Greene County Parks enjoying big boost in annual attendance

On Election Day, 72% of people who voted in Greene County renewed a 0.9-mill, five-year property tax levy to help keep the county’s park system on its current streak of success.

“I told the staff, that means nearly three out of every four people that entered the voting booth supported us,” said Jon Dobney, Greene County Park & Trail’s director.

Dobney comes from a 37-year career in the Ohio State Parks system, but said he left retirement when an opportunity arose to help his hometown’s parks system. In the two years Dobney has directed Greene County Parks, attendance doubled in 2018 from about 300,000 to about 600,000 annually.

Money from the initial Greene County Parks levy approval in 2015 has been used for park reopenings, facility renovations, additional programming and other improvements that led up to the 2018 attendance boom. The levy renewal will cost homeowners about $30 a year per $100,000 of property value, according to the Greene County Auditor’s Office.

“We cut a lot of ribbons this year,” Dobney said. “In 2018, we hired a consultant, we did a survey, we had it statistically weighted so that every community in the county had the same percentage of opportunity to respond. … We found the top five things people said they wanted. I have a white board in my office (where) we keep track of what projects we’re currently doing.

“So I put the top five things people said, and then we set out to do that.”

Using electronic counters in the parks to track attendance, Dobney said 2019 is on track to surpass last year’s numbers.

One of 2019’s biggest projects, reopening Caesar Ford Park, made a big impact on this year’s attendance, Dobney said. The park, with nearly 270 acres that include the renovated amphitheater for outdoor drama performances, had been padlocked for almost 11 years.

“We’re doing a feasibility study to determine what would give it the best return as far as attractions,” Dobney said. “We’re going to still try and use that amphitheater. If you’ve not been out there and you sit in the amphitheater, you would think you’re out in the wilderness somewhere. But you’re seven miles outside of Xenia. It’s just a beautiful spot.”

Other Greene County Parks improvements this year included the instillation of new playgrounds, a renovated boardwalk around the perimeter of Cedar Cliff Falls on Massie Creek and a brand new 18-hole disc-golf course at Caesar Ford Park that opened last month.

A large renovation of a building at Russ Nature Reserve came to a halt when the Memorial Day tornadoes damaged some 900 trees on the grounds.

“We submitted the plans to building regulations on Thursday before Memorial Day,” Dobney said. “And then on Memorial Day the house was destroyed. So we were back at scratch.”

Dobney said Greene County is waiting on the FEMA process to go forward with the reforestation plan. After months of cleanup efforts, the gates to the reserve finally reopened at the start of November.

“I tell the staff the three things that we want to do the most: preserve green space, restore it and enhance it for public use,” Dobney said. “I’d say that right now in Greene County, our profile is very high, higher than its been and we’re doing well. …We’ve got Five Rivers right next door, which is a tremendous organization and they’re very well known. In our community, I think we’re striving to get that recognition.”

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