Clark County Parks Dept. exploring construction at Mad River Gorge

Jackson Pope works his way up a limestone cliff as he and his friends, from left, Emily Andrews, Mallory Hutton and Michael Barr rock climb at Mad River Gorge Tuesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Combined ShapeCaption
Jackson Pope works his way up a limestone cliff as he and his friends, from left, Emily Andrews, Mallory Hutton and Michael Barr rock climb at Mad River Gorge Tuesday. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Accessing more parts of the Mad River Gorge and Nature Preserve could become easier if a planned construction project goes through.

The Clark County Park District is preparing for phase two of its development by soliciting assistance from the Ohio National Guard in constructing a limited-access parking lot and a driveway to access the northern part of the property.

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The project also calls for a pedestrian bridge across the Mad River to connect the north and south sides of the park.

Carol Kennard, executive director of Clark County Parks, said that is a move designed to save the department nearly $200,000.

“They have a program where they train National Guard folks on construction, so they partner with local organizations to provide those training opportunities,” Kennard said. “So what that does is it provides the park district with basically that free labor, and at the same time, they are getting the training they need for learning how to build roads.”

The most recent budget estimates the project to cost $962,000, with about $190,000 of that for labor.

To pay for the majority of the project, the department will apply for a conservation grant from Clean Ohio, a state fund for preservation of open spaces, sensitive ecological areas, and stream corridors.

If granted, it would provide 75% of the funding with the parks department left to come up with the other 25%, but the latter would be offset by labor from the National Guard that would be free.

As part the process of trying to gain the guard’s services, the park district is required to issue a public notice it solicited military assistance as well as perform and share an environmental assessment.

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Contractors, labor unions, and private individuals who have questions or wish to voice opposition to military assistance may contact Kennard at ckennard@clarkcountyparks.org or 937-882-6000 no later than Monday.

The beginning of construction, which will take place at Lower Valley Pike and the State Route 4 access ramp in Springfield, is not imminent.

Kennard said it is uncertain when the Clean Ohio Fund grant or the guard’s services will be approved, but the environmental assessment serves as a first step.

“There are a lot of things that are up in the air right now: funding for Clean Ohio, the guard’s focus is obviously elsewhere right now, so I can’t even begin to guess when that might be, but I mean it’s a pretty lengthy process,” she said. “Once we get through this environmental review then we have all the pieces we need to apply for the guard’s assistance, and then I mean that has to go through their approval process, including to Washington, D.C., for approval. So that’s several months, and then it just depends on if there’s money reauthorized for Clean Ohio Conservation Fund grant.

“We’re talking definitely a couple of years out.”

When completed, the area should be more useful for a variety of groups, including climbers who like to take advantage of the natural dolomite cliffs in the gorge.

“We’ve got climbing cliffs on the south side that people are using every day,” Kennard said. “There are also some really good cliffs on the north side, but the challenge is the Mad River’s in between them. So this grant would be to build that pedestrian bridge and build this access drive off of Lower Valley Pike, and a small parking lot that can also be a helipad if we had any emergencies needing to get people out of there quickly.”

The new driveway would not replace the main entrance to the park on Dayton-Springfield Road but rather provide another limited access point for maintenance, an emergency or for groups seeking to use the park for research.

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