Vinton County Probate Judge Robert Grillo approved without opposition the creation of the Vinton County Park District at a hearing on Friday, Nov. 12. Motions were officially filed on November 15. The park district was first proposed by Vinton County Marketing Director Caleb Appleman on behalf of the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau at a county commissioners’ meeting in September. The commissioners then passed Resolution 9-28-21, which served as application to the probate judge to consider a hearing for its creation.

Appleman presented evidence to support that a park district would be to the benefit of the county, and provided plans, concept artwork and letters of support from local organizations.  He is also developing a strategic plan that will identify areas of the county where parks would be ideally located to promote economic growth.

The park district will be used as a tool for economic development, capturing some of the more than four million visitors who visit Hocking Hills State Park every year. 

“There are beautiful areas of our county away from the existing state parks and forests, but there isn’t much for a visitor to do other than drive past private property.  We can use the park district not just to conserve scenic natural areas and historic sites, but to build tourism assets that will provide recreational and educational opportunities,” said Appleman.  “If you look at a map of Vinton County, you can clearly see our primary attractions are all located on the edges of the county.  Over time, we’re going to fill in the blank spaces on that map with new parks, preserves, and trails.”

Authorized under Section 1545 of the Ohio Revised Code, the Vinton County Park District is an independent political subdivision governed by a three-person board of commissioners appointed by the county’s probate judge.  Candidates ideally have backgrounds in natural resources conservation, tourism or economic development. These persons serve overlapping, three-year terms without compensation. Judge Grillo appointed Vinton County Commissioners’ Development Department Director Terri Fetherolf, Lake Hope State Park Assistant Park Manager Lori Grupenhof and Moonville Rail Trail Association President Brian Blair. Together, they have extensive experience in tourism and park management, environmental conservation, and economic development.

The board will hire a director to oversee day-to-day operations and represent the board in most matters. The primary functions of the board are to review and approve land acquisitions and financial transactions, assess taxes, implement policies and regulations, and make other decisions as initiated by the director. Once a meeting location has been determined, the board plans to meet once a month and as needed, with meetings open to the public. Meeting minutes will be publicly available on the park district’s website, www.vintoncountyparks.org.

The mission of the Vinton County Park District is to conserve, protect, and enhance the natural and historic resources of Vinton County, while providing quality outdoor recreational and educational opportunities for residents and tourists alike. An explanation of the park district’s vision and core values is available on its website. Appleman’s strategic plan will outline steps toward achieving the park district’s goals, which include: acquiring and preserving local natural and historic sites; working with Ohio Department of Natural Resources on a plan to reintroduce elk; working with the county and townships to build offroad-friendly trail systems; and supporting economic growth in Vinton County. Some programs that are in early stages of planning include a Historical Marker Program, Community Conservation Corps, and Legacy program to address donations of land and other resources.

Appleman said of the park district’s creation, “By implementing the park district, we’ve laid a foundation for preserving natural and historic properties in Vinton County that can be tourist attractions. This is our county government’s first major step toward taking an active role in transforming our local economy from one based on mining and timber to one based on tourism and outdoor recreation.”

Although the park district will begin without major funding sources in place, the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau will donate funds as needed. With vandalism and illegal camping at Moonville Tunnel a rising problem, the park district hopes to secure additional financial support from the Moonville Rail Trail Association to hire a park ranger who will cooperate with the sheriff’s office to patrol the rail trail and other park areas. Additional revenue will be generated by vacation cabin rentals, special activity permits, and fines.