in
The Conservancy Board hired Arthur E. Morgan as chief engineer. His flood control
solution consisted of five earthen retarding dams (four in Montgomery County), protecting
levees and channel improvements. This system, completed in 1922, was unique but
practical. Dayton and the Great Miami River Valley were protected from a repetition
of the 1913 flood.
Morgan was not only an outstanding engineer, but a conservationist. Due in large
part to his efforts, the impoundment areas above the dams and the stream flood plains
were retained by the Miami Conservancy District and made available to the public
for recreational pursuits. In the 1930s, the land at Taylorsville, Huffman and Englewood
Dams was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.). From their camp
at Taylorsville Dam, 200 enrollees and supervisors built trails, picnic areas and
shelter houses. At the same time, the National Youth Administration made similar
improvements at Germantown Dam.
As a result of the flood, the control system and the development funded by two Federal
agencies, the residents of Montgomery County had four natural preserves, without
direct cost to themselves. In the meantime, other counties in Ohio had been at work
preserving open space by utilizing a state law enacted in 1917. This law authorized
counties to acquire land "for conversion into forest reserves and for the conservation
of natural resources." This was Chapter 1545 of the Ohio Revised Code known as the
Park District law. To provide funding to achieve these objectives, residents of
the county were required to pass a tax levy on real estate in the county.
More Open Space Needed
In 1959, the Regional Transportation Committee, encompassing Montgomery and Greene
County, was organized. It discovered that open space was rapidly vanishing from
the region. To evaluate the problem, an Open Space Study Committee was formed. Harold
R. Freiheit, a landscape architect and land planner, was hired to direct the study.
Results of the study were published under the title "A Legacy for the Future: A
Plan for Open Space in Greene-Montgomery County." It pointed out that, in a few
years, at the current rate of growth, there would be little open space left in the
Dayton Metropolitan area. Existing parks would not be adequate to meet the needs
of the growing community.
At about the same time, W.H. White wrote "The Exploding Metropolis," which also
expressed concerns that the outdoors was being threatened and open land was disappearing.
The book crystallized many people's thinking, including Glenn Thompson, editor of
the Dayton Journal-Herald. Thompson, a Tennessee native who had come to the Journal-Herald
by way of the Cincinnati Enquirer, was a lifelong hunter and outdoorsman. He appreciated
the importance of green space and had enjoyed the Hamilton County Park District.
He wanted a similar facility in Montgomery County.
Thompson was invited to speak to the Garden Club of Dayton about the crisis in open
space. He concluded by saying, "Of course, I'm wasting my time talking to you about
open space. This group is interested only in your children and your gardens." But
he was wrong. Mrs. Jean V. Woodhull took the challenge and asked what they could
do. Thompson suggested they could form a Save Open Space Committee.
Not long afterward, the Garden Club of Dayton and the Four Seasons Garden Club sponsored
a meeting at the Patterson Homestead with Felix Rimberg as guest speaker. Rimberg
had been involved in Freiheit's study and was chairman of a group that later became
the Regional Planning Commission. Representatives from the garden clubs, Audubon
Society, Isaac Walton League and the business community were present. Everyone who
entered the meeting signed a yellow tablet strategically place on a table near the
room's entrance. After Rimberg's speech, Jean Woodhull announced that those who
had signed the yellow tablet were now members of the Save Open Space Committee and
should go forth and assist in saving green space. Thompson was elected president
of the committee.
The Save Open Space Committee researched agencies that could promote the preservation
of open space. The state, city, county and a park district were considered. Ultimately,
it was decided that a park district would fulfill the community needs for open space.
Twelve Ohio counties had already formed park districts for this purpose, with Cuyahoga
being the first in 1917.
The Beginning of the Park District
"Glenn Thompson had the unique faculty of getting things going by getting a group
together and agreeing on an idea. Glenn would then get somebody else to take over
the group and go on to another idea. When he wanted something you really knew it."
- Harry S. Price, Jr.
To create a park district, at least one township or city within the county had to
submit an application to the County Probate Court. Woodhull recruited Charles S.
Bridge, a local attorney who was deeply involved in community affairs, to succeed
Thompson as President of the Save Open Space Committee and draft the petition. He
persuaded seventeen cities and townships in Montgomery County to sign, representing
83% of the county population.
Thompson and Bridge presented the application to Probate Court Judge Neal F. Zimmers
and a hearing was held. Overwhelming support made it easy for Zimmers to approve
the formation of the park district, which officially began on April 8, 1963. Today,
many refer to Glenn Thompson as the "father of the park district." Thompson credited
nationwide concern about "a crisis in open space" and movements to preserve natural
areas for contributing momentum to local activists.
Board of Park Commissioners
After creating the park district, Judge Zimmers was required to appoint three residents
of the county to serve as the Board of Park Commissioners to determine policy, approve
expenditures and employ a staff. Thompson recommended William P. Patterson and Harry
S. Price, Jr. to Judge Zimmers. Thompson did not suggest himself, although he probably
expected to be named.
