Land as Good as Gold: The Wildwood Story By Scott Carpenter Director of Public Relations Metroparks Toledo The country estate of Champion Spark Plug co-founder, R.A. Stranahan, would be perfect for a public park. It was a beautiful natural setting on the outskirts of town with varied topography – a rarity in northwest Ohio. But making it a Metropark wouldn’t be easy. The tale begins in September 1973. Plans had already been announced for the nearly 500-acre property to become a subdivision with upscale homes. The development promised an economic boost during a national recession. There were also plans to extend nearby Reynolds Road from where it ended at Central Avenue northeast to Corey Road, dividing the Stranahan property. The road would have gone right in front of the 30,000-square-foot family mansion known today as the Manor House. Then there was the price tag: about $4 million. That was $4 million more than the park district had to spend. To some, those were insurmountable obstacles, but to the late Dr. Bill Mewborn, Jr., a local veterinarian, they were just “lame excuses.” Mewborn “Well, let’s get going,” Dr. told Robert Metz, former director of the park district. “He had me talk to the park board and they said if you get enough people to sign the petition we’ll support you. That’s when I started my talking.” He talked for a year. He talked to civic groups, schools and neighborhood associations. He kept talking until he had talked the majority of the community into voting for a 0.5 mill levy on the November 1974 ballot. The narrow passage of the levy, and a short-term loan from The Nature Conservancy, are to thank for Wildwood Preserve. With its scenic trails, a boardwalk along the Ottawa River and iconic estate buildings, it is the most-popular of the Metroparks. Most of the nearly 1.5 million people a year who visit the park probably don’t know the story of Bill and the small army of volunteers – many of whom he didn’t know – who captured fi rst the imagination, then the support of a community. The Movement The campaign to preserve the Stranahan estate was born during a larger movement of environmental awareness. It was just four years after a fi re on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland ignited a passion for change; three years after the fi rst Earth Day. “It’s important to keep in your mind what was going on across the nation in the ‘70s,” said Steve Madewell, former executive director of Metroparks. “It’s easy to forget that we had an energy crisis, we had a global recession, the country was experiencing double-digit infl ation. So for the community to really move forward with an effort to pass a levy to preserve this open space spoke volumes about another widespread social value that was emerging. And that was this notion of environmental protection and enhancement.” “Grassroots activists and (the) environmental movement and the preservation movement all came together here,” added local historian Dr. Ted Ligibel, director emeritus of Eastern Michigan University’s Historic Preservation program. He was just beginning his career when he signed on to help Dr. Mewborn with the campaign. “We went door to door. I’m just a worker bee at this point – I’m in my early ‘20s just out there doing what I believe in. We went door to door to every single household in Lucas County, probably more than once,” Dr. Ligibel recalled. “When it came down to the vote, it actually passed!” Dr. Ligibel said. “Now, it wasn’t a huge majority but it passed. That’s the way politics is. And so we were ecstatic, but it wasn’t without the work of people like Bill Mewborn and John Lusk and the Kimbles.” The late Mr. Lusk was Dr. Mewborn’s partner in the campaign. He and Jim Kimble, who also worked on the campaign, would later become members of the Board of Park Commissioners. The Lusk-Mewborn Trail at Wildwood and Kimble’s Landing at Providence are now familiar names to park visitors. Together Again A little more than a year after Dr. Bill Mewborn began the campaign to save the Stranahan estate, just before the election of November 6, 1974, a young journalist named Steve Pollick penned a lengthy article for The Blade Sunday Magazine. Nearly the entire issue was devoted to the debate over whether to preserve or develop the property on Central Avenue, which the newspaper dubbed “Land as Good as Gold.” “(Bill Mewborn) and I walked this property several times and he was just absolutely passionate about the property and seeing it turned into a Metropark,” said Pollick, retired outdoors editor. “He said it was a readymade park. He remembered it from childhood and walking the bridle paths and so forth.” Dr. Mewborn’s partner in the endeavor, businessman John Lusk, “was more a managerial or the operational guy,” Pollick said. “Bill was the one that lit the matches to set the Fast forward to September 2014 when a documentary, “Wildwood: Land as Good as Gold,” fi rst aired on WGTE Public Television. For the fi rst time, Mewborn, Pollick, Lusk, Ligibel and many others shared on fi lm about the fi ght to preserve the estate and the reasons why it still matters for a whole new generation of northwest Ohioans. Art Weber, who was new in his career as the park district’s public information manager at the time of the campaign, worked in front of and behind the camera during production of the documentary. A longtime employee of the park district, the nature photographer and writer was on staff before Wildwood Preserve was a Metropark. “It was very emotional on a lot of levels,” Weber said of the campaign. “I think about that a lot. But (today), I see the kids that are here and thinking about how this is here for them, it’s going to be here for their kids and hopefully it’s here hundreds of years from now. “Things around us are going to change, the buildings will change, the things that we’ve built will change, but hopefully nature will be pretty much the same as it is today. It’s pretty much a constant for people. There’s a reliability here.” Director’s Note: While the documentary “Wildwood: Land as Good as Gold” fi rst aired on WGTE Public Television in 2014, I watched this recently and was struck by how relevant it is today. Because of these leaders’ vision, Wildwood provides a place for solace, gatherings and just enjoying nature. As Toledo Streets prints articles about area Metroparks each month, we decided to share Scott’s 2014 article. fuse. He was the passionate side of it. Between the two of them they got the community fi red up for the levy. There were a lot of other people, but they were the two principals that I had dealt with.” Page 8 Photos courtesy of Metroparks Toledo

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