AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — The Ashtabula County Metroparks is inviting the public to the opening of its newest public park this weekend — the fifth opened since a dedicated metroparks levy passed in 2014.
Officials are set to cut the ribbon at 2 p.m. Sunday on the recently donated 52-acre Eyring Wetlands Metropark at 906 Windsor Mechanicsville Road, Austinburg Township, making it the eighth public county metropark.
Former property owner Don Eyring first donated about half the space in 1997; donation of the other half — which allowed the park road frontage, and thus, development opportunity — was finalized in July, said Larry Frimerman, metroparks executive director.
"We wanted to ... take advantage of the fact that it's there, it's beautiful — 'let's get people out there and give them the chance to enjoy it,'" he said.
The park will be open to the public from dawn until dusk for birding, hiking, photography or picnics.
Metroparks officials and wetland and wildlife experts on Sunday plan to offer nature walks along the park's nine miles of hiking and walking trails, which are dotted by remnant farm buildings and natural wetlands habitat now under conservation easement through the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.
Wetlands are considered "Earth's kidneys," as they absorb excess nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen — which can lead to algal blooms and fish kills — through aquatic vegetation, and reduce the impact of stormwater runoff, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"They really do function in a way that's so vital to our ecosystems — for places for water fowl and other wildlife ... that don't flourish in other places," Frimerman said.
Frimerman estimated the county metroparks board has spent $30,000 of metroparks levy funding to install its recently finished parking lot, kiosk and public entrance, as well as signage which is set to be installed this week.
He said the next steps will likely be to develop a place for congregation, like a pavilion, and public toilets.
Eyring could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The county metroparks now boast more than 1,000 acres of habitat and 40 miles of trails, and a host of new improvements to other county metroparks are in the pipeline, Frimerman said.
The metroparks board recently requested bids for trail paving at Conneaut Creek along Blakeslee Road; work is anticipated to begin this fall.
The board is planning to install a pavilion and toilets this fall at the Camp Peet Metropark in Conneaut, which opened last October
A boardwalk spanning a stream and wetlands as well as an observation deck are also planned for the Lampson Reservoir Metropark in Jefferson Township.
Those projects will receive funding through the Civic Development Corporation's 2015 Placemaking Grant, Frimerman said.
"We're beginning to get those projects completed," he said.