Kent's newest green space: Forest Lakes Nature Preserve to be dedicated

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

The lakes have been built. The trails have been installed. The park benches are up and the parking lot is in place.

As the city of Kent prepares to dedicate Forest Lakes Nature Preserve as its next city park, developer Robert Heimann and Parks and Recreation Director John Idone are pleased to see the results of their hard work.

"We've talked about that park for years," Heimann said. "It's nice to finally look out there and see it."

The park, which includes two lakes and a mile of hiking trails, sits in the center of the Forest Lakes subdivision, which will eventually include 150 homes.

The park is composed of two adjacent parcels donated to the city. Heimann donated 28 acres in lieu of subdivision fees. The Liske family donated the other 10 acres.

At 38 acres, it will be Kent's third largest park _ only Fred Fuller Park and nearby Al Lease Park are larger _ and more than twice the size of Kent's other nature preserve, Jessie Smith Wildlife Refuge on Majors Lane between Fairchild Avenue and West Main Street.

Just as Jessie Smith is the site of nature education programs, there are also plans to hold nature walks at Forest Lakes, Idone said. In September, the community will be invited to learn about the features of the new park and to see the ferns and the Tamarack trees, which resemble those in the Kent Bog.

"It's really beautiful any time of year," Idone said. "There are a lot of ferns there. When I took my kids there, they said it looked like Jurassic Park."

A plastic lumber boardwalk crosses wetlands near the park entrance and leads to a mile of nature trails. Along the way, there are park benches and picnic tables, also made from plastic lumber.

Two lakes, a 1.5-acre lake near the entrance and another 4.5-acre lake sit on the property. Heimann used the sand and gravel from the lakes to build up the road base at the development, but said the aesthetics of having lakes on the property was the primary reason they were built.

Eventually, Idone said, the lakes will be stocked with fish.

Idone said the boardwalk, benches and tables were funded by an Ohio Department of Natural Resources recycling grant. The items were made from recycled material and should last longer than if they were made from wood, he said.

Future plans include a small neighborhood playground near the existing parking lot, possibly a small gazebo, trails through the Liske property and an eastern access to the park.

Idone said he expects the park to be officially transferred within a few weeks. Kent City Council must officially dedicate the area as a public park.

He said the donation of the land will help not only the city, but also residents of the subdivision, who have a park literally at their doorstep.

"It's a real nice facility at a minimum cost," he said. "It's a win-win situation not only from the community standpoint, but from the developer's standpoint."

Heimann said all lots along the park have walk-out basements with windows so residents can view the park from them.

In addition to the two main entrances, there are two private accesses for residents only.

"It's really remarkable to walk through the hiking trails," he said. "There are ferns 4- to 5-feet tall. It feels prehistoric. It's just beautiful when everything is green."

Heimann said the land he donated was most suited to a park, and residents who live in the 35 homes now standing in the subdivision are already benefiting.

"It's what makes Forest Lakes a unique development," he said. "I'm already noticing residents using the hiking trail. It's a great place to walk your dog."

Idone said Heimann's willingness to work with the city has made the park possible.

"It's a real positive thing to work with a developer who sees the value of park land," he said. "Some people look at a piece of land and see how many houses can fit on it. It's nice to see it work this way.

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