Seneca board welcomes newest member

Seneca County Park Board welcomed Bill McAllister of Fostoria as its newest member Wednesday.

McAllister was chosen by Seneca County Probate Judge Jay Meyer, and sworn in Monday. He replaces Russ Rife of Fostoria, who resigned at the end of 2012 because of the other time commitments.

McAllister served as director of Geary Family YMCA, Fostoria, for 18 years until 2005, and retired in January as USA resource director, serving 27 YMCAs in northern Ohio. He worked with YMCA for 37 years.

During his tenure at Fostoria director, the YMCA’s Fruth Outdoor Center was established on SR 18 between Fostoria and Bascom.

“I am a strong believer in the importance of public parks and the benefits of spending time outdoors, and also in giving back to my community through volunteer service,” McAllister said.

In a previous YMCA position, he served a branch executive in Lake County’s Outdoor Family Center.

He said he has experience working with volunteer boards, including strategic planning and board development.

He has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Bowling Green State University and a master’s degree in organizational development and leadership from Springfield College in Springfield, Mass.

During his report, Director Pat Obringer said a new fishing access has been completed at Clinton Nature Preserve, and suggested future Ohio Department of Transportation grant funds be used to provide a parking lot for handicapped access.

Also regarding ODOT funds, the board directed Obringer to send a report to the state ODOT office about the district’s intention to carry over $10,000 from the last biennium to be used for a future road project.

The district gets ODOT grant money every two years to use for vehicle access in the parks.

The board heard from Alec Wagner, who is working on an Eagle Scout project to build a bridge over a creek bed at Mercy Nature Preserve on the grounds of Mercy Tiffin Hospital.

He described his plans to construct the 40-foot bridge so it is completed the new park’s grand opening April 22.

Park committee chairman Catherine Gase said the cooperative agreement between the hospital and the park district “made national news” in a Catholic hospital publication.

Program Director Linda Rose said the best program so far this year has been a Sunday evening full moon hike, despite the lack of a visible moon.

“We had 21 people on the trails and the screech owls were calling,” she said. “It was really a nice night, but no moon.”

Rose, who also serves as preschool administrator and teacher, said one student left and her spot was immediately filled from the waiting list.

She said she still has a waiting list, and students ready to register into the 2015-16 school year.

Obringer said he and board member Roland Zimmerman plan to meet with each park chairman to walk the nature preserves and develop a list of future projects.

The information is to be used to complete a five-year strategic plan encompassing the district’s nine parks.

As background information for the new board member, Zimmerman said the park district hired a company in 2003 to create a strategic plan when Garlo Heritage Nature Preserve was the district’s only park.

“We are still following that plan for the area behind the nature center at Garlo,” Zimmerman said, referring to the reconstruction of historical buildings.

Otherwise, he said park development has depended on when money became available for projects.

Board members discussed the need for a five-year plan as a tool for tracking and prioritizing projects in the nine parks, and as a means of letting the public know how future levy funds would be used.

“Having a good county park system drives economic development,” said Obringer. “When we go for a levy, we have to show value on what you’re giving back.”

McAllister said the plan should include the value of all the hours donated by community members who volunteer in the park system and details of how the parks benefit the community.

“If you can put a value on that, not only dollars-wise, but the whole thing about value and community benefit if you can do that it’s really beneficial,” he said.

The board passed a motion to spend $65 for the park district to join Seneca County Farm Bureau as recommended by board member Carl Miller.

Although the board has not joined other organizations in the past, Miller and Zimmerman said membership in Farm Bureau provides at least two benefits.

“There’s 100 good causes out there, but it’s pretty tough to use donated money to support another cause,” Zimmerman said.

In the case of Farm Bureau, however, the benefits would be working to further cooperation between the two organizations and protecting the park district’s interest in Current Agricultural Use Value for its agricultural land.

Zimmerman said the Farm Bureau membership has influence on whether a levy would pass.

Sharing knowledge and information between the two groups would increase understanding.

After asking if the park district has an endowment program in place, McAllister offered to use his past experience to assist the board in putting one in place through Friends of the Seneca County Park District, an organization that can accept tax-deductible donations.

The endowment fund would allow individuals or estates to bequeath money to the Friends organization for use in the parks.

In other business, the board:

Heard Zimmerman and Obringer met with the two new county commissioners to make them aware of the county parks, and ask for their support.

Passed a resolution transferring $200 to a new travel line in preschool account so preschool assistant teacher Tammy Vargo can attend a continuing education program. Rose attends free because she will be presenting a workshop on children in the outdoors.

Agreed to present an outstanding service award to be awarded at the volunteer recognition banquet March 13.

Heard Crop Production Service has agreed to put siding on West Lodi Church as a community service project later this month.

Heard a Boy Scouts troop is camping at Steyer Nature Preserve this weekend for a winter survival weekend.

The board’s next meeting at the RTA Building is at 7 p.m. April 10.