This past year, our dedicated maintenance coordinator, Mick "Big Dig" Owen, spent a good deal of time improving the drainage on the 15-year-old Headwaters Trail after washouts from July storms. Thankfully, he had some help from seasonal worker and volunteer Lee Schaefer. Despite being the only maintenance employee for most of the year, Mick is able to use his lifetime of work skills and a tiny budget to keep up with the many needs in our growing system, (with appreciation to Mick's wife, Alice, who bakes the occasional pie as thanks for some of the many favors he manages to pull to get the job done).
And it's exciting to think about the potential ahead in 2014. We'll be constructing the new Red Fox Boat Access in Shalersville on the Upper Cuyahoga State Scenic River, continuing our education and research partnerships, collaborating to plan for extending our trail system and engaging new park commissioners on our board.
But the new year also brings concerns about the future of Portage Parks. We don't yet have a stable source of funding for our basic operations, and we have plenty of deferred maintenance that we simply don't have the resources to address, especially since grant funds are rarely available for that.
Annual discretionary contributions from the county have provided basic seed money that was essential for getting the park district off the ground, and is greatly appreciated, but that along with funding from the state, has been cut to less than half of what it was just a couple of years ago. Next year's budgeted revenues are now expected to be only $99,500, with $45,000 of that coming from donations and fundraisers managed by our Portage Park District Foundation. It's not enough to meet our needs and it's just not sustainable.
Recently, a "Back Then" photo was posted in the Record-Courier that showed a group of citizens who were advocating for passage of a county park levy in 1966. That effort failed, and without reliable funding that park district was eventually dissolved, losing decades of opportunity. The current Portage Park District was established in 1991 at the urging of many who knew the value of a good park system. Though we've made great progress since, we're not on solid footing and there are still many folks in Portage County who don't know about the park district.
Our work is too important to retreat. Help us build our base of supporters. Visit our bright new website to learn more about the park district and join our mailing list to receive newsletters and event notices at www.portageparkdistrict.org. Visit the parks with your friends and family. "Like Us" on Facebook, and post your pictures and stories of Portage Parks on our wall.
Consider volunteering and becoming a Friend of Portage Parks by donating any amount to our Foundation (or give in honor of a friend). You can make a gift by going to our website or send contributions to Portage Park District, 705 Oakwood St., G-4, Ravenna 44266
Portage Parks gives a priceless gift that everyone can enjoy, now and into the future. I hope you'll help us keep it going.
Chris Craycroft is executive drector of the Portage Park District. Green Portage is a monthly feature of the Record-Courier in cooperation with the Portage Park District Foundation.