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Michael Smith of Charlestown and his siblings are sealing a deal with Western Reserve Land Conservancy and Brimfield Township to preserve their late father's 22-acre property on Cline Road in Brimfield.
After his father, James passed away nearly three years ago, Smith was appointed executor of the estate. While looking through some of his father's belongings, he discovered his father had been contemplating contacting a land preservation organization to prevent the property from being developed. Smith followed up on that lead.
"I couldn't think of anything better than to preserve the land he loved so much," Smith said. "He held onto the property. He could have sold it and lived comfortably, but he didn't do that. He didn't sell it because he didn't want it to go to just anybody. He didn't want it to be developed."
Western Reserve Land Conservancy is nonprofit organization that that works to conserve natural areas, preserve farmland and revitalize urban centers in Ohio.
"Last year we did 72 projects," said Alex Czayka, Eastern Field Director, who juggles between 30 to 50 conservation projects at a time. "That was the most we've ever done in a year. I think the more projects we do the more people learn about us. We're starting to get more established in the counties we work in."
Smith approached Western Reserve about his property in 2015. This year, the organization raised enough funds to purchase the property through The Clean Ohio Fund Greenspace Conservation Program and negotiated with Brimfield Township to take ownership at no cost.
"We talked to Portage Park District," Czayka said. "We had also talked to Kent State and Brimfield. People in rural communities are deeply connected to their land. Brimfield thought it was a good location and really great resource."
The Brimfield Township trustees were very interested in obtaining more greenspace, said township executive Robert Keller. The only condition is the property is to never be developed.
"It has to be kept in its natural state," Keller said. "Once we obtain ownership we can put in a parking lot. We can have walking trails. We could have a bird observation deck over the wetlands, but we can't develop it. It will remain in its natural state."
James Smith was the owner of A-1 Rubbish, a trash company that serviced Portage County in the 1960s and 70s, and later a junk yard in Ravenna. He purchased the property on Cline Road in the 1960s and raised his five children there. He lived, farmed and owned a business on the property until their house burnt down in the 1990s.
"He hung on to the property," Smith said. "It was his place of tranquility. He was a scrap collector. He was into collecting old car parts and antiques. He was a bit of a picker. He loved Cline Road. He loved that property. It was his place to go do what he enjoyed."
In 1901, there was a building on the property used as a chicken coop and a celery tying plant. The swamp area, now considered the wetlands, was used to grow celery. Smith is in the process of clearing out the property for the transfer.
Western Reserve Land Conservancy has preserved 50,000 plus acres in 13 counties in Ohio, from Sandusky to Canton.
"In Trumbull County, we're working on a three mile long wetland," Czayka said. "We raised almost three million to restore a very large ditch to a more natural wetland habitat."
In Portage County, the organization worked with Portage Park District to purchase the 504-acre Burton D. and Margaret Clark Morgan Preserve and is in the process of purchasing 60 acres of wetlands in Streetsboro to give the Park District later this year.