Patterson was the first member appointed. He was president of Specialty Papers Company
and a long-time community activist. He accepted the appointment because he shared
Thompson's belief in the importance of open space.
Judge Zimmers then surprised everyone. He appointed Charles S. Bridge on the same
day. Zimmers explained his choice was based on Bridge's legal knowledge and as a
way to have both political parties represented.
Eight days later, Harry Price became the third board member. As an officer in Price
Brothers Company and an avid outdoorsman, Price believed he owed it to the community
to continue to take an active role in preserving open space in the Miami Valley.
It had been Price's foresight that had turned a gravel pit into Eastwood Lake Park
for the City of Dayton. (Through an agreement with the City of Dayton, Eastwood
is presently managed by Five Rivers MetroParks.)
"No one has ever used the Park District as a political power base or to benefit one
area of the county at the expense of another. This is one reason to retain the appointed
board in favor of an elected one." - William P. Patterson
The Commissioners held their first meeting on June 18, 1963. Patterson was elected
president. He ruefully remembered, "We knew nothing, had no money, no parks."
The first problem faced by the Board, of knowing nothing, was soon resolved by a
seemingly unrelated event and a chance meeting. In Columbus, Ohio, the new mayor
tried to replace the superintendent of Parks and Forestry with a political friend.
Just as the Columbus Civil Service Commission and the park superintendent were about
to initiate a lawsuit, a chance meeting occurred in the bar at Dayton's old Gibbons
Hotel. Jackson Perry, Dayton's Director of Parks and Recreation, ran into Glenn
Thompson. Perry discussed the situation in Columbus and mentioned that he thought
Columbus' Parks Superintendent, J. Richard Lawwill, was one of the best park men
in the country. Thompson placed a call to Lawwill right away and, as Lawwill remembered,
"persuaded me that beating Columbus politics would be an empty victory." Thompson
then suggested to Patterson that Lawwill be interviewed for the job of director-secretary
of the park district. The Park Commissioners met Lawwill, who had a Landscape Architect
degree from the University of Cincinnati. His background also included working for
the National Park Service during the Civilian Conservation Corps period. He had
designed the master plans for Taylorsville, Englewood and Huffman. After two meetings
with the park commissioners, Lawwill was hired and began his duties as director-secretary
on May 2, 1964.
The problem of having no money was not as easy to solve. The County Commissioners
appropriated $18,000 and a small office in the Old Courthouse when the fledgling
park district officially opened for business. (The auditor of the State of Ohio
later ruled that the grant was improper and the $18,000 had to be repaid.)
First Levy Attempt
To insure adequate and consistent funding, the park district (MetroParks) placed
a $0.3 million, 10-year levy on the November 1964 ballot, just eight months after
hiring the director. Miriam Rosenthal, a much-admired public relations person, rallied
colleagues in business and industry to advise and assist in passing the levy. Glenn
Thompson gave news space and editorial support. National Cash Register sponsored
a breakfast at its Sugar Camp for several hundred community leaders to hear about
the park district (MetroParks), meet its director, and to discuss the upcoming levy
with Vic Cassano, the levy Campaign Chairman. The campaign slogan was "Vote Green."
But time was short. Other governmental levies were on the ballot and the park district
(MetroParks), being merely a concept, was difficult to sell to voters. The levy,
with a 49% vote in favor, failed to pass.
The park commissioners, in assessing the election results, decided that a credible
showing had been made and another attempt should be pursued as soon as possible.
The next election, in May 1965, was a primary election and state law prohibited
park district levies in a primary election. This meant the campaign would have to
go on hold until November 1965. It was feared that momentum would be lost.
Again, Glenn Thompson intervened. He called Governor James H. Rhodes and asked him
to propose special legislation permitting the Montgomery County Park District (MetroParks)
to place a levy on the May ballot. Thompson pointed out this could be achieved by
adding it to the agenda for the lame duck session of the legislature already called.
Rhodes agreed, providing State Senator Charles Whalen would explain the need. Thompson
arranged for Senator Whalen to appear in Governor Rhodes' office by the following
Monday morning and the special privilege was voted by the State Legislature. (Some
years later, the law was changed to allow all park district levies to be voted on
in primary elections.)
Donations to the Park District
To keep the park district (MetroParks) alive during the time between the two levy
campaigns, William Patterson persuaded Eugene Kettering to donate $250,000 to acquire
land. Kettering stipulated that his contribution be used to purchase land "up north"
because most of his philanthropy had been in the southern part of the county. An
aerial survey conducted by Kettering, Lawwill and Patterson in Kettering's private
plane led to the acquisition of properties totaling 223 acres on April 1, 1965.
This area was originally called Drylick Run and later became the north-central section
of present Carriage Hill MetroPark.
In addition to Kettering's donation, Marie Aull donated $50,000 to assist the park
district (MetroParks) in December 1964.
