SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP — The Ashtabula County Metroparks is set to receive a $367,000 federal grant to acquire 118 acres of the former Harbor Golf Course and preserve its natural habitat.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-awarded grant passed through the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program and to the county Metroparks, which will look to “protect a significant coastal property and ensure critical migratory bird stopover habitat is preserved within an area of growing residential development,” according to a release from state Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta.

The Ohio Controlling Board approved the allocation Monday.

“This grant money will go a long way toward protecting a lot of natural habitat in our area of the state,” O’Brien said in a release.

The former golf course property encompasses more than 146 acres between Lake Road West and Carpenter Road in the township, across five parcels appraised last year at $484,000, according to county auditor records.

The former owner, Members Group LLC, sold those parcels for a combined $1 million to Hemlock Gorge LLC, a Western Reserve Land Conservancy holdings entity, in late December. Brett Rodstrom, vice president of eastern operations for the conservancy, said their contracted appraiser reached that value based on its development potential and proximity to the lake.

“It’s a pretty solid appraisal,” he said Wednesday. “Up on the lake, we have much higher comparable sales to justify that value.”

The Metroparks plans to use to the new NOAA funding, along with an anticipated $530,000 from the Ohio Public Works Commission conservationist Clean Ohio Fund, a $10,000 grant from Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ NatureWorks Grant Program and about $165,000 from its own coffers to buy the land, tentatively set to happen by April, Rodstrom said.

“The golf course itself used to be a single use ... it was just for golfers that used it. Now, it’s going to be multifaceted use that will include hiking, biking and running,” he said, adding the creek is also home to steelhead trout for fishing.

County Metroparks Executive Director Larry Frimerman said the park also could become a winter spot for cross country skiing or sledding.

The area also serves as a “critical” habitat for migrating birds, Rodstrom added.

“When neotropical migrants fly over Lake Erie — in both directions — they need to stop and rest and feed on areas within one mile of Lake Erie,” Rodstrom said. “Open spaces, especially natural open spaces, that are in that mile buffer zone are critical for birds to rest and recoup before they head onto the rest of their journey.”

After the acquisition’s finalized, Frimerman said the metroparks’ next step will be to stake its sign on the property — and coordinate with Martini’s Restaurant and Lounge, which will remain on the property, for better sign visibility. Then the park will be opened to the public, with parking lot enhancements to follow.

He said officials will look to reach out to the community about activities and projects they’d like to see at the park.

“It’ll be an opportunity to work with the community and create what we hope to be a full-fledged kind of park,” Frimerman said. “We think that it will be heavily used given its location in a population center.”

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