Bob Downing

Christine Craycroft has parks in Portage County that she wants to open.

But her money-strapped agency, the Portage Park District, does not have the needed funds.

That means that 835 acres at four parks remain closed to the public: the Morgan Preserve in Shalersville Township, the Chagrin Headwaters Preserve in Mantua Township, the Walter Preserve in Palmyra Township and the Breakneck Creek Preserve in Ravenna Township.

The situation could change May 6, if Portage County voters approve a 0.5-mill levy.

This is the park district’s sixth try to get a levy approved since it was formed in 1991. Voters said no in 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2008.

The need for steady income is urgent and growing, and the district might not survive without a levy, officials said.

“We’ve been on a shoestring budget for years and have been surviving thanks to donations,” said Allan Orashan of Kent, chair of the Park Commission when the levy was announced. “It’s just not sustainable, and now we’re in a do-or-die situation. We need adequate, reliable funding or we can’t keep going.”

Grants unavailable

The levy would run for 10 years and raise about $1.63 million annually. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $17.50 a year in new taxes.

The district has 1,300 acres of parkland at 15 locations and 14 miles of bike and hike trails. It has a full-time director, Craycroft, and two part-time maintenance workers.

The district is operating on a yearly budget of $99,500 that comes from county and state funds, rentals and donations.

State and county fund to the district have dropped by 50 percent in the past two years, creating more reliance on the $45,000 in donations to keep the park system afloat, Craycroft said.

The park district cannot apply for most grants because it cannot provide the 20 to 50 percent matching funds generally required, she said.

In the past 15 years, the park district has worked with public and private partners to bring in $8.5 million in grants and donations.

Levy funds would be used to maintain existing parks with needed repairs to structures, resurfacing and improving trails, managing resources and boosting recreational and educational programs.

It would also enable the park district to open the now-closed 835 acres.

Project options

Other new projects the park district could address with approval of the May 6 levy include:

•?Extending the Headwaters Trail from Mantua to Aurora.

•?Planning a Suffield-Brimfield-Kent trail.

•?Extending the Portage Hike and Bike Trail to West Branch State Park east of Ravenna.

•?Linking the Franklin Connector Trail to the Portage Hike and Bike Trail.

•?Accepting the donation of the proposed Shaw Woods Equestrian Park/Buckeye Trail link in Ravenna Township.

For information on the levy, go to www.citizensforportageparks.com or www.facebook.com/portageparklevy or send an email to citizensforportageparks@yahoo.com.

For park district information, go to www.portageparkdistrict.org or call 330-297-7728.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.