Second Levy Campaign
Vic Cassano was again asked to chair the levy campaign and Glenn Thompson played
an active role in developing campaign strategy. The theme for the May 1965 campaign
was "Vote Green - It's Now or Never." This time everybody with an interest went
all-out to assure victory. The campaign was a primer for passing levies. Voters
were canvassed, a speaker's bureau was established, telephone banks were set up,
politicians were approached for their support and church leaders were asked to speak
out from their pulpits. When the votes were counted, the park district's (MetroParks')
$0.3 million levy had passed with a 52% vote in favor.
Early Land Acquisition
In 1965, the park district (MetroParks) set a land acquisition goal of 8500 acres.
This figure was based upon the projected population growth within the county and
Freiheit's recommendation of one acre per 1000 people. The policy was also established
to keep 80% of park district (MetroParks) lands in a natural state with the remaining
20% to be developed for picnic areas, roads, nature centers and parking lots. Over
the years, that policy has been maintained.
Lawwill established criteria for buying park land as well as a master plan for park
locations so the entire county would be served. Land acquisition was a priority.
Getting ahead of development was important because land values were rising fast.
The task force for buying land was composed of Leon Wilder of Oakwood who brokered
the land for a greatly reduced commission of 2%, Paul Lacouture, an attorney with
Smith and Schnacke, who handled the legal work, and Lawwill.
"Like the mythical Phoenix bird which arose from fire and ashes to begin another
life, Possum Creek arose from a grossly abused tract of land to become a beautiful
green space..." - J. Richard Lawwill
Carriage Hill, Englewood & Possum Creek MetroParks
Acquisition was begun in those areas of the county where potential development was
the greatest. Huber Heights was growing rapidly. Drylick Run (now Carriage Hill
MetroPark) was first to be acquired in April 1965. At the same time this purchase
was made a small parcel of 29 acres was also purchased to begin Englewood MetroPark.
Possum Creek MetroPark followed with the purchase of 275 acres on February 2, 1966.
This area was not in the original master plan which called for a green space north
of Trotwood to serve the western part of the county.
However, a comparison of topography and land costs, as well as the strategic location
of Possum Creek to serve the western half of the county, led to its selection. Although
much of the land had been used as a landfill and hog farm and areas had been stripped
of topsoil, it had potential. The staff immediately tackled the job of cleaning
up the site. In the years that followed, additional purchases added to the size
and diversity of the park.
In the mid-1960s, land prices in Centerville and Washington Township had already
escalated beyond the reach of the park district (MetroParks). To serve the suburban
population, Sugarcreek MetroPark in Greene County was acquired in October 1966.
By December 15, 1966, Sugarcreek had grown to 540 acres.
Leasing Recreation Areas
In 1967, the park district (MetroParks) leased the recreation areas at Englewood,
Taylorsville, Huffman and Germantown Dams from the Miami Conservancy District. The
conservancy district had supported the creation of the Park District (MetroParks)
since it lacked the resources to fully develop the recreation potential of its areas
and its main mission was flood control.
The responsibilities of operating the leased areas placed a huge budgetary strain
on the new park district (MetroParks), which was primarily involved in acquiring
land. Now it had to operate four partially developed parks.
Park District's First Staff
During this period of rapid acquisition, new faces joined the staff. Scott Huston
was hired in September 1965. He left the Dayton Parks to respond to Lawwill's call
to "come along with me" because "great things are happening." He began as assistant
director. The staff consisted of Lawwill, Huston and Clara Wine, the park district's
(MetroParks') dedicated secretary for many years. Huston began his duties by leading
walks and "bushwhacking" trails in the parks. Ralph Scott, a naturalist with the
Dayton Museum of Natural History, joined the park district (MetroParks) on a part-time
basis to lead walks. Huston, Scott and Lawwill led walks on every weekend for two
years. Scott became the park district's (MetroParks) chief naturalist in 1967.
Also in 1967, Dane W. Mutter joined the park district (MetroParks). There were few
walking trails and only one naturalist on the payroll to interpret the areas. Mutter
began planning additional hiking trails, developing education programs and designing
land use management plans.
In May 1969, Huston left the park district (MetroParks) to work with a park district
Melvin Diehl joined the park district (MetroParks) as assistant director in September
1969. Diehl took responsibility for writing grant applications and negotiating land
acquisitions. He also designed investment programs for the park district (MetroParks),
trust funds and other income. Diehl's many years of experience in the business world
before entering park work gave him an ideal background for these responsibilities.
Lawwill, Wilder, Lacouture and Diehl continued aggressive land purchases to meet
the goal of 8500 acres. Diehl agreed it was good policy to be open with the public
about the park district's (MetroParks) master plan of development and many acquisitions
were made by referrals. The approach in most cases was the same: appraise the parcel,
offer fair market value, assume commissions and fees, arrange maximum tax advantage
to the seller and offer continued occupancy (even for life). This approach was highly
successful, although no two deals were the same and some deals took years to consummate.
From 1963 to 1986, the park district (MetroParks) only had to use the right of eminent
domain once. It occurred in the late sixties and involved a 100-acre parcel on Meeker
Road that abutted Englewood MetroPark and Aullwood Audubon Center. It was an important
part of the Englewood master plan. The owner proposed building 100 houses with a
waste treatment plant and sewer system draining into Aullwood Audubon Center property.
