Improvements coming to Ohio’s state parks in 2020

Stonelick Lake at Stonelick State Park in Clermont County, Ohio. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Better customer service, improved signage and more frequent naturalist programming. 

Those are among the numerous suggestions on how to reform Ohio’s state parks system. These ideas were developed by a task force of nature experts and educators. They spent the summer of 2019 traveling to many of the 75 state parks to evaluate them for potential improvements.

They range from notable concerns like staffing and groundskeeping, to the minutiae of Ohio’s parks operations such as parking lot maintenance and uniform standards. 

Branding is another needed area of improvement, according to the task force. One suggestion calls for an overhaul of the state parks website to present images “more reflective of a diverse population.” (Of the dozens of people pictured in a state parks brochure, all but a few are white.) The group also recommends a thorough review of visitor comments on Google, Yelp and elsewhere to determine what people think about the various parks. 

The “Blue Ribbon Panel” was announced in May. Its 14 members met a handful of times over the coming months, eventually presenting a slate of recommendations to Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz. 

ODNR is already taking action on a few of those suggestions, a spokesperson said this week. This includes sharing the individual park reviews with their respective staffs and determining what capital improvements would be needed at each park. 

A number of other ideas would require a greater investment into the parks system: hiring more staff (from groundskeepers to law enforcement) and installing more signage at parks around the state. The task force suggested ODNR “continue to seek funding to invest in these needed improvements.”

ODNR has seen an increase in state funding, from 766 million combined in Fiscal Years 2018-2019 to more than $925 million in FYS 2020-2021. Funding for state parks is going up by more than $30 million in that same time frame.

The task force was led by Paul Palagyi, executive director of Lake County Metroparks. The group included leaders with the Ohio Travel Association; the Columbus-based nonprofit Connecting Kids Inside Out; educators with Hocking College and Wilmington College; representatives from groups such as Burr Oak Alive and Friends for the Preservation of Ohio State Parks; and a student from Toledo University. 

In a similar review of the parks this fall, an ODNR naturalist recently visited all 75 state parks in a stretch of just 10 days.