By Carol McIntire Editor
Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) officials provided the first public glimpse of a $160 million capital improvement project last week to members of the news media.
John Hoopingarner, MWCD executive director/secretary, outlined the project, referred to as the park master plan, to upgrade facilities and trails at campgrounds over the next 5-7 years. Funds for the project will come from oil and gas revenues.
“The project is actually underway at Atwood Park,” Hoopingarner said noting Phase I of a walking trail should be completed this week and a construction of a new $1.6 million, 4,200 square foot welcome center is underway at the park entrance.
“Walking trails are the number one amenity at district parks,” he noted. “The trail at Atwood is being built as a prototype in our own backyard so people can see it and use it. Hopefully one day we will be able to build a trail around Atwood Lake.”
Phase I includes the construction of the trailhead at Atwood Marina West and applying an asphalt coating to the surface of the 10-foot wide trail to the park entrance near the welcome center. From there, Hoopingarner said, the trail will connect to existing trails within the park.
Phase II includes the construction of a bridge over the bay area and will begin later this fall after drawdown of the lake is complete.
The new welcome center will be located at the previous site of the gate into Atwood Park and include a one-way road on each side of the building, a reception area, offices and a meeting room. A similar center is planned for Tappan Lake Park. Plans are to have the center completed and ready for use when the park opens in the spring of 2016.
Other improvements for Atwood include the construction of a multi use recreation center near the beach area, the addition of new vacation cabins, improved campgrounds and playgrounds, installation of a zipline and a water feature for children.
Improvements at the campgrounds include redesigning lots to make them pull through sites and separating RV camping from primitive camping.
“We also plan to upgrade the playground areas and add a water feature with water sprays for kids,” Hoopingarner said.
“We also plan to add ziplines, which could be very exciting.”
There are also plans to “beef up” the nature center and the programs offered there, according to the executive director. “We want to tell people why the lakes are here and why they’re important to the area,” he explained.
A zipline and a ropes course are also planned for Tappan Lake Park.
Hoopingarner called the oil and gas money a “game changer” for the district.
“We want to build things that people will use and the district will see a return on,” Hoopingarner said, “but we must also be responsible with those funds.”
Funds were generated by leasing 37,000 acres of MWCD-owned land to oil and gas companies over the last four years and by selling water to the industry. The first lease netted the district a bonus payment of $2,400 per year for land at Clendening Lake. The latest lease, at Piedmont, netted a bonus payment of $15,000 per acre for a total of about 100 million. He noted not all MWCD-owned land is leased.
During the presentation, Hoopingarner highlighted projects undertaken by the MWCD to meet its mission of being “responsible stewards dedicated to providing the benefits of flood reduction, conservation and recreation.”
Historically speaking, he noted the district was formed in 1933 and today consists of a series of 16 dams and 10 reservoirs that have prevented over $ 11 billion in flood damage. The dams were constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and manage them.
The MWCD owns and manages the reservoirs behind the dams. The dams aged over the years and were in need of extensive repairs. The U.S. Army Corps approached the MWCD armed with legislation passed in 1988 that allowed them to seek local support for repairs.
To meet that need the MWCD enacted an assessment on property owners within the MWCD. $2 million of the $10 million collected between 2000 and 2009 was used to help repair the Dover Dam (a $60 million project) and $10.2 million has been committed to the Bolivar Dam project (a $34.1 million project). Assessment funds are also being used for shoreline stabilization projects at the 10 reservoirs. “We are chipping away at the 550 sites at the rate of five to 10 projects per year,” Hoopingarner noted.
The MWCD reduced the assessment by 50 percent. Funds are also being used for dredging, which is taking place this year at Tappan Lake, and the Partners in Watershed Management program, which has funded 53 projects at a cost of $3.5 million over the last seven years.
The district is also committed to a water quality project, which, Hoppingarner said, will allow the district to “keep ahead in the event any algae blooms appear or an oil spill occurs.
The gage stations installed in the reservoirs as part of the program will allow us to monitor water quality and will put safeguards in place,” he explained. He stressed to the group that assessment funds cannot be used for any of the capital improvement projects and the MWCD must “be careful in how the oil and gas funds are managed because of the drop in oil prices.”