While negotiations were underway, the developer began bulldozing trees on the parcel.
This led to a frantic call from Marie Aull to Lawwill and Huston. Lacouture, the
park district's (MetroParks') attorney, was contacted by Lawwill. Lacouture arranged
for a cease-and-desist order from Judge Carl D. Kessler. When he served the order,
Lacouture was threatened by the owner and felt sure the order would not be obeyed.
Lawwill and Lacouture then convinced Judge Kessler to go to the site. The judge
demanded all activity stop and the destruction of the woods was prevented. (In 1989,
the right of eminent domain was exercised again - at Carriage Hill.)
Si Burick on the Board
Commissioner Bridge died unexpectedly in 1970. He was succeeded on the Board of
Park Commissioners by Dayton Daily News sportswriter Si Burick. Burick observed
later that the park district (MetroParks) "was not my thing, but I was attracted
to it." Thus Burick the sportswriter became, somewhat to his surprise, Burick the
conservationist. Shortly before his death in 1986, Burick recalled his delight in
being appointed to the board, "I want to thank the park district (MetroParks) for
asking me; and I want to thank myself for accepting."
Cox Arboretum Became a MetroPark
In December 1972, the park district (MetroParks) experienced new growth when Cox
Arboretum became part of the park district (MetroParks). Ten years earlier, Woodhull,
Jean Mahoney and others had talked James Cox, Jr. into donating his farm south of
town for an arboretum. In addition to the donation, Cox also established a $300,000
trust fund to help support it. Other donations followed. In 1965, forty silver linden
trees (now the symbol of Cox Arboretum) were donated by the Rike family in memory
of Mrs. Frederick Rike and in 1972, Lenore Thomas donated funds for two new greenhouses.
1974 Levy Passed
1974 was the year for a new levy campaign. Vic Cassano was again campaign chairman.
Much of the campaign was centered on Si Burick. The park district (MetroParks) decided
to go for a renewal of the existing levy ($0.3 million) with an addition of $0.2
million, the permissible limit at the time. "In November of 1974," Lawwill recounted,
"I experienced my 'last hurrah' - my last levy campaign." The levy passed with a
62% vote. The funds for the park district (MetroParks) were now doubled.
"As I look back, I am awed that it all came together the way it did. I remember the
amazing things that unfolded: the multitude of people from all walks of life who
rallied to our cause, the talented staff, the generosity of the taxpayers, the thousands
of beautiful acres we were able to acquire, and the caliber of people appointed
to serve on our park board." - J. Richard Lawwill
Schmidt Became Director
Lawwill retired in July 1976 and Donald P. Schmidt became director in August of
that year. Schmidt was a fitting choice for the job. He was a graduate of Pennsylvania
State University in Park and Recreation Administration with graduate work in the
field. He had served in several positions in the State of Ohio, including Lawwill's
former job in Columbus, and with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Inflation during the seventies, however, brought the park district (MetroParks)
to a financial pinch. This led Director Donald Schmidt to embark on a fundraising
campaign. He set a goal of raising $500,000 a year beyond the levy income. Most
of this would come from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund administered
by the state. The rest would have to be provided by donations, income from trust
funds and the local government fund.
Aullwood Gardens Becomes a MetroPark
In 1977, another horticultural facility was added when Marie Aull conveyed her home
and 30-acre garden to the park district (MetroParks). Later, Park Commissioner Siebenthaler
considered it a "world-class garden." He also noted that Mrs. Aull was familiar
with the leading gardens of the world -- even contributing to the design of some.
Marie Aull had been instrumental in training members of the staff in the nuances
of estate gardening. Siebenthaler commented, "It's going to be a tremendous challenge
to us to maintain the garden so we can look back and say, 'We did it right.' It's
not going to be easy, but it's going to be enjoyable."
"There is some benefit to a shortfall in funding; conservative financing prevents
overdevelopment of the parks." - Donald P. Schmidt
Until about 1978, sixty to seventy percent of park district (MetroParks) income
went into land acquisition. Subsequently, that percentage had to go into maintenance,
programs, roads, picnic shelters, restrooms and visitor and nature centers. Overdevelopment
became a concern, but facilities were carefully located so as not to encroach on
sensitive natural areas.
The park district (MetroParks) made a request to participate in local government
funds in 1979. Those responsible for distribution granted the park district $179,000.
Schmidt calculated that the amount should have been closer to $300,000. He advised
the Board of Park Commissioners to sue. They did and they won. (A new formula has
been developed as a result of the law suit guaranteeing MetroParks a fixed percentage
of available funds.)
