Bob Downing

The Stark County Park District is taking over management and operation of the 701-acre Quail Hollow State Park near Hartville from the cash-strapped Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The switch will officially occur on Jan. 8.

The Lake Township park will become the 14th county-managed park and one of the largest in Stark County.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Bob Fonte of Stark Parks. “We’re all excited to see this happen.”

The change is “a positive move,” said Rich Keslar of Lake Township, president of the 40-member Quail Hollow Volunteer Association and one of about 70 volunteers at the park, located off Congress Lake Road Northeast. “We’re looking forward to the change and eager to see what local control and Stark Parks will bring to the table.”

The park district is signing a 30-year management agreement but the land will remain under state ownership.

Any future income from gas and oil well drilling would remain with the park under the agreement, Fonte said.

Adding the park will require adding about five staffers for the park district, Fonte said.

The arrangement has been in the works for more than two years, officials said.

The deal is similar to two deals that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources struck with Summit Metro Parks to manage state-owned Nimisila Reservoir in the city of Green and Tinkers Creek State Park in Streetsboro and Tinkers Creek State Nature Preserve in Streetsboro and Aurora.

“We’re excited by this,” Fonte said. “It’s a great Thanksgiving gift for Stark County.”

Fonte said he envisions the park boosting service to Lake Township residents and becoming the northern anchor of an expanding county trail system. His district intends to spend about six months preparing a first-ever master plan for the park that includes a historic 48-room mansion and 13 miles of trails, including equestrian and mountain bike paths. The planning process will include meetings to get feedback from the public.

The park is a historical property with outdoor activities and holiday-themed events like Christmas at the Hollow, he said. Stark Parks will co-host this year’s event Dec. 10-12 along with ODNR and the volunteers.

The park also offers fishing, picnicking, primitive camping, gardens, wildlife watching, a gift shop and rental opportunities.

Quail Hollow “fits into our park model quite well…and matches what we’re doing,” Fonte said.

The switch will require new signs and branding moving forward, he said.

“Significant changes won’t happen quickly, if at all,” he said in a statement. He said he envisioned no big changes in the first year of managing the state park. “We don’t want to cut. We want to enhance what’s already there,” he said.

The state and the volunteers have done a great job managing Quail Hollow, and his park district intends to continue working with the volunteers, he said.

The state recently completed a report that shows all the buildings at the park, including the old Stewart Mansion, are in good shape, he said. “There are no immediate needs and nothing major,” he said.

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