The Arc of Appalachia received support from the Highland County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday to move forward in seeking grants for land purchases that will expand the Highlands Nature Sanctuary.
Nancy Stranahan of Arc of Appalachia said the organization has three properties in mind for submission to the state of Ohio’s Clean Ohio Grant, which funds 75 percent of land purchases. The largest property is off Barrett’s Mill Road, she said, and is about 200 acres. According to Stranahan, that land is the largest remaining forest around the sanctuary, and has been professionally managed well over the last couple decades.
Stranahan said she was coming to commissioners because the state doesn’t want “Clean Ohio going into a community that doesn’t want it.”
She said another reason for seeking the county’s approval was because once it purchases a property it becomes tax exempt, which is a loss for the county. But she said the organization also contributes through other tax streams. Additionally, she said the organization hopes to be able to provide more Eco-tourism for the area.
But the bottom line, she said, was that the grant submission for property purchases should not happen without the consent of the county. But support was given when commissioners passed a resolution backing the efforts of the organization.
Stranahan said the nature sanctuary, formerly The 7 Caves attraction, was first purchased in 1995 and now incorporates nearly 2,200 acres. “The goal,” she said, is to preserve the whole corridor between Rocky Fork and Paint Creek state parks, something she said is already more than halfway accomplished.
The not-for-profit conservation group ARC of Appalachia has 15 preserves, mostly in surrounding counties. But the Highlands Nature Sanctuary is the “hub,” she said. It also manages Fort Hill and Serpent Mound.
The sanctuary is open April through October, and the available lodgings, she said, are typically “booked solid,” mostly by people from Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati.
Stranahan said that locally it seems the organization is still having to overcome the rumors that the sanctuary is closed. She said it is not closed. The Appalachian Forest Museum and Trails are open seasonally on the weekends and are free to the public. She said, too, that the organization is working toward opening its major trails to the public over the next three years. That project requires installation of signage, parking lots, bridges and stairways first.
She said sanctuary staff are also working to get more educational programs in place for students and a visit to Rainsboro is already set up for April.
For more information, go to arcofappalachia.org. There, more can be found out about the Highlands Nature Sanctuary. To contact staff with questions or how to set up a student program, call 937-365-1935.
In other business Wednesday, recycling funds for Clay Township to help with a large tire cleanup and also a large amount of trash was a matter of discussion.
As previously reported in December, Clay Township received a $3,500 grant through commissioners that had been secured through the county’s solid waste district to help the township clean up a mess of tires. Last week, Clay Township Trustee Kenneth Bohl said there were 1,516 total tires and the cost to clean them up came to $4,599. He said there was also a mess of trash to clean up, and the estimated cost of that could be $6,000-$7,000 more.
Commissioner Shane Wilkin said Wednesday a suggestion from Jennifer Waterman with Highland County Recycling was for matching funds with a maximum limit for each township each year. It was an idea that commissioners Tom Horst and Jeff Duncan also agreed with.
Commissioners said Wednesday they will meet with prosecutor Anneka Collins to draft a policy for recycling grant money usage by townships each year. That policy is anticipated by next week’s meeting, Wilkin said.
The owner of the property is incarcerated and the accumulation of tires on the property was previously deemed to have become a public nuisance, which is why the township got involved.
A meeting between the county and contractor Randy Gilbert of Gilbert Construction is set for Friday, Wilkin said. Commissioner Jeff Duncan will be in attendance.
Gilbert is seeking arbitration with the county over his dispute of penalties assessed by the county’s architect, DS2, on the Hi-Tech Center improvement project that is now more than 90 days past deadline for completion.
Collins said last week she would “have absolutely no problem” in meeting with Gilbert’s attorney to work through the matter.
The Highland County Board of Commissioners meets each Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. The meetings are open to the public.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.