CAMDEN — The stretch of road outside Camden which was once Ohio 725, known locally as “The Devil’s Backbone,” has officially been converted into The Herbert and Patricia Wagers Memorial Park, or simply, Wagers Park.
The Preble County Park District held a soft-opening ceremony for the park on Saturday, Aug. 27, to welcome park-goers and announce plans for the future of the site, as well as lead guided tours of the two trailheads through the property.
The ceremony was opened by Mindy Davidson, Executive Director of the Preble County Park District. “Well thank you for coming out today for this glorious occasion!” she began. “We welcome you to The Herbert and Patricia Wagers Memorial Park, better known as Devil’s Backbone. I’m so glad we could finally get this open, this soft-opening. The park is in a pristine, natural state — we’ve redone some trails, cleaned up the entry way here. We hope you’re going to feel welcome.”
Davidson added, the Park District has added new signs around the park, as well as environmentally friendly restrooms and waste disposal cans. “This area will be left for generations and generations to come. So, the visions of the past come into the present, and hopefully, in the future. Everybody will be able to leave only footprints, and take only memories.”
Davidson took a moment to thank the Wagers family for donating the property to the Park District, and also thanked the Board of Commissioners of the Preble County Park District, Jeff Sewert, J. Stephen Simmons, and Kaylee Jo Lebo. Davidson also thanked Tom McQuiston, a former park district commissioner, Richard Hunter — who is the groundskeeper, and Bev Holland, who is the Program Director for the Park District.
Davidson concluded by thanking the staff and volunteers who made the soft-opening ceremony and presentation of Wagers Park possible. She then introduced former Preble County Engineer and PCPD Commissioner Simmons.
“I echo Mindy’s thoughts — grand and glorious day, long time coming,” began Simmons. “It’s been a long and arduous task, and we have a lot more ahead of us. Some people have been asking about what plans we have. Well, speaking on behalf of the Park District commissioners, our plans are to develop a master plan, so we will know where parking is going to be, where we will put picnic shelters, bathrooms and other amenities.
“That’s kind of our next thing. So, what we plan on doing is taking that master plan and going to different civic groups and people and try raising the funds for these improvements,” he said.
Simmons went on to say the public will have input as to the park’s development, and will be allowed to express their opinions at as of yet unscheduled public meetings.
Simmons closed his statements with a dedication prayer and introduced Herbert Wagers, who gave a few final words.
“It’s nice to see the turn out in support of the park, and while it’s not completed, it’s well on its way. It’s very nice to have it open for everybody to enjoy,” Wagers said. “In 2016, mom and I started talking and said, ‘what should we do with the Devil’s Backbone?’ And mom’s vision, she wanted it to be a nature area, a place for trees, plants, animals, birds, unspoiled and undeveloped. However, the property is pretty secluded down there and it’s easy for unsavory types to come down there and dump, or illegally hunt, take away some of the natural plants which are endangered species.”
Wagers continued, “So we wanted the land to be protected — there are a bunch of sensitive features, being the waterfalls down there, cliffs, and hillsides covered in erosion. We wanted to share it with the public, but we needed to make sure the property was protected.”
Wagers explained, after lengthy deliberation, his family came to the conclusion The Preble County Parks District would be most suited and able to maintain, protect and preserve the park in a way it deserves.
Though Wagers acknowledged some of the folklore and legends surrounding the once infamous Devil’s Backbone, he expressed all he had ever experienced there was serenity and nature, sentiments the Park District intends to maintain.
Wagers concluded by thanking those gathered in attendance and those who have worked to get the park in a presentable state for the community, as well as thanking the Camden Police Department and the Preble County Sheriff’s Department for helping keep the park safe.
McQuiston closed the ceremony with his remarks.
“Those of you that might be my age or a little bit older might remember back before the new road was built, this was 725. And it was a very scenic, beautiful drive through here. I think it’s the intent of the Park District to recreate that atmosphere and make it beautiful and scenic again, because it kind of fell into disrepair over the years, it grew up with undesirable species and such.
“What we’re doing here is going to create a whole new atmosphere, new environment, I think it’s going to be a good thing. We’re just started here,” he continued. “This is just the beginning — a lot of work to be done but there’s a lot of potential here, and a lot of things that can get done. I appreciate the Wagers family, what they’ve done. I appreciate all the work that staff and volunteers have done, my fellow Park District commissioners, and all the work they’ve done.”
The Herbert and Patricia Wagers Memorial Park currently has a mile and a half of trails, and is open to the public during daytime hours. The park motto gently directs visitors to the rules: “Take only memories, leave only footprints,” as the Park District strongly discourages polluting the newly opened preserve.
Among those in attendance for the ceremony included Preble County Commissioner David Haber, Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson, Camden Village Council members Kate Dusky, Debbie Hickman and Jeff Steele; Somers Township Trustee Bill McQuiston, Shannon Steele and Debbie Mason from Camden Comeback.
“The Wagers’ Family donated the Devil’s Backbone property to the Preble County Park District with a vision that it would remain a primitive park, nature preserve and green space for the people of Preble County and future generations,” PCPD officials noted in a statement. “The park is a wonderful place to see native wildlife, plants and trees, limestone cliffs, and rippling waterfalls as the Paint Creek winds beside the through the park. The most scenic aspects of the park can be best viewed by hiking and pausing occasionally to listen and observe its natural beauty. Take only memories, leave only footprints.”
Reach Nathan Hoskins at 937-683-4057 and follow on Twitter @NathanHoskins13.