By 1812Blockhouse; Ohio Department of Natural Resources
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is celebrating a year of accomplishments, milestones, and investments in outdoor recreation. ODNR, keeping true to its mission, spent 2022 making sure Ohio’s public lands and resources were protected and improved for the use of all who step foot on them.
“We really kicked it into high gear this year, celebrating conservation and improving everything from state parks to wildlife areas to wetlands,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “I am proud of our team that works year-round to make each visitor experience better, upgrade equipment and trails, and pave the way for future generations to enjoy these lands.”
Area expansions and improvements included Mount Gilead State Park in north central Ohio, just a ten minute drive from southwestern Richland County, and at Mohican State Park.
ODNR marked 100 years of conservation this year, celebrating the creation of the Roosevelt Game Preserve. Known today as Shawnee State Park and Shawnee State Forest, the property was established in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1922. The area, now displaying a historic marker, was created to encourage the replenishment of natural resources and wildlife that had been depleted in Ohio’s past.
From preserving the past to investing in the future, Shawnee State Forest was expanded by more than 1,200 acres thanks to a federal grant through the Forest Legacy Program. Visitors at Shawnee State Park will soon enjoy a new state-of-the-art campground, new bike trails, a splash pad, and dog park at the Shawnee Ohio River Park, Campground and Marina. The new and improved attraction is expected to be complete next year.
Boaters and paddlers at Alum Creek State Park can now enjoy a brand-new marina building. The $4.6 million structure replaces the 50-year-old building that stood in its place. To better meet the needs of park visitors, the new building offers retail and boat rental space, food and beverage areas, accessible public restrooms and shower facilities, and a covered outdoor patio space.
Alum Creek is home to ODNR’s first Storybook Trail, and this past year 10 more trails promoting literacy and healthy living were added across the state. ODNR invested in new, renovated, or upgraded nature centers at East Harbor, Hueston Woods, East Fork, Alum Creek, Deer Creek, Punderson, Burr Oak, Findley, Mt. Gilead, and Lake Hope state parks, which have interactive, multi-sensory displays to be explored.
Water quality is vital to the health of our lakes and waterways, and, most importantly, the people of Ohio. ODNR has been creating and restoring wetlands as part of Governor Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio initiative since 2019. In 2022, ODNR marked a milestone 100th wetland. Now, ODNR has more than 120 projects complete or underway that filter nutrients from the water and provide excellent habitat for wildlife to thrive.
Increasing protected land is an important step to preserving our natural resources. This year, the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves’ Scenic Rivers Program purchased two properties along the Little Darby Creek State and National Scenic River in Madison County, bringing the total acreage of protected property to more than 1,100. Seventy-three acres along Little Beaver Creek State and National Wild and Scenic River near Lisbon were also purchased to protect streams and abundant plant and animal life.
As an investment into the health, safety, and future of Ohio families, ODNR’s Division of Mineral Resources Management (DMRM) has made unprecedented strides to clean up abandoned mine lands. Federal funding through the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSMRE) Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization (AMLER) program helps to transform these areas into community assets. Most recently, ODNR joined The Wilds (part of Columbus Zoo) in Cumberland to break ground on a new 59-acre campground with spots for both RVs and primitive camping.
Thanks to Ohio Sportsmen, and the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses, the Division of Wildlife is able to invest in habitat conservation and hunting/fishing resources. This fall, the Division of Wildlife reopened the renovated Indian Creek Shooting Range near Georgetown and Tranquility Wildlife Area Shooting Range near Seaman. The Division also partnered with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Toledo Zoo by awarding grants totaling $750,000 to be used for wildlife conservation.
Ohio State Parks had a busy year and marked several major achievements. At Mohican State Park, nearly 6 miles of new trail was added to connect the Mohican State Park Lodge to the existing 24-mile EPIC-rated trail. There is also a new mile-long beginner course for bikers to learn and improve their skills.
Near Xenia, ODNR broke ground on Great Council State Park – Ohio’s 76th state park. The area was once home to Oldtown, one of the largest known Shawnee settlements in Ohio. The park will feature a 12,000-square-foot interpretive center full of exhibits, a theater area, a living stream, and a gallery.
The long-awaited Hocking Hill State Park Lodge and Conference Center opened this past October. Built on the same ground as the old lodge, which burned down in 2016. Overnight visitors can enjoy a rustic, yet modern feel in one of the 81 guestrooms, the spectacular views of either the woods or tree-lined gorge, and access to the indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs.
It’s been quite a year for ODNR and there is more to come. We hope to exceed these accomplishments in 2023 and improve even more lands, lodges, and outdoor experiences for all our visitors.