Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks is spending $400,000 in grant money to buy and preserve 80 forested acres within Clear Creek Metro Park in Fairfield and Hocking counties.

"It's prime for logging or development," Metro Parks executive director Tim Moloney said. "For all we know, it could have been a motocross track or completely logged."

The system was able to obtain a $200,000 Clean Ohio grant from the state and a $200,000 grant from the nonprofit Conservation Fund to pay for the property, which is on the southern edge of the park.

The Metro Parks board of commissioners voted to purchase the property at its monthly meeting Jan. 8.

The park, which sits off of U.S. Route 33 and includes more than 5,300 acres, is home to the state's largest nature preserve.

Franklin County property owners fund Metro Parks through a 10-year, 0.95-mill levy that county voters approved in November.

None of that money is going to pay to acquire the property, Moloney said. However, the district will use taxpayer money to pay $20,000 in closing costs and for ongoing upkeep of the property, he said.

Clear Creek Metro Park was created after a landowner donated 1,000 acres to the system in 1973.

The Arc of Appalachia, a nonprofit land-conservation group based in Highland County in southwestern Ohio, offered the new land to Metro Parks after acquiring it from the previous owners at the same price.

Nancy Stranahan, the organization's director, said the group had raised $200,000 in six weeks and added that to $200,000 out of savings to close on the deal.

"We spent it; we get it back," she said.

Stranahan called the property -- the "Fern Gully" area surrounded by three sides of the park -- among the most botanically interesting in Ohio, with hemlocks, several species of orchids and 43 species of ferns. The ravines also are home to 100 species of breeding birds, including 20 species of warblers.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

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