Manon VanSchoyck hasn't given up, but she certainly has been discouraged.

Manon VanSchoyck hasn't given up, but she certainly has been discouraged.

VanSchoyck, director of Ohio Nature Education, continues to look for a permanent home for an environmental education center where she can house some of the more than 40 animals she keeps that are too ill or injured to survive in the wild.

She thought she found the ideal spot three years ago, when she learned of a nearby swath of farmland that had been left to the community by a former Army general after his death in 1961. At the encouragement of the land's management board, she developed a site-use plan that incorporated a habitat for rescued animals, wetlands, nature center, hiking trails and playgrounds.

Then, after about two years of work on the project, the board rejected the proposal last spring. Now she questions whether anything will happen to the land and is skeptical of the board's intention of upholding the general's wishes.

Perry L. Miles left the more than 170-acre farmstead to be maintained for the "religious, educational and recreational good and benefit to the residents of Johnstown, Liberty Township and the surrounding community," according to his will.

The will stipulated that those entrusted to manage the land provide a gathering place for groups interested in the betterment of mankind and a suitable environment for picnics, camping and recreation.

Instead, the board has rented out a house on the property and the 120 acres of tillable farmland. The money collected goes back into the trust to be invested, and to pay trustee and lawyer's fees.

"What boggles my mind is that this is supposed to be a piece of property that belongs to everyone," VanSchoyck said, adding that she never got a satisfactory answer as to why the trustees changed their minds.

She said her organization conducts more than 300 education programs across the state each year, using the injured animals she keeps at her home to teach participants about Ohio's native wildlife. VanSchoyck thought the Miles estate would make a perfect location to expand those offerings to the community.

VanSchoyck collected dozens of letters supporting the plan from local schoolteachers and students, Girl Scout groups, local business owners, state wildlife officers and surrounding property owners.

VanSchoyck is not the first to question the actions of the property's board. In 2002, residents of Liberty Township sent letters to Licking County Probate-Juvenile Court Judge Robert Hoover, concerned that the land was not being used for the community's benefit.

After a status conference eight years ago, Hoover wrote that "All acknowledged as true that it is necessary to expend funds from this trust to fulfill its purpose and the intent of the trust settler, Perry Miles."

After the current board rejected VanSchoyck's proposal, they found themselves in front of Hoover again, this time saying they would come up with other ways to honor Miles' wishes. That was almost a year ago.

Hoover declined to comment about the case because it is ongoing. A spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office said a charitable law attorney was monitoring the recent probate court activity and will decide whether the state should become involved based on what happens at the local level.

Estate trustee Roger Smith, who was appointed to the position in 2007, declined to comment other than to say the board intends to set up a pair of college scholarships, one each for students at Northridge and Johnstown-Monroe high schools, and has hired a planner to develop a new vision for the property.

Other members of the board could not be reached for comment.

VanSchoyck said the whole situation sends a bad message to those who want to entrust their property to future generations.

"What I don't want to see happen is another 10, 20, 30 years go by and someone has to ask who the land belongs to," she said.

jjarman@dispatch.com