Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A lot of (bad) ideas for the Nature Conservancy's Morgan Swamp camp

The Nature Conservancy’s Ohio Chapter wants to do well by the donation of the former Cleveland City Mission youth camp in Ashtabula County’s Rome Township.

Given the Conservancy in January, the 58-acre former Grand Valley Christian Center camp is loaded with at least 25 buildings, a couple of which are more than 150 years old.

Located adjacent to property already owned by the private land-protection group, the camp dovetails nicely with its Morgan Swamp property. The camp is situated along the Grand River and off Callender Road, which was named after the first family to own the property in the 19th Century.

Back to the 21st Century, the Conservancy is mulling what to do with the site. The goal is to solicit opinions from the community, potential users along with local elected officials.

The first of these meetings was held Tuesday and was geared toward sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts. Other meetings are to take place beginning at 5:30 p.m. on June 14 and again on June 15.

A lot of suggestions were made at Tuesday’s session. Alas, many of these ideas were either too expensive, would not provide a seamless use of the property, or else were redundant since the area already boasts several of the items anyway.

The Conservancy’s mission for the Morgan Swamp area are several fold. Among them is focusing on the Grand River watershed, the conservation prospects for the area, and also for community access and potential uses.

However, any number of the thoughts expressed Tuesday evening in one fashion or fell short of these objectives.

Among the not-so-hot ideas were setting up dog training and field trial programs. Those activities are already being done by two Ashtabula County sportsmens' clubs with the state-owned Grand River Wildlife Area also hosting dog-training grounds.

All three sites are within minutes of the former inner-city youth camp.

Then again the suggestion for an ecological-theme school program is something that is being accomplished now through the local/regional/state/national Envirothon program. This is where school children are tasked and pitted against each other in environmental concepts.

Redundant as well are the suggestions to build an environmental school-age camp where students could learn about nature. A good idea but that’s been there and done that through Lake Metroparks’ Environmental Learning Center and the related Porter Center for Science and Math in Concord Township - about 25 minutes away from the camp.

Lake Metroparks has collected millions of dollars from the federal government in creating the Environmental Learning Center with its state-of-the-art education material, educators and a lot of other whistles and bells that are being used by school districts throughout Northeast Ohio.

Further, a camp telescope would not only compete against the one at the Environmental Learning Center but also go up against the multi-million dollar Observatory Park being built in nearby Montville Township by the Geauga Park District.

Then there was the suggestion to host weddings and receptions at the camp. Not a terribly good idea since the building where such events would be held will demand some serious repairs not only to the structure but also to its kitchen.

Likewise it was suggested that the camp become a place to hold youth activities of the kind now being conducted at a nearby Boy Scout camp as well as a local sportsmens’ club.

Maybe one of the better suggestions was to add a canoe launch site along the Grand River at the Callender Road bridge. But here, too, there leaves the answer that such facilities exist one road south on Route 6 as well as downstream at Fobes, Schweitzer, and Tote roads along with one upstream from the Harpersfiled dam.

Clearly, though, the most pressing need at Morgan Swamp - and overlooked by everyone else EXCEPT for the Nature Conservancy’s personnel - was expanding on the area’s all-peoples trail which is located off Footville-Richmond Road.

Then too, no one in the audience stepped their foot into the arena as to how their pet projects could be funded. As they said in the movie “The Right Stuff,” “If there’s no bucks, there’s no Buck Rogers.”

Neither, for that matter, did the two dozen or so guests volunteer to undertake the design, development, financial and supervisory needs that their ideas would demand in order to bare fruit.

Maybe the best alternative is the one the Nature Conservancy is planning anyway. That being, do nothing. At least for now.

Such a passive look enables the organization to pick and choose the best possibilities as well as reject the bulk those suggestions which simply are either too cost-prohibitive, are redundant or would encounter little use by the public.

Of course there is the danger that the longer the camp's buildings remain unused or unoccupied the quicker they will crumble even further. But sometimes the best way to move forward is to simply stand still.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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