The National Trail Parks and Recreation District (NTPRD) is expected to dissolve into the county’s park district in July, said NTPRD director Leann Castillo.
The merger has been in talks for years, Castillo said.
In 2019, both the Springfield City Commission and Clark County Commission gave their blessings to park district leaders to explore ways to create a single park system in the county.
“We have two agencies serving the same population with the same types of programs, and working in conjunction,” Castillo said. “Realigning and joining the two would better position us for a stronger future, allowing one agency to serve all of the community so it would offer the same unique services that we do.”
Collectively, NTPRD and the Clark County Park District manage roughly 2,000 acres of parkland, more than 50 miles of multi-use trails and roads, as well as 12 nature preserves, 164 acres of wetlands and more than 12 miles of river.
The combined park system will also manage the Carleton Davidson Baseball Stadium, the Chiller ice rink, Springfield’s skateboard park and Splash Zone, all recreation hubs currently managed by NTPRD.
Each season, NTPRD releases an activity guide that points to events and spaces people living in or visiting Clark County can enjoy. The 2023 winter activity guide was made in partnership with the Clark County Park District and details the transition to becoming one park system.
Both Castillo and Clark County Park District director Carol Kennard state in the guide they view the merger as a way to give those who explore the county a “one-stop shop” for recreation needs.
“We are excited to see what the future holds for one joint, county-wide agency offering our best practices to the residents of Clark County,” Kennard and Castillo wrote.
Castillo said the two districts are carrying lessons learned during the first time the departments became one in order to make a smooth transition.
Starting in 1999, the city of Springfield’s park district and the county’s park district formed a joint park district and had a contract to fulfill their programming and maintenance through the joint district. This move kicked off a 13-year, $17 million capital campaign that included the $6 million Splash Zone Family Aquatic Center, the $2.6 million Carleton Davidson Baseball Stadium and the $8.5 million NTPRD Chiller ice arena.
Other improvements included the Veterans Park amphitheater, skate park on Mitchell Boulevard and upgrades at several smaller parks countywide.
The projects were paid for through a combination of private donations and public money, including a one-year, half-percent sales tax approved by county commissioners in 2001 that generated about $5.5 million. Private donors funded about $7.6 million of the project, while $3.2 million came from the city and another $700,000 from state agencies.
That combined district was led by two governing boards and two directors. The partnership ultimately split into the Clark County Park District and NTPRD in 2009 because of financial hurdles after several attempts at passing a levy failed.
The two districts combined forces years later to advocate for a 0.6 mill, 10-year park, trails and greenspace property tax levy, which has been a huge source of funding for the two districts since its passing in 2011 and renewal in 2015.
Castillo said the two districts have been working with their employees and past leaders of the park district to hear about best practices for bringing the two organizations together.
“I think that’s why we’re being so deliberate and thoughtful moving forward,” Castillo said, “because we want this to work.”
Certain differences are apparent for the districts’ second time joining forces. The future single-park system will be led by a single board governed by five commissioners appointed by Clark County’s probate judge, with Castillo taking over as the executive director of the park district. Kennard is retiring this year, Castillo confirmed.
Kennard was not available for comment.
Clark County Parks District board commissioner Tim Devore declined to comment on the history of the two departments’ time together or current plans for the merger.
Because the Clark County Park District is classified as a park district under the Ohio Revised Code, it has the power to levy taxes, build facilities and trails and more. Castillo said NTPRD is dissolving into the county’s park district.
Funding streams for the single-park system will remain the same as they are for the two districts separately, Castillo said. Both benefit from the $950,000 generated by the countywide parks levy. That money can only be used for parks, green spaces and trails, Castillo said.
Each agency in the parks systems receives income from facility rentals, program fees, donations and grants. Each district also receives local government money, with NTPRD receiving funds from the city of Springfield and a smaller portion of funds from the Clark County Commission.
NTPRD employs 19 full-time employees, a part-time employee and between 70 and 80 seasonal workers to staff recreation buildings or help with maintenance and programming. The Clark County Park District has roughly five full-time and part-time employees in total, with auxiliary officers also employed by the district, Castillo said.
No reduction in employees is planned for the combining of the two districts, and no amenities or buildings are expected to close, Castillo said.
“Everyone is included in this process as we move forward,” Castillo.
Former Clark County commissioner John Detrick, who also formerly served as the president of the Clark County Park District board, said the combining of the two districts is “a great move.”
“It’s bringing together efforts to save money for the taxpayers of Clark County who are going to win with better programs and good fiscal management,” he said.
By the Numbers:
2,000: Roughly the number of acres of parkland park districts cover in Clark County
50: Miles of multi-use trails and roads managed by the two districts
2009: Year the parks districts ended their first merger