BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With her bare feet in the water, Jeana Inthanamith cast a line out into the large quarry.
The Maumee woman is one of the thousands of annual visitors to Blue Creek Metropark, which encompasses not just the quarry but also the sledding hill, shelter house and walking trails.
Since 2005, Whitehouse has leased its portion of the park from Metroparks Toledo for $1.00 a year. During an April 6 meeting, Whitehouse Village Council agreed to relinquish the lease, giving full authority to the Metroparks organization.
It’s a win-win for the village, Metroparks and most of all, those who visit the park, said Mayor Don Atkinson, referring to planned improvements and increased programming.
Last week, a Metroparks vehicle was parked near near a stack of stones that will be placed around the quarry path, which has been cleared of invasive trees. Native species that are more attractive and beneficial to local wildlife will soon be added, said Scott Carpenter, Metroparks spokesman.
Also new is a kayak rental locker. Similar to one offered at Howard Marsh, visitors can use an app to rent a single-person kayak for $15.00 an hour.
Just east of the quarry is the newly renovated Glacier Shelter, which has a capacity of 100 – or 50 during COVID-19 restrictions. With poured concrete floors, a new grill and a handicapped-accessible walkway, the Glacier Shelter is the largest of all the shelters in the park system, Carpenter said. Reservations for the shelter will be on the Metroparks website by the end of the month.
The biggest changes are yet to come, however. Metroparks and the village are in discussions about improvements to the large parking lot that’s been hazardous for decades.
“We want to tackle that parking lot, adding green islands and parking spots,” Carpenter said. “It’s not designed yet, but it’s on the front burner.”
The main entrance leading into that large parking lot is currently marked by a banner. Expect to see a Blue Creek Metropark sign in the same style as other Metroparks signage, Carpenter said.
“This is more of a priority to get the area up to Metroparks standards,” he said. “We’re in a better position to do that now.”
Another priority is adding a permanent restroom like the prefab unit installed near the Farnsworth Metropark playground and in Keener Park near the Wabash-Cannonball Trail North Fork. While the bedrock around the quarry makes installing utilities difficult, it’s not impossible, Carpenter said.
Other changes will be made as the Metroparks studies how visitors use Blue Creek – including the sledding hill that’s the biggest and busiest in the region.
“In the winter, there’s no better thing to make a lot of people in Northwest Ohio happy like a hill,” Carpenter said, noting that the addition of winter programs is likely.
With the large quarry, Carpenter expects to add more educational opportunities, including the stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking classes offered previously.
“This park has evolved in a very different manner. For a while, it was the Blue Creek Conservation area,” he said. “We like it when people go to Wildwood or Pearson and see a more standardized look. Blue Creek has slowly evolved into that and is used for so many good purposes.”
Over the years, both Whitehouse and the Metroparks have made changes to improve the use of the park, starting with the removal of the chain-link fence that once completely surrounded the large quarry to keep people out. Since then, a boardwalk and viewing area were installed along the south side, and a path was added around the quarry. Eagle Scout Andrew Champion installed steps up the sledding hill.
Blue Creek Metropark spans two municipalities – both Whitehouse and Waterville Township. The township’s portion includes the small quarry pond with fishing and a 1-mile walking trail, as well as the one-of-a-kind native seed nursery.
The sections used by the Anthony Wayne Youth Foundation and White-house Library will be negotiated as separate long-term leases, Carpenter said.
For the village, no longer having the lease means less need to do routine maintenance on the park and the ability to focus on other areas, said Whitehouse administrator Jordan Daugherty.
“So much has changed on Metroparks initiatives in the last couple years, but our lease has stayed the same,” Daugherty said. “By severing our lease, the Metroparks can focus on their priorities in developing Blue Creek, and Whitehouse doesn’t have to maintain it. It just makes sense for the Metroparks to do what they do very well.”