Metroparks Toledo Showcases the Future of Urban Open Spaces By Ed Conn Late October of 2020, I was on a walk on the river trail at Side Cut Park when a passerby in mask signaled a "We're #1" sign to me. I looked around to see I was wearing any team gear that would have warranted a sporting response when my walking mate told me what that was all about: that Metroparks Toledo was named No.1 large-city park for 2020 by some group called the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration.” “Well that is cool,” I thought. At home, I looked up the release to read that Metroparks earned the National Gold Medal Grand Plaque Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management. Turns out, this is really big stuff which in normal times is awarded at an annual conference attended by 20,000. The win puts Toledo in the same class as park districts in larger cities known for outstanding facilities, like past winners Chicago, Cleveland, Austin, Charlotte, and Portland, Oregon. This announcement came a week before voters would ultimately approve a two million tax increase that would generate $16 million more in tax revenue for Metroparks Toledo over the next 10 years. Dave Zenk, Metroparks Toledo Executive Director, said this revenue will be necessary for complete the vision for completing the Glass City Metropark along the Maumee River in East Toledo as well as other river-based projects. Scott Savage, the Metroparks Toledo board’s president, said he is thrilled the local park district was chosen as the nation’s top among large cities in 2020. “Our community has supported conservation like no other, from passage of a land levy 18 years ago that was the catalyst for connecting parks and people to parks, to Issue 17 on access to green space for everyone,” Mr. Savage said. "Each step of Metroparks’ progress since 1928 refl ects a community that values natural resources and the role these treasured parks play in creating a great place to live." An indication of how parks will lead Toledo into the future was the recent dedication of phase 1 of the new Glass City Metropark in East Toledo. It was a soft opening to say the least on a chilly December day. The curtain was pulled back just enough to showcase what may be one of the fi nest small park setting adjacent to a downtown neighborhood. Scott Carpenter, Metroparks Toledo spokesman, indicated that a more robust celebration will occur in 2021 when the weather improves and the virus hopefully gets under control. The park district is proud of completing Phase One of the massive project, Mr. Carpenter said, and agreed to start letting people onto the site to become acquainted with it as the rest of the project continues to take shape. Plus, one of the featured attractions – a lighted sledding hill – is likely to become a big hit in the coming weeks of winter. The hill will remain open until 8 p.m. throughout the winter. “This will be the gift that keeps on giving, “ Mr. Carpenter said, a reference to the park’s multiple other features almost guaranteed to draw in more visitors as they get fi nished over the next fi ve or six years. The park will feature an earthbermed, modern pavilion with a high-tech projection screen, plate glass windows, and ample tables and chairs in a meeting area that can be rented out. It will hold up to 200 people. The pavilion also has a green roof. Visitors will be able to walk up a ramp next to it and look out across the park’s vast expanse or watch boats ply the Maumee River one spring arrives. Next to the pavilion is a large, grassy knoll with terrace steps similar to an amphitheater. Outdoor concerts with seating for 5,000 to 6,000 people are expected. During warmer weather, there will Page 11 be canoe and kayak opportunities on a self-served basis, much like what has been in use at Howard Marsh Metropark which opened in 2018. Phase 2 will include a skating pond and ribbon and a water play area. A multipurpose Market Hall will offer food, beverages, and ice-skating rentals. The park will also see the addition of six cabanas, two picnic shelters and a campground for tents, recreational vehicles and modern huts. This phase will also add three miles of trails, open spaces, shoreline restoration, prairie and wildlife restoration, said Emily Ziegler, chief of planning and capital projects. As with other recently-opened parks, the public will get a sense of the layout early on but need to wait for things to grow before getting a better vision of what Glass City will look like once completed. Park district offi cials believe those and related projects, including the future Riverwalk and improvements to International Park, will serve as the same type of catalyst for East Toledo that Fifth Third Field was for downtown Toledo’s Warehouse District when it was built 20 years ago. The future of Toledo will be led by our parks. Just be patient while the trees mature.

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