LEWISBURG — The Preble County Park District celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special evening at Wild Hearts African Farm in Lewisburg on Saturday, Sept. 9.
The event included dinner, a tour of Wild Hearts with animal encounters, and recognition of the PCPD’s Volunteer of the Year.
Park District Commission Board President Steve Simmons welcomed everyone to the event and thanked those who made the celebration possible.
Wildhearts African Farm’s Amanda and Brian Badger spoke about the facility and Brian’s work with the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
The PCPD has two parks, Garber Nature Center near Lewisburg and Devil’s Backbone Park in Camden. The Preble County Park District consists of three commissioners appointed by the current Preble County Probate Court Judge. Each commissioner serves a term of three years. Current Park District Commissioners include President Simmons, Vice President Kaylee Jo Lebo, and Jeff Sewert. Mindy Davidson serves as the PCPD’s Manager/Secretary and Treasurer.
In his introduction, Simmons shared a presentation which included background of the parks, and plans for the future.
“One of the big things we’re looking at is a natural playground at Garber Nature Center, back in the woods. We want to take a lot of the trees and different things like that, and the logs that volunteers cut up, and we want to make an primitive playground back there,” Simmons said. “Then the other area is the upgrades to the Herbert and Patricia Wagers Memorial Devil’s Backbone Park that’s just getting started. And it is going to need a lot of work to really make it accessible to the public. But we can only take it off one bite at a time,” he said.
“The county commissioners did provide funding to the park district to do a master plan. And we’re in the process of selecting consultants to provide the Master Plan looking out at least 20 years on plans we need to do down here to be able to make the project presentable,” Simmons said of the park.
In a recorded message, Phil Wagers congratulated the PCPD on it’s 20th anniversary, spoke of why the family made the donation of the Devil’s Backbone property to the Park District, and the importance of natural parklands.
“The Garber Farm has become a destination for families and vistors across the state and the Devils Backbone Park is open and starting to take shape. I expect there will be more opportunities like this for the park district in the future to create more parks,” Wagers said. Access to public parks provides opportunities to unwind, reconnect, breathe fresh air, exercise, play, make lifelong memories, and the list goes on. They help us connect with our children to teach them why it’s up to us to be better stewards of the natural world and our environment.
“Public Parks bring people together and make our lives richer and in the case of Devil’s Backbone it transports us back at times when native tribes inhabited it,” he said. “This park is in a truly special place. And if you’ve not been there yet, I invite you to stop by and hike the trails the Park District has built. Or just sit in the scenic overlook and relax.
“Unlike many other park districts in our state, the Preble County Park District does not receive support from any tax money. Commissioners are unpaid volunteers who offer their time and expertise to the betterment of the county. The district’s income is provided by the Garber Farm, by applying for and receiving grants, and by public donations. This is how they have to fund any of the maintenance, improvements or acquisition activities. It’s not easy,” he continued. “So I ask if you believe in the mission of the Park District and their programs, enjoy spending time at the Garber Farm and Devil’s Backbone Park, please consider donating and becoming one of their supporters.”
“The non-profit arm of the Preble County Park District, Friends of the Preble County Park District is the arm that if you want to make a donation. They are the 501C-3 where you may or may not be able to use the donations your taxes. So, donations go to the Friends of the Preble County Park District,” Simmons said.
PCPD’s Volunteer of the Year was also recognized during the festivities. “Without our volunteers, we would be almost lost,” Simmons told those in attendance.
“The Volunteer of the Year has been invaluable to the Preble County Park District since becoming a friend in 2004,” Sewert said. “This friend has of the parks has experience and background managing parks here in the state of Ohio and goes above and beyond. His volunteerism and dedication has further enhanced both the Garber Nature Center and Wagers Devil’s Backbone.”
The award was presented to Friend of the Park District Jon Granville.
The mission of the Preble County Park District is “to create, preserve, protect, and manage a system of parks, nature preserves, green spaces, and outdoor facilities to be held in public ownership with a focus on local, natural, historical, and cultural resources maintained for the leisure use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
The Preble County Park District was created by Preble County Probate Court Judge Wilfrid Dues in January of 2003. The first Park District Commissioners were appointed in February. In March of 2004, the Preble County Commissioners deeded over to the Preble County Park District 100 acres of mixed farmland and forest to be used as the first county park.
The land was donated by a local family, and has been developed as the Allen & Adaline Garber Nature Center. About 33 acres of forest area has been developed into hiking trails. Another 60 acres remain as crop land and is leased out to bring income to the Park District. A wetland was created on some of the crop land and 975 trees were planted in an area adjacent to the forest.
“An ODNR NatureWorks grant helped us build a 400-foot-long handicapped accessible boardwalk that starts at the rear parking lot and ends at a viewing platform overlooking our Old Oak Tree. A second NatureWorks grant helped us build an environmentally friendly restroom, ‘The Eloo,’ that was completed June 2010. The Pavilion was constructed with a third NatureWorks grant and completed early in May 2012,” the PCPD website notes.
In 2016, the Wagers family donated the 24 acres of land near Camden Ohio known as the Devil’s Backbone. Under the Wagers’ care this area has become a wildlife sanctuary with native plants and animals. The area is scenic with limestone formations and beautiful waterfalls.
For additonal information regarding the PCPD, volunteering or donating, visit www.preblecountyparks.org
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on X @emowenjr.