A new natural area destination is in Stark County's future.
The Stark County Park District has completed the third and final land acquisitions for the future Fry Family Park, which will offer trails, ice skating, fishing, boating, rental picnic facilities, a children's nature play area, sledding, tobogganing and a future nature center, with outdoor patio.
Acquisitions for the 348-acre park were completed in two transactions at the end of the year. The Harold S. Fry Trust sold the last 81 acres of the farm to the park district. The owners of an adjacent property, Norton Carnes and Beverly Morehead, sold 28.7 acres to the park district.
These acquisitions, along with two prior purchases from Fry, complete the vision for the park. Richard Fry, Harold Fry's son, served as the first director of the Stark County Park District from 1977 until his death in 1994.
"We are grateful to Harold Fry and his family for selling this property to the residents of Stark County and to the Trust for Public Land for assisting in the transactions," said Bob Fonte, director of the Stark County Park District. "It's a spectacularly beautiful property, with rolling hills, woods, and a great pond for fishing and boating, and the park staff is looking forward to creating a great park for everyone to enjoy.
"The first change local residents will see beginning in late 2013 will be improvements to the access drive and parking for accommodating visitors."
Until these improvements are completed the Fry Family Park will only be open for specific events and programs sponsored by Stark Parks, such as hikes, bird watching, the Wild Outdoor Women campout, canoeing and fishing. Beginning in 2014, the park district expects to increase public access to seven days a week, sunrise to sunset.
Located in Pike Township, outside East Sparta, the 348-acre park will one day serve as a trailhead for two major trail systems. Those systems are the lower Middlebranch Trail that will extend north from Fry Family Park to Frank Esmont Park in Canton Township, Monument Park in Canton and the Sandy & Beaver Canal Trail going east, linking Fry Family Park to Magnolia, Waynesburg and Minerva.
The park district has already completed a Master plan for developing the property. Eighty percent will remain undeveloped.
Development of the remaining 20 percent will include transformation of the Fry home into a nature center, water quality management, and creation of more forested areas. Current buildings on the former Carnes property are expected to be repurposed into a new Sandy Valley Branch Library/Park Visitor Center and a maintenance center.
Use of the buildings will preclude the need to build any new buildings at the park and will re-use existing built resources in an ecologically-sound and cost-effective manner.
The corner location at state Route 800 and Farber Street will serve well as a highly visible and welcoming gateway to the park. A copy of the Fry Family Park Master Plan is available at www.StarkParks.com.
The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization which serves Ohio from an office in Cleveland, has facilitated the purchase of three of the four properties which constitute the new Fry Family Park.
"Fry Family Park will be a new destination for Stark County families to experience nature," said Pam Carson, the Trust for Public Land's Ohio state director. "We are pleased to have assisted Stark Parks in this final purchase to complete the vision for Fry Family Park."
Funding of the final phase of the park included over $93,000 from the sellers, a $250,000 grant from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and $1,240,000 from the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation program, administered by the Ohio Public Works Commission.
Founded in 1972, The Trust for Public Land is the leading nonprofit working to conserve land for people. Operating from more than 30 offices nationwide, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than three million acres from the inner city to the wilderness and helped generate more than 34 billion in public funds for conservation.
Nearly ten million people live within a ten-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. For more information on the Trust for Public Land, visit tpl.org.
The Stark County Park district was established in 1967 and now manages 14 parks, four lakes, and more than 80 miles of trails, including 25 miles of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail.