Our Towns: Park Is Boardman’s ‘Green Oasis’

BOARDMAN Township, Ohio – On any given day at Boardman Park, there is much to do. Visitors take walks on their lunch breaks. During the nine-week day camp held each summer, kids run from station to station. Office workers eat lunch in the shade of the many trees for a quick reprieve from their busy days.

And for the park recreation director, Karen KcCallum, that’s the best thing about the 227 acres the park covers.

“I enjoy the energy of the park. They’re using the park as it was intended, for its beauty,” she says. “The fact that people want to plan their graduation party at the park gives me a sheer excitement. I enjoy seeing dogs walked, families going to the community garden, seeing all these people using every facet of the park.”

While the park is certainly popular with those who simply cruise in on a weekend or break for lunch, it hosts a multitude of events every year. Since she arrived, McCallum has helped broaden and diversify them.

The mainstays now are the summer camp, the Music in the Park series and the family events such as the Father-Daughter Princess Dance.

“Our parent-child events have been a huge success. With the father-daughter dance, we’ve grown from one night a year back when I first started to now four nights that sell out fast,” McCallum says. “We are constantly growing because this area embraces that family time.”

One event that’s spread beyond Boardman Park is the Baby Garden Boutique, which gives parents a chance to sell items to other parents for their infants and toddlers.

“Other places have taken the idea and rolled with it,” she explains. “We do it twice a year and we’ve seen other communities take the program and make it their own. It’s blossomed into a huge event.”

But what McCallum calls the “non-event” aspect of the park – people simply dropping by as time permits – is what makes it so popular. Annual attendance ranges around 450,000, according to Daniel Slagle, executive director, and is climbing.

“Our programs continue to increase [in attendance] year after year,” Slagle says. “The 2014 numbers indicated a 3% increase over 2013, which tells us that there’s still an appreciation for parks and what we have to offer. If our numbers weren’t that good, it’d be clear that we’re going in the wrong direction.”

That attendance is split pretty evenly between Boardman residents and outside the township, he adds.

Slagle says his favorite part of the park is the natural habitats – 167 acres of mostly untouched woods, roughly two-thirds of the park.

The natural habitat is a sanctuary for numerous species of plants and animals. As a park brochure states, “The natural area also protects McKay’s Run, a major tributary of the Yellow Creek Watershed. And the park also preserves 15 acres of wetlands.”

The park offers four miles of walking trails through the wild life habitat spread among 12 marked trails that range from 370 feet to 0.9 mile.

“It’s all about the benefits of a park. In today’s world, people are busy and they want somewhere to relax, enjoy nature and exercise. It’s a place to unwind,” Slagle says.

Then there are the buildings – the 13 pavilions, meeting halls and community centers – that bring people in. The best known is the St. James Meeting Hall, a former church built by the descendants of the founder of the township, Elijah Boardman.

“It’s sometimes called the Church of the Boardmans,” Slagle says with a smile.

Some 300 weddings are held annually in the hall. During the summer, the height of wedding season, three – sometimes four – weddings are conducted on a Saturday.

“The people who get married there like it because it’s unique, it’s a historical landmark and, on some occasions, people who aren’t a member of a church find it the perfect location,” he continues. “If people want to get married on a certain weekend and can’t get in on Saturday, they’re willing to change their date to Friday or Sunday.”

Among the biggest advocates for the park are the Boardman Township trustees. Board Chairman Brad Calhoun says the park has long played an important role for his family.

“I used to coach Little League there. I met my wife there. We got engaged there. We took our pictures at Boardman Park,” he says. “One of my proudest moments was walking my dad at the Memorial Day ceremony five or six years ago. He said he’d never been honored like that. And it was all at Boardman Park.”

Driving the park’s income is renting the use of its facilities, most often the community centers, pavilions and meeting halls. Reservation fees are collected for each event, whether the bocce courts or St. James Meeting Hall, and account for about 20% of the park budget. The rest, Slagle explains, comes from two levies – one for 0.6 mill, the other 0.3 mill – that took effect in 1983.

Combined with the income from reservations, that means the park operates on a budget equivalent to when it was created in 1947. The park budget is around $1.2 million.

“I did an informal survey asking what other parks had operated on their original levy amount or longer,” Slagle says. “Of the members we heard back from, none had a longer levy history than Boardman Park. Even though it’s unofficial, I can safely say there’s no other park in Ohio that’s operated longer than we have on the same tax revenue.”

It hasn’t been easy, Slagle allows, but a good relationship with the community has eased the burden. Just outside the main office, a board displays the names of 38 sponsors.

“Our budget is pretty well restricted,” he says, noting that tax levies don’t allow for inflation. “Thankfully, we’ve developed some good internal revenue streams and worked well with people to make donations or be program sponsors.”

The most recent addition is the Paws Town dog park, something Slagle says is one of the biggest trends in community parks across the country.

“They are just off the charts and Paws Town is something that serves the community well,” he says. “Not only are people coming to the dog park, which is membership only, but we find there are more people in the rest of the park with their dogs.”

With the weddings, family reunions, baseball games, the leisurely lunches, family movie nights and other events that keep Boardman Park in use, it park has long lived up to its nickname, “The Green Oasis.”

“The park lends itself to a host of different opportunities,” McCallum says. “A lot of people, even from outside of Boardman, come here to congregate, to breathe and to really be part of a community.”

Pictured: Nocole Kautz and Elizabeth, Charlotte and Joseph Voytko are among the 450,000 visitors to Boardman Park every year.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.