"How much development can you do without overloading ecosystems? I don't think anybody
knows the answer to that. More field research is necessary before development; local
universities should be enlisted for help, trading off their expertise for the field
laboratories the parks can provide." - Dane W. Mutter
Maturing in the Eighties
Ruth Mead Joined the Board
William P. Patterson retired in 1981 and was succeeded on the Board of Park Commissioners
by Ruth C. Mead. When Mead was appointed to the board, her main knowledge of the
park district (MetroParks) centered on Sugarcreek MetroPark where she and her children
had spent many enjoyable hours. Mead considered herself a stalwart defender of the
purposes of the park district (MetroParks). She described these as: preserve natural
resources "forever wild"; provide opportunities for passive recreation (such as
hiking, canoeing and bird watching); exercise land stewardship; and educate the
public about the importance of open space and nature.
Meeting the Land Acquisition Goal
During the early eighties, it became apparent to the board and to Schmidt that,
although park district (MetroParks) acreage totaled over 6000 acres, the goal of
8500 acres of open space managed by the park district (MetroParks) was going to
be difficult, if not impossible, to reach given the high cost of land in the county
and the budget crunch.
"Marie Aull never mentions her generosity and few people know how much she does for
the community." - Ruth C. Mead
Sycamore State Park
Meanwhile, the Newfields area west of Trotwood came on the market. Knowing that
the park district (MetroParks) could not possibly afford to purchase and develop
it, Schmidt approached the State of Ohio to convert the 2200-acre parcel into a
state park. Larry Christman, a state representative from Englewood, was an important
supporter of the state park idea. He introduced a bill in the state legislature
for the land to become a state park and got an appropriation of $4,000,000. Sycamore
State Park was authorized and purchased. Total open space acreage in the Dayton
area thus came very close to the goal of 8500 acres established in 1965.
1984 Levy Renewed
The park district's (MetroParks') $0.5 million levy was renewed by the voters for
another ten years in May 1984. This renewal provided the same funding as before,
enough to maintain current levels of service and provide for land acquisitions to
round out existing parks and eliminate in-holdings.
"We have gone through a long period of acquisition which is probably coming to an
end. Land stewardship is going to be a big, big part of what's going to happen over
the next ten or twenty years." - Robert K. Siebenthaler (1984)
Robert Siebenthaler Becomes a Board Member
With a successful levy campaign completed, Burick retired from the board in 1984
and Robert K. Siebenthaler was appointed. Siebenthaler was especially interested
in managing park district (MetroParks) facilities so as to provide a variety of
habitats. He pointed out, "Left alone, these areas would return to forest. That's
very limiting. Many species of wildlife can't exist in the woods. They exist in
other types of ecosystems - like prairies, water, meadows. We must try to maintain
a diversification which will better preserve the wonders of nature."
Former Park District Headquarters
In 1985, the park district (MetroParks) purchased its the George Leland
family home on Siebenthaler Avenue, from the Dayton Museum of Natural History. During
the sixties, the Leland family had donated their home to the museum. The park district
(MetroParks) leased the building from the museum in 1967 and established its headquarters
there. After consulting with the Leland family, the home and acreage was purchased
from the museum.
As of December 31, 1986, the park district (MetroParks) had acquired the following:
- Carriage Hill MetroPark - 868 acres owned
- Cox Arboretum MetroPark - 159
- Englewood MetroPark - 1538 acres (722 owned, 714 leased, 31 owned
at Aullwood Gardens, 71 leased at Pig Eye)
- Germantown MetroPark - 1316 acres
(940 owned, 376 leased)
- Huffman MetroPark - 282 acres leased
Creek MetroPark - 591 acres (518 owned, 73 owned at Crains Run)
- Sugarcreek MetroPark
- 596 acres owned
- Taylorsville MetroPark - 856 acres (117 owned, 748 leased)
Marvin Olinsky Became Director
On January 31, 1987, Donald P. Schmidt retired as director, closing an era of the
park district's (MetroParks') history. Marvin Olinsky was appointed as the third
Director-Secretary effective December 1, 1986. Olinsky, a graduate of Delaware Valley
College (B.S. in Horticulture) and Lehigh University (Masters in Education), had
served as director of Cox Arboretum from July 1980 until his appointment.
Preparing for the 21st Century - "Parks 2000"
"Parks 2000" Levy Passed
On May 3, 1988, the Park District (MetroParks) passed a $0.7 million, ten-year replacement
levy, canceling the then current $0.5 million levy. In order to promote and pass
the levy, the Vote Green Finance Committee was formed with Richard Gump serving
as treasurer and Gerald S. Office, Jr. as fund-raising chairman. Harry S. Price,
Jr. and Doris Ponitz served as honorary co-chairs. "Yes Parks" was adopted as the
slogan of the campaign and the park district's (MetroParks') levy pledge was to
continue providing clean, safe, well-managed parks with innovative programming and
activities for all ages, and to pursue an aggressive land stewardship program.
Jean Woodhull on the Board
With the new levy in place, Ruth C. Mead retired from the Board of Park Commissioners
on June 12, 1989, and Jean V. Woodhull was appointed by Judge George J. Gounaris
to serve as the third member of the board. Woodhull had long been dedicated to the
park district (MetroParks) and a "green" community. Her involvement dated back to
the early efforts to create a park district to serve the Greater Dayton area and
she enthusiastically embraced this opportunity to serve on the board.
