By MARK TODD



Staff Writer

mtodd@starbeacon.com



CONNEAUT -- Money and manual labor will help put a new sheen on Conneaut's newest and largest municipal park.

"It will be a more useful, enjoyable park as time goes by," said Rod Raker, Conneaut Tree Commission member.

Last year the city obtained two separate grants to help improve the park. The first takes aim at a high water table that makes much of the park too damp for some improvement projects.

"Two-thirds of the park is unusable because it's too soggy," Raker said.

The remedy is a holding pond on the park's west end near the exercise trail. Drainage improvements will channel excess water into the pond.

The pond project also will include the creation of a wetlands area that visitors can reach via a new walkway and observation deck linked to the popular exercise trail.

Last year the park received $29,000 from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for the work. The city and Conneaut Tree Commission will contribute another $32,000, bringing the project total to $61,000.

Conneaut's Public Works Department will be asked to do the bulk of the upgrade, said City Manager Douglas Lewis. Work could commence later this year, when city crews are finished with street paving and other priorities, said City Manager Douglas Lewis.

"It will depend on their work schedule," he said.

There's no rush -- heavy excavating equipment can't enter the park until the property dries out, Lewis said.

The city is looking for partners to help with the project, including volunteer labor, Lewis said. Conneaut's Rotary Club may lend a hand, while inmates at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution could be asked to assemble the walkway and deck, Raker said.

A second grant, this one from Ohio's NatureWorks program, will provide $31,000 for new playground equipment for the park.

The Tree Commission takes a big interest in the Malek Park because of the extensive arboretum it maintains near the exercise trail. The commission plans to expand the arboretum and add shrubbery, Raker said.

The arboretum hosts Conneaut's annual Arbor Day ceremony, an event that has helped the commission earn Tree City USA recognition for 21 years.

Recently, the commission was honored with Tree City USA Growth Award. Only 61 communities across the country received the award, and Conneaut is the only one recognized from northeast Ohio, Raker said.

The Growth Award honors outstanding community forestry programs, according to a statement from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

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