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Public Square Park Committee Explores Ideas For Riverfront

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — A canoe and kayak water access, a suspension bridge to Granger Island, chimney swift towers, performance stage and porch swings are among the many ideas being considered for Waterville’s new waterfront park. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something nice,” said Waterville city councilman Chuck Larkins, one of several members of a committee looking at ideas for a park along the Maumee River between the bridge and School court. The Ohio Department of Transportation removed the old school to use the land as a staging area for construction on the bridge, set to start in 2018. When the bridge is complete, the former school grounds, Memorial Park and land recently purchased by the city will be blended into one park. “The consensus so far is to have a more passive park,” Larkins said. Instead of playground equipment and basketball courts, the committee members discussed carillons, public restrooms, bike parking and a shelterhouse during their April 18 meeting. Chimney swift towers are structures to attract and house birds that nest and roost in chimneys. Their numbers have declined since the 1980s. A carillon is a set of bells set in a tower, played manually or automatically. Emily Ziegler, of the Metroparks of the Toledo area, presented the idea of a suspension bridge to the Metroparks-owned Granger Island, where platforms could be put in for camping. “If we could do it, it might be the largest suspension pedestrian bridge in the United States. This goes along with plans for the waterway,” Larkins said. The Metroparks is working with Defiance Water and Soil to get the 108-mile stretch of the Maumee River, from the Indiana border to Maumee Bay, as a designated Ohio Water Trail. Signed and mapped trails indicate public access points along the river. Metroparks spokesperson Scott Carpenter said he expects the application to be completed with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources this summer. So far, 30 access sites will be mapped, including Farnsworth, Side Cut, Bend View, Providence and Middlegrounds. “This is all about connectivity,” Carpenter said. “We can market this as a great place to kayak or canoe, with camping and access points.” And while Ziegler’s suspension bridge suggestion may be “pie in the sky,” with an estimated price tag of $2 million, no idea is too outrageous at this point, Carpenter and Larkins agree. “This sparks discussion. Other people may have ideas. Getting there is half the fun,” Carpenter said. Getting to the island without wet feet would appeal to Waterville residents as well, Larkins said. The island is reachable during the dry summer months, and has a rich history. In 1821, city founder John Pray built a dam across the river from the rear of the old school area to the island, in order to use waterpower for a gristmill. In the process, he evicted a squatter named Grainger, according to John Rose of the Waterville Historical Society. He notes that over the years, the island’s name has been spelled both Grainger and Granger. Native Americans once lived and hunted on the land, as witnessed by the tomahawk and other artifacts that the late Herb Mericle found while gardening and building a cottage there. His family enjoyed spending time on the island until 1980, when a fire destroyed the cottage. The Metroparks bought the island in 2011. Pray also laid out the original public square when he mapped Waterville in 1831, Rose said. A large green was used for grazing sheep or tethering a cow, but by 1885 the land was taken over by the construction of a new school. For 130 years, different school buildings occupied the site – until now. “The village will convert the property to a park, thus returning the village square to the people,” Rose said. “Just don’t plan on tethering your cow in the new village square.” About 7,000 bricks from the last Waterville school on that site were saved, for use as a gateway structure at the entrance, said administrator Jim Bagdonas. The canon that was once in front of the school will also be returned to the park. In January, Constance Kreft and Tom Parker announced a gift of $150,000 to the park in memory of their parents, Bill and Mary Ann Parker. As plans for the bridge and park are underway, the city has purchased properties on School Place and River Road. The committee is interested in having the city purchase the blue home between the old school parking lot and Memorial Park, and another home at 30 N. River Rd. A city-owned home at 34 N. River Rd. dates back to at least 1877 and is often referred to by the Waterville Historical Society as “the tobacco house” because of its use over the years, Rose said. Plans are not set for its use when the bridge is done, but that home is currently being rented, Bagdonas said. The public square planning committee includes Jim Bagdonas, public works director Ken Blair, Mayor Lori Brodie, council member Barb Bruno, Phil Enderle, Stefan Faerber, Constance Kreft, Donlyn Meyers, Tom Parker, Peggy Parker and Jodi Shaneyfelt. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Waterville Municipal Building, 25 N. Second St. All are welcome to share ideas.

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