Eastwood Became a MetroPark
As part of a growing focus on rivers, Eastwood Park was viewed as an ideal site
for park district (MetroParks) involvement. On April 1, 1990 Eastwood became part
of the park district (MetroParks) through a lease agreement with the City of Dayton
running until the year 2089. Eastwood Lake (also known as the Dayton Hydrobowl)
became under park district (MetroParks) management on April 1, 1992. Security, upgraded
maintenance and family-oriented activities were goals set for the site.
Jeff Leland - Commissioner
Park Commissioner Harry Price had been an enthusiastic supporter of the addition
of Eastwood. With this accomplished and direction coming into focus for the future
of the Park District (MetroParks), Price retired from the Board of Park Commissioners
on October 1, 1990, after 27 years of service. Jeff Leland, appointed by Judge George
J. Gounaris, became the newest member of the board.
"Vote Green" Levy
On May 3, 1994, Montgomery County voters were asked to approve a ten-year, $1.2
million ($0.7 million replacement and $0.5 million additional) levy that would cancel
the existing $0.7 million levy. The purpose of the levy was to provide additional
funds that would be needed to implement a plan to protect and enhance the area's
major river corridors, while continuing to provide a high level of services at existing
park sites. The "Vote Green" campaign centered on the vision of a "tapestry of greenways"
in the Miami Valley utilizing river corridors and multi-use pathways to link parks,
public facilities and communities. Harry Price and Horace M. Huffman served as honorary
co-chairpersons of the Vote Green Committee and their sons, Marlay B. Price and
Tony Huffman, served as campaign co-chairpersons. Richard Gump provided assistance
again as treasurer. When all the votes were in and counted, although close, the
levy failed to pass, by just 126 votes. Analysis of the campaign and results led
to the conclusion that many voters, although they supported parks, were somewhat
confused as to how a "tapestry of green" would benefit them and specifically how
their tax dollars would be used.
November 1994 Levy Passed
It was decided a levy was still viable - the message had to be clarified and voters
had to be educated as to the direct value to them of a "yes" vote. In addition,
the City of Dayton was asked to take a more active role in educating city residents
regarding benefits, since the levy proposal included a commitment by the park district
(MetroParks) to take on responsibility for and enhancement of several city parks.
The new slogan became "Clean, Safe Parks...Today and Tomorrow." On November 8, 1994,
the levy passed.
"This (1994 levy) issue will improve our river corridors and link green space and
communities making a tapestry of green for our community for the first time in history.
But it involves so much more. The 'Parks 2000' program is a parks blueprint for
the future that will ensure safe, clean parks." - Jean V. Woodhull
Several Parks Added
With community support and the additional funding provided by the 1994 levy, on
January 1, 1995, through agreements with the City of Dayton and Miami Conservancy
District, the Park District (MetroParks) added Island Park, Van Cleve Park, Deeds
Point, Wesleyan Nature Center, Sunrise Park, Wegerzyn Horticultural Center and river
corridor areas to its facilities to provide daily management, programming and security.
Named Changed to Five Rivers MetroParks
1995 was also the year to solve a problem that had plagued the park district (MetroParks)
for many years. There was considerable confusion created by its name, Montgomery
County Park District (followed by Dayton-Montgomery County Park District and finally
Park District of Dayton-Montgomery County). The name led residents to believe the
park district was part of the City of Dayton or Montgomery County government structure.
Few knew which parks fell under park district management and that the park district
was in fact a separate political subdivision of the State of Ohio.
After considerable research and community input, the Board of Park Commissioners
requested approval from the Montgomery County Probate Court for a name change to
Five Rivers MetroParks. The new name was approved on July 20, 1995. It was selected
to eliminate confusion and better reflect the direction of the agency. "Five Rivers"
relates to the five waterways (Great Miami River, Stillwater River, Mad River, Twin
Creek and Wolf Creek) in Montgomery County and the importance of river corridors.
"MetroParks" was coined to designate the region-wide services provided.
Karen Davis Joined the Board
"Recreation is a vital part of a community's health. Parks and recreation provide
opportunities for a healthy mind and body, and it's available for free, right in
our own backyard." - Karen L. Davis
On March 29, 1996, Jeff Leland retired from the Board of Park Commissioners and
Karen L. Davis was appointed to fill the position.
Irvin Bieser Became a Board Member
The next change in the board came in 1998. After serving ten years as a MetroParks
commissioner, Jean Woodhull resigned from the Board of Park Commissioners on November
20, 1998, and Irvin G. Bieser, Jr. was appointed to fill the position. "Jean Woodhull's
leadership has been significant," commented Marvin Olinsky. "Her public sense of
responsibility and commitment to the outdoors has been felt throughout the Dayton/Montgomery
"Parks 21"- A Vision for the Future
The nineties were a period of considerable growth. MetroParks grew in acreage, staff
and services, as well as developed a broader direction to accomplish its mission.
