Misty Valley Park – Then, Now, Tomorrow

July 10, 2021 – By Kimber Caito, Media Coordinator, Fairfield County Park District

Stone Outcrop at Misty Valley Park

There are three properties for which master plans have been prepared.  These are not yet open to the public so you cannot visit, but you can learn what is planned for their futures.  One is Hansel Park, about seven miles east of Lancaster.  Another is Misty Valley Park in Sugar Grove.  Today, I want to tell you about Stoney Hill Park.

THEN (before 2017)  The 13-acre site in Berne Township was acquired in 2015 by purchase from the Pierson family.  Gorgeous stone outcrops and topography, a log-framed house, a smaller log cabin, and the Shade and Hummel covered bridges grace the former private farm.

NOW (2017-2020)   A long-time volunteer, Roger Grossenbacher, purchased 1,200 trees from Fairfield Soil & Water Conservation District’s annual tree sale and donated them for Stoney Hill Park!  Of course, trees improve habitat for wildlife and beautify the park, but his motivation was more altruistic – to combat climate change.  Some scientists say the planting of trees is one of the simplest and least expensive things that can be done to sequester carbon.

WHITE PINE was selected for the Hamburg Road side of the park to provide a nice buffer.  Because it grows quickly, it will sequester a lot of carbon.  To reforest another section of the park, native trees were selected.  TULIPTREE is often mistakenly called ‘tulip poplar’ but it is not a poplar at all; it is a magnolia.  It is a fast-growing tree that will soon provide food and shelter for native birds and other animals.  RED OAK will not grow as fast as Tuliptree, but it grows faster than many other oak species.  They will provide a very valuable food source – acorns!

WITCH HAZEL and EASTERN REDBUD can grow very well in the rocky soils found at Stoney Hill Park.  A healthy forest needs a healthy understory, the layer of trees and shrubbery that grows beneath the forest’s canopy.  These two smaller species will provide that.  Their growth will help the other trees thrive by decre

When taking over as Director of Fairfield County Park District in 2017, Todd Younkin had to establish a plan of action.  Master Plans for five parks were developed and prioritized – they were 1) Smeck Park, 2) Mambourg Park, 3) Stoney Hill Park, 4) Hansel Park, and 5) Misty Valley Park.

Misty Valley Park is one of the least accessible properties, on a single-width road.  One of the contractors who bid for mowing services even dropped his quote because he was not able to get equipment to and from the park.

Another issue with this property is that there are so many structures on it that do not meet current guidelines for public access.  Every structure needs major work to make it pass inspection for safe public use.

In 2019, during the heavy storms of late spring (early summer) two large trees came down on Shade Covered Bridge.  The already-weakened structure was damaged, possibly beyond repair; a complete renovation would be needed.  Questions that needed to be addressed were:  How much money should be put into a bridge at a location that cannot be opened to the public for some time?  Would it be better to move it to another park location where it can be appreciated?  Would it be best to wait until the park can be opened?

The first verbal quote received to renovate the Shade on-site was several hundred thousand dollars!  How could we justify spending almost half of the District’s annual income on just one structure in a not-yet developed park?

There have been rumors that it is FCPD’s intention to demolish the bridge.  That is not true.  If true, the bridge would have been torn down when the trees came down on it a couple years ago.  While we admit it could be an eventuality, discussions about the best method to save it have never stopped.  We have been hoping an interested group would take up the cause and create a fundraiser to get enough money to save it.

In late 2019, an engineering firm was contacted to get a fresh perspective and an unbiased opinion on the best use of the property.  A few ideas were suggested.  One we felt was most promising was to create Misty Valley Seed Nursery & Resource Center.

The property would have a native prairie plot, shade and understory planting plots, pollinator plot, a heavily wooded area, a drying barn, an interpretive resource and education center for use by educators and students, and a trail with footbridges.  In this scenario, the existing Shade structure could be repurposed and used as much as possible in the new drying barn and resource center structures.

TOMORROW.  Whatever plan is ultimately chosen for this property, it must be a fiscally responsible use of levy funds balanced with the need for a park in that sector of the county.  Rhododendron Cove, Clear Creek, and our own Wahkeena Nature Preserve are nearby, so another nature preserve would be redundant.  We cannot change the road access situation.  At this time, a seed nursery and education resource center seems to be the most reasonable plan.  Discussions are not final.  A new Director of Fairfield County Park District will soon be appointed.  Misty Valley will be one of the projects on the agenda!

THANK YOU to Fairfield County residents, for supporting Fairfield County Park District!  We appreciate you and the trust you have placed in us, permitting us to care for the more than 1,046 acres of important and beautiful parklands in Fairfield County.

Get outside, beat pandemic fatigue at Fairfield County Parks – We’re here for you!  Find these and all locations at fairfieldcountyparks.org.

And…watch for more ‘Then, Now, Tomorrow’ stories.

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