LIMA — Residents of Allen County just needed space to get outside and enjoy nature.
This was the idea behind what would become the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District. In the 50 years since this park neighborhood was formed, this idea has grown, some might say organically, from the early days of Heritage Park and McLean Teddy Bear Park into a neighborhood that today offers amenities such as archery, swimming, biking and walking trails, a bird sanctuary, historic farm, environmental education center and veterans monument.
After a 1969 study by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources examining recreation and open space in Ohio caught the attention of the Allen Soil Conservation District, the study was brought to the County Board of Commissioners, which appointed a Park Advisory Board the following year to explore this issue. A three-month feasibility study two years later eventually resulted in an application to the Allen County Probate Court for the creation of the district which “would include all of Allen County except Delphos and Beaverdam” , writes The Lima News in a June 28. , paper from 1972.
That same article described arguments presented to Probate Court Judge David O. Steiner about the benefits the county would receive from this initiative.
“Charles Williams, a soil conservation specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Director of Urban Planning Richard Schroeder both testified that the county suffered from an acute lack of natural recreation areas,” reads -on in the article. “Most of the county’s recreation grounds are tied to six golf courses, leaving only about 300 acres of parkland, they said.”
With Judge Steiner approving the creation of the district two days later, the new district, led by Commissioner Ann Lauer, gained a foothold in the county, establishing McLean Teddy Bear Park on North Dixie Highway the same year, thanks to a 99 – one-year lease with county commissioners. The name comes from the Lima-area Jaycees, honoring a man known for providing teddy bears to children in area hospitals to help comfort them in their difficult times. The initial 20 acres of this park quickly grew to 42.5 acres in the first year, growing to 56 acres in 1980, thanks to a donation of 10 acres by Henry Koch and the purchase of an additional 3.5 acres of land by the district.
According to the Park District website, the district’s footprint increased significantly in 1973 with the acquisition of 162 acres of land from the Lima Army Modification Center near Reed Road via an act of the federal government, land which became Heritage Park. This area was halved five years later when part of the land was returned to the US military for the expansion of its facilities.
Despite a failed levy attempt in 1976, other areas of expansion soon followed for the district, the establishment of park rangers, including 45 acres of land at Allen County Farm Park acquired by long-term lease from the county in 1977. A substantial addition, however, came later that same year, with 182 acres of land near Spencerville acquired through a substantial bequest.
“The Park District will pay George and Germaine Strayer of the Spencerville campaign $230,000 for the land,” wrote The Lima News in a November 13, 1977, article. “The money to purchase the land was bequeathed to the Park District in July 1976 on the estate of the late Florence Kendrick specifically for the acquisition of a park.”
District Executive Director Jency Brown hailed the purchase of the land which would soon be named after the benefactor who made the purchase possible, noting it was “the largest tract of woods in the county”. , did he declare. Brown was also thrilled that people were enjoying what he considered the Auglaize River more scenic compared to the Ottawa River at the time.
“To be frank, the Ottawa River that runs through Lima isn’t much to see,” Brown said in the article. “It’s full of pollution and there’s trash floating in it.”
After purchasing an additional 25 acres on the site in 1985 for shelters and toilets, along with just under 22 acres of conservation easement land purchased a year later, Kendrick Woods Metro Park was officially opened in 1987 .
Establishing levies to help fund the district continued to be a concern for the district during this first decade, with failed levy attempts in 1978, 1979 and 1982, the years the farm park of Allen County opened State Highway 81. Finally, in 1983, a one-third mile drawdown was approved.
Today’s district map features 20 points of interest, including the district’s newest addition, Haver Ridge Metro Park, with 61 acres of land southeast of Westminster purchased by the district in 2019. Even after 50 years the district continues to expand its footprint in the area, recently accepted a donation of 50 acres of land in Amanda Township to be used as a nature conservation area.
The district will commemorate its namesake with its Apple Festival, which runs from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the historic Lauer Farm, 800 Roush Road. For more information about the festival, go to https://bit.ly/3xmNyB0.
This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.
See past Reminisce stories at limaohio.com/tag/reminisce
Contact Craig Kelly at 567-242-0391 or on Twitter @cmkelly419.