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Plan to turn Ohio golf course into a nature preserve fails, but it's still for sale

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A plan to apply for a state grant to turn Wilkshire Golf Course into a nature preserve will not go forward because it did not receive the required support from Lawrence Township trustees.

Trustees Mike Haueter, Donald Ackerman and Matthew Ritterbeck decided Thursday not to back the efforts of the property owners and a Cleveland-area nonprofit to get a Clean Ohio grant to buy the 182-acre course near Bolivar.

Ackerman said the area already has more than 600 acres of open space at Camp Tuscazoar, plus the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail and Fort Laurens. He said a nature preserve would affect the ability of the Zoar Wetland Arboretum to get volunteers and donations.

“We have a wonderful place here in Tuscarawas County,” Ackerman said. “What can a park offer our community that we don’t already have?”

The area also has green space controlled by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ritterbeck said.

The community would lose about $25,000 a year in taxes if the golf course became a nature preserve, he said.

Ritterbeck said Tuscarawas County commissioners, whose approval would also be needed to advance the grant application, are fiscally conservative.

The 16-member advisory committee of the Tuscarawas County Park Department recommended on Tuesday that county commissioners support the Clean Ohio application, according to Jesse Rothacher, park manager. The recommendation was not unanimous.

But the commissioners will not be asked to act because the township trustees’ lack of support doomed the application.

Most of the residents who spoke about the project at the board’s meeting opposed it.

“I don’t see why we need 182 acres of area for scum to come in and do whatever they want to do in a public park,” said Martha Simon. “I’m just hoping that it doesn’t happen, like in other places, where there’s a problem getting rid of people on drugs and all kinds of stuff.”

Kyle Quillen said he does not support using tax dollars to buy the course.

“I don’t think we need another park in the area,” he said. “I think it would be detrimental to the economy locally down here.”

Quillen said jobs and revenue would be lost, and that there are local people who would buy Wilkshire and keep it in its present use.

The golf course is owned by Beth Easterday Futryk of Powell, Ohio, and Holly Easterday Adams of Savannah, Ga., whose late father and grandfather built the course. They have proposed selling the course to the West Creek Conservancy of Parma, which would have funded the purchase with a Clean Ohio grant.

It would have been operated by the Wilderness Center of Wilmot.

Wilderness Center Executive Director Jeanne Gural said the property would have had trails open to the public with a nature center in the clubhouse. She said Wilkshire would have allowed the nonprofit to serve thousands of children per month, an increase over the hundreds who visit its facility in more remote Wilmot monthly.

But Harry Frank told trustees the nature preserve would become a liability.

“You’re crazy if you approve it,” he said. “Who’s going to take care of it? You’re going to get stuck with the bill.”

Franks said the local hotel would suffer without the golf course.

Golfers patronize local restaurants, Ackerman said.

Kyle Bradford said the property would stink after being flooded because it would stay wet.

But Joe Leslie, director of real estate for the West Creek Conservancy, based in Parma, said returning the land to its natural state would allow it to absorb more water. He said the area would have pollinator habitat.

“The majority of the residents in Bolivar couldn’t care less about pollination,” Bradford replied.

“Farmers should,” Leslie said.

He said the nature center would be an asset that would draw tourists.

Lockport Brewery owner Andrew Marburger said he was excited about the possibility. The brewery is next to Wilkshire.

Futryk spoke in favor of the proposal at the trustees’ meeting. She said the course has been offered for sale, but had not gotten any offer at a fair-market value. She said the course has suffered from floods, a tornado and a declining interest in golf.

The West Creek Conservancy will explore other public and private options for Wilkshire, said Executive Director Derek Schafer.

On Twitter: @nmolnarTR

original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/01/30/ohio-golf-course-plan-fails-nature-preserve/

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