Celebrate half a century of protecting nature
Five Rivers MetroParks is turning 50, and everyone is invited to a community celebration! “This park district began as a community initiative and we wanted to remind area residents that we’re still keeping that promise to protect open spaces,” said MetroParks Executive Director Rebecca Benná. “We’re kicking things off with a special event on April 10, and throughout the rest of the year you can find ways to connect with your favorite parks and maybe even learn something you didn’t know about these places.”
The public is invited to a kick-off celebration on Wednesday, April 10, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, 1 W. Second St. “We’re inviting everyone – past and present – who make Five Rivers MetroParks what it is today.”
It may be hard to image that what stands at nearly 16,000 acres with 25 facilities today once was a group of concerned citizens with a vision for the future and a yellow legal pad. In 1959, the Regional Transportation Committee, encompassing Montgomery and Greene counties, discovered that urban sprawl was quickly gobbling up open spaces. The Open Space Study Committee, led by landscape architect and land planner Harold R. Freiheit, published “A Legacy for the Future: A Plan for Open Space in Greene-Montgomery Co.” The study pointed out that, at the current rate of growth, there would be little open space left in the Dayton metropolitan area in a matter of years. Existing parks would not be adequate to meet the needs of the growing community. Dayton Journal-Herald editor Glenn Thompson was concerned with these findings and sought to encourage the local community to take action. He gave a presentation to the Garden Club of Dayton and the group rose to the occasion, forming the Save Open Space Committee.
The Garden Club of Dayton and the Four Seasons Garden Club sponsored a meeting at the Patterson Homestead with Felix Rimberg as guest speaker. Rimberg had been involved in Freiheit’s study and was chairman of a group that later became the Regional Planning Commission. Representatives from the garden clubs, Audubon Society, Isaac Walton League and the business community were present. Everyone who entered the meeting signed a yellow tablet strategically place on a table near the room’s entrance. After Rimberg’s speech, Garden Club of Dayton member (and eventual park commissioner) Jean Woodhull announced that those who had signed the yellow tablet were now members of the Save Open Space Committee and should go forth and assist in saving green space. Thompson was elected president of the committee.
After months of campaigning, local attorney Charles S. Bridge drafted a petition to submit to the county probate court, requesting the creation of a new park district. Bridge was able to secure the required signatures from 17 cities and townships in Montgomery County – representing 83 percent of the county population. The overwhelming support made then-Probate Judge Neal Zimmer’s decision easy to give approval to the park district, and on April 8, 1963, the Dayton-Montgomery County Park District was born.
Drylick Run, now known as Carriage Hill MetroPark, was one of the first parks to be part of the new district, followed by Possum Creek, Sugarcreek and Englewood. An agreement with the Miami Conservancy District in 1967 brought lands adjacent to the earthen dams – the rest of Englewood, along with Germantown, Huffman and Taylorsville – into the park district’s lineup. The name “Five Rivers MetroParks” wasn’t changed until 1995, reflecting the five large bodies of water that comprise the Miami Valley’s watershed: Great Miami, Mad, and Stillwater Rivers and the Wolf and Twin Creeks.
Today there are 18 major MetroParks and several conservation areas dedicated to setting aside space specifically as habitat. In fact, Five Rivers MetroParks enjoys an industry-leading ratio of 90 percent natural spaces to 10 percent developed areas. “We never would have come this far without the efforts of citizens,” Benná said. “How critical were those early days when someone needed to be bold and step up and say, ‘we need to protect these natural spaces’? We’re proud that we can continue that tradition of maintaining these natural areas for the enjoyment of park visitors for generations to come.”
The celebration continues throughout the year. The art exhibit will be on display at the Schuster Center April 10 through May 10, then will travel to Rosewood Arts Centre in Kettering from June 4 through July 31. Additional exhibition dates will be posted online at metroparks.org/history. “This is no ordinary art exhibit,” Benná said. “The artists were generous enough to give us some liberties with their creations and we ‘hid’ quick-response codes and telephone extensions within each piece.” The QR codes, which can be scanned with a smartphone or tablet application, will take the user to a special website that will play a video. “The video will either feature a person of historical significance to Five Rivers MetroParks or a clip that describes a specific asset that MetroParks contributes to the community,” Benná said. Similarly, telephone extensions will direct callers to a secret message about the parks’ history or about a function of the park district.
In addition to the art installation, park patrons should be on the lookout for 50 Things to See and Do, a compilation of “hidden” elements of the parks. This, and links to more historical items, can be found at metroparks.org/history.
Five Rivers MetroParks’ 50th Anniversary Celebration takes place Wednesday, April 10 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Schuster Center Wintergarden, 2 W. Second St. For details on Five Rivers MetroParks’ 50th anniversary, including links to the online archives, details on the travelling art exhibit and the 50 Things to See and Do, visit metroparks.org/history.
Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at ValerieBeerbower@DaytonCityPaper.com