Columbiana County Park District Mulls Levy to Stay Afloat

LISBON, Ohio – With 950 acres of park area and 17 miles of bike trail to maintain, the Columbiana County Park District is trying to increase its revenues. And one commissioner says the district could be broke within three years if it doesn’t.

Speaking this week before East Liverpool City Council, park commissioner Thomas Butch said the district is making the public aware of the organization’s operations and financial needs. 

Butch said the park district operates on a $70,000 annual allotment that started 10 years ago when it received a one-time signing bonus for a gas and oil lease from its Greenway Bike Trail in Lisbon.

It also receives $15,000 annually from the county commissioners, a small amount in gas and oil royalties from the Scenic Vista Park site in Lisbon and donations, for an annual total of about $25,000. 

“That’s what we’ve been operating on the last 10 years – that signing bonus and the $25,000,” Butch told council. “But it’s been going down every year, and in two to three years, we’ll be broke. So, we have to come up with some dedicated funding.”

Butch said park commissioners are considering putting a levy on the November ballot. A 2020 park district levy failed by a close margin.

“That was a tough year with the pandemic, and we couldn’t get (information) out to these meetings around the county, but even with all that, it came out pretty close,” Butch said. “We didn’t fare too badly on the results. So we’re talking about it again this November. We have to do something. This would keep our parks going.”

In addition to the Greenway Bike Trail, the park district maintains the Supreme Court Picnic Area on state Route 7 north of Middleton, which is the site where the Ohio Supreme Court first met; Hellbender Bluff, a park on East Liverpool Road north of Calcutta; and the Scenic Vista Park off U.S. Route 30 in Lisbon.

The unpaid five-member park district commission relies heavily on volunteers to help maintain the sites and administer programs.

Some of the projects commissioners hope to accomplish with additional funding include updating the popular bicycle pump track and building a play area with swings at Hellbender Park; improving the disc golf course and adding a permanent restroom at Scenic Vista; and investing in administration that would enable them to acquire more grant funding to host more public programs, add a kayak and canoe launch, and improve signage.

The district has applied for state funding to pay for a study to determine the best route to connect its Greenway Trail to a trail built by the city, Butch said. For many years, it was assumed that the connector trail would run alongside Little Beaver Creek but no plan has ever been prepared. There are also concerns about constructing a bike trail along the creek, which has been designated a wild and scenic river, Butch said. 

Conservation easements with permanent deed restrictions along the route are also a concern.

“Quite a few people believe it cannot be constructed along Beaver Creek, while others think it can,” Butch said. “That’s why we want to hire a consultant.”

The Greenway Bike Trail is now 22 years old, which Butch said is “way past the life expectancy of asphalt.” It also has maintenance-related issues such as overdue culvert repairs.

Butch pointed out the Greenway Trail is part of two regional trail systems: the Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway Coalition and the Industrial Heartland (I Heart) Trails, which encompasses more than 1,500 miles of shared use trails in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and southwestern New York with a main corridor in Pittsburgh.  

The Great Ohio is almost fully constructed from Ashtabula to Western Reserve Road in Mahoning County. Mill Creek MetroParks is trying to finish it from Western Reserve to Washingtonville in Columbiana County, according to Butch.

“Our [segment], from Lisbon down to the Ohio River, is the biggest gap remaining in the trail,” he said.

The I Heart Trails will be the biggest in the eastern United States, according to Butch. “It will bring a lot of people… which is why it’s important to get our bike trail finished,” he said.

Butch said the parks commission is interested in hearing the public’s input. He encouraged them to take the survey HERE.

Pictured: Hellbender Bluff Park awaits visitors off East Liverpool Road. It is part of the Columbiana County Park District.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.