1999 was an important year for MetroParks, a time to assess what had been accomplished
and where MetroParks was headed. MetroParks staff evaluated the progress made towards
fulfilling the commitments of "Parks 2000" and looked to the future, developing
a 10-year plan that became known as "Parks 21." Key elements of the plan called
for park improvements, additional law enforcement and maintenance staff, extended
recreation trails, revitalization of Dayton's riverfront through management of RiverScape
and additional acreage for conservation. With many of the "Parks 2000" plans completed
or nearing completion and new opportunities to respond to the future needs of Montgomery
County citizens at hand, the Board of Park Commissioners determined it was time
to return to the voters and request a new levy to replace the 1994 levy. It was
clear additional funding would be needed to implement "Parks 21."
"Parks 21" Levy Passed
The Five Rivers MetroParks Levy Committee was formed with Richard E. Gump as treasurer.
The slogan "Our Parks…Our Future!" was adopted. A massive education effort regarding
the "Parks 21" proposal was launched. On November 7, 2000, the citizens of Montgomery
showed overwhelming support of "Parks 21" by passing a new $1.8 mil, 10-year levy
(to replace the $1.2 mil levy) with a 65% vote in favor of the levy.
RiverScape Grand Opening
Funding was now in place to move forward with programming and maintenance of RiverScape.
A grand opening for RiverScape was held on May 19, 2001 with speeches, activities,
music and the first public viewing of the Five Rivers Fountain and a Laser, Light
and Music show. Attendance at the event was estimated at 50,000 or more – the largest
event attendance in downtown Dayton anyone could remember
Protecting Additional Land
Conservation opportunities also immediately presented themselves. By June 2001,
300 acres of scenic land were purchased and an additional 250 acres protected through
conservation easements in the Twin Creek Valley northwest of Germantown MetroPark
and south of Twin Creek MetroPark. Attention was also focused on the Stillwater
river corridor with MetroParks striving to protect undeveloped stretches between
Englewood and Wegerzyn Gardens MetroParks.
"To protect the natural resources of our community, we must begin to work within
the urban fabric. We must create a healthy city so people will want to live within
the city and not destroy green space through urban sprawl." - Marvin Olinsky (October
Marvin Olinsky Contributions
With successful passage of the levy and a blueprint for the future of MetroParks
in place, Marvin Olinsky announced his retirement effective June 30, 2001.
Under the direction of Marvin Olinsky (1987-2001), MetroParks had made inroads into
new areas and established a foundation for its role in the next century through
the "Parks 2000" and "Parks 21" plans. Emphasis was placed on greenways and river
corridors that link natural resources, public areas and communities through linear
parks and multi-use paths. Research pointed to the importance of these corridors
not only for recreation but for their value to wildlife as pathways between potentially
isolated natural areas. With the support of Montgomery County residents, MetroParks
took a leadership role in the development and management of linear parks through
partnerships with cities, townships and municipalities. In addition, emphasis was
placed on the importance of rivers and riverfront recreation and utilization, as
well as on the need for increased service to urban areas to assure the entire population
- urban, suburban and rural - was served. All this was accomplished while continuing
to focus on the important issues of conservation, maintenance, improvements and
security at MetroParks facilities assuring "clean, safe parks...today and tomorrow."
As of June 30, 2001, MetroParks had increased to 23 facilities totaling more than
"Our fifth river, Twin Creek, is a very special stream. One can easily see the bottom,
even in pools 5 to 6 feet deep. The abundance of fish life is astounding. It is
a sparkling gem highly deserving of protection." - Irvin G. Bieser, Jr. (October
Charles Shoemaker - Executive Director
With Olinsky's retirement, the Board of Park Commissioners appointed Charles Shoemaker,
who had been with MetroParks since June, 1977 (most recently as chief operations
director), as MetroParks new executive director. During his years with MetroParks,
Shoemaker had developed an in-depth knowledge of MetroParks, especially in the areas
of finance, operations and land protection, and was well prepared for his new role.
Protection of natural resources and land stewardship continue to be a priority.
By February 2003, MetroParks was responsible for 11,787 acres and offered 24 facilities
for public enjoyment.
"We hold in public trust some of the most sensitive natural areas in this region.
As we move forward, we will widen the awareness of land stewardship and continually
educate ourselves as well on how best to manage these areas for their ultimate protection.
This is paramount, and the public expects no less." - Charles Shoemaker (February
Pursuing the Mission - Volunteer Support
Over the years, a major force in the development of MetroParks has been the hard
work of volunteers. Donald Schmidt credited this involvement during his period as
director with making it possible to increase attendance in the parks without increasing
staff. He points out, "Volunteers provided expertise that could not be hired." MetroParks
commissioners, past and present, recognize the invaluable contributions volunteers
have made. Ruth Mead notes, "Volunteers communicate the mission of MetroParks to
the public as well as work in the parks. Cox Arboretum has won awards for its volunteer
program. Every MetroPark has its cadre of volunteers." Siebenthaler believed, "Volunteers
have enhanced the quality of life in our area. Dayton is unique in the willingness
of volunteers to contribute." Harry Price points with satisfaction to the fact that,
"Volunteers feel a sense of ownership, which is good, because they do own it." As
MetroParks moves forward with "Parks 21" and its vision for the 21st century, volunteers
continue to play a crucial role with expanded opportunities and services planned.
The Future of Five Rivers MetroParks
Those who have been involved in the beginnings and operations of MetroParks over
the years are enthusiastically optimistic as they look to the future. They are also
confidently proud of what they have accomplished. Staff, commissioners and volunteers
eagerly anticipate the next century and the important role MetroParks will play.
Chronology of Events
- April 8, 1963 -- Montgomery County Park District, now known as Five Rivers MetroParks,
- April 1963 -- William P. Patterson, Charles S. Bridge and Harry
S. Price, Jr. appointed to Board of Park Commissioners
- June 18, 1963 -- Board
of Park Commissioners' first meeting
- March 2, 1964 -- J. Richard Lawwill hired
as first director-secretary
- November 1964 -- the first levy attempt failed to
- April 1965 -- beginning of Drylick Run (now Carriage Hill MetroPark) -
223 acres purchased; beginning of Englewood MetroPark - 29 acres purchased
1965 -- $0.3 million, 10-year levy passed
- February 1966 -- beginning of Possum
Creek MetroPark - 275 acres purchased
- October-December 1966 -- beginning of
Sugarcreek MetroPark - 540 acres purchased
- February 1967 -- lands at Englewood,
Huffman, Germantown and Taylorsville leased from Miami Conservancy District
- 1970 -- Charles Bridge passed away and Si Burick appointed to Board of Park Commissioners
- December 1972 -- Cox Arboretum becomes a MetroPark
- November 1974 -- $0.3 million
renewal and $0.2 million additional levy passed
- July 1976 -- J. Richard Lawwill
retired as director-secretary
- August 1976 -- Donald P. Schmidt named director-secretary
- 1977 -- Aullwood Garden donated to MetroParks
- 1981 -- William P. Patterson retired
from Board of Park Commissioners and Ruth C. Mead appointed to board
- May 8,
1984 -- $0.5 million levy renewal passed
- 1984 -- Si Burick retired from Board
of Park Commissioners and Robert K. Siebenthaler appointed to board
- 1985 --
Leland center purchased as MetroParks headquarters
- December 1, 1986 -- Marvin
Olinsky named director-secretary
- January 31, 1987 -- Donald P. Schmidt retires
- May 3, 1988 -- $0.7 million, 10-year levy passed
- January 12, 1989 -- Ruth C. Mead retired from Board of Park Commissioners and Jean
V. Woodhull appointed to board
- April 1, 1990 -- Eastwood Park leased to MetroParks
by City of Dayton (under agreement running until 2089)
- October 1, 1990 -- Harry
S. Price, Jr. retired from Board of Park Commissioners and Jeff Leland appointed
- April 1, 1992 -- Eastwood Lake leased to MetroParks by City of Dayton
(under agreement running until the year 2089)
- May 3, 1994 -- $1.2 million, 10-year
levy failed to pass
- November 8, 1994 -- $1.2 million, 10-year levy passed (1988
- January 1, 1995 -- daily management and programming of Island,
Van Cleve, Deeds, and Sunrise Parks, Wegerzyn Horticultural Center, Wesleyan Nature
Center and river corridor properties transferred to MetroParks from the City of
Dayton and the Miami Conservancy District
- July 20, 1995 -- name changed to Five
- March 29, 1996 -- Jeff Leland retired from Board of Park Commissioners
and Karen L. Davis appointed to board
- June 8, 1997 -- renovations at Island
MetroPark completed and park rededicated
- November 20, 1998 -- Jean V. Woodhull
retired from Board of Park Commissioners and Irvin G. Bieser, Jr. appointed to board
- August 18, 1999 -- groundbreaking at Van Cleve MetroPark for RiverScape development
- September 17, 1999 -- Marvin Olinsky named chief executive officer
7, 2000 -- $1.8 million, 10-year levy passed (1994 levy canceled)
- May 19, 2001
-- RiverScape MetroPark grand opening
- June 30, 2001 -- Marvin Olinsky retired
as CEO and director-secretary and Charles Shoemaker named director-secretary/executive
- November 2001 -- 2nd Street Market opens in its permanent
The following people have served in these various roles:
Former: Neal F. Zimmers, George J. Gournaris
Current: Alice O. McCollum
Charter: Harry S. Price, Jr., William P. Patterson, Charles S. Bridge
Former: Simon Burick, Ruth C. Mead, Jeff Leland, Jean V. Woodhull, Robert K. Siebenthaler
Current: Irvin G. Bieser, Jr, Karen L. Davis, Alan F. Pippenger
Director-Secretary/Chief Executive Officer
Former: J. Richard Lawwill, Donald P. Schmidt, Marvin Olinsky, CEO, Charles Shoemaker
Current: Rebecca A. “Becky” Benná