November 27, 2014

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Group wants nature center at park instead of public restrooms

AVON LAKE — A group of residents think a nature center would be a far better use of space and money for the city’s Belle Road Park instead of a public restroom.

That’s the general feeling of the group, which formed over the past few weeks since the idea was first floated in a Facebook posting.

“Our goal is to convince the city and the Metro Parks that this is a better idea than plopping a bathroom in the middle of a park,” said Craig Hulbert, 38, who has lived in Avon Lake with his wife and three small children for 3½ years. “We want to show the Parks and Rec Commission that we need to something more valuable as a whole.”

The idea is slated to be discussed during tonight’s Parks and Recreation Commission meeting at 7 p.m. in the Lake House at Veterans Memorial Park.

“We have a lot of outdoorsy, nature-focused people who are very interested in doing something new,” Hulbert said.

Recreation Director Gary Gerrone said the public restroom proposal is on the commission’s agenda but said discussion and action on the matter was uncertain.

“It’s an interesting idea,” Gerrone said of the nature center idea. “Where that goes, and how it weighs out against the restroom idea, remains to be seen.’’

A public restroom has been part of the master plan for the park for some years, Gerrone said.

While the group hasn’t gotten to any specifics yet, a nature center could include areas for viewing birds and small animals, program spaces as well as public restrooms, according to Hulbert.

A public restroom was first proposed for the Belle Road Park in 2010, a small city-owned site that is maintained by the Lorain County Metro Parks, whose 162-acre Kopf Family Reservation surrounds it.

Plans for the facility were halted by opposition from nearby residents who feared a public restroom might lead to vandalism, possible sexual incidents and other unwanted activity.

A group calling itself the Save the Woods Committee pushed for the restroom, citing the numbers of walkers, runners, bicyclists and others who use Kopf Reservation’s trails.

Terry Wyrock, one of the leaders of the pro-restroom group, has said residents are afraid bathrooms might attract pedophiles were looking for excuses to oppose the idea.

But Hulbert, who lives directly across the street from Belle Road Park, said he has called police in the past for kids smoking pot and being unruly.

Other residents said they fear a public restroom could lead to increased drug activity and other negative behavior, which has included vandalism to trees, signs beaten with baseball bats and litter, Hulbert said.

Mayor Greg Zilka said his office has no record of drug activity or unacceptable behavior of a sexual nature occurring at city-operated restrooms.

“There’s been limited vandalism,” Zilka said. “There is no basis for us to assume restrooms would lead to all kinds of terrible acts being committed.”

The idea for a nature center sprang from conversations Hulbert said he recently had with Metro Parks Director Jim Ziemnik, who said the idea has merit but also has a long way to go to become a reality.

“You can’t equate a $100,000 restroom with a $750,000 or $1 million facility,” Ziemnik said, noting that virtually every construction the park systems has undertaken in the past 25 years has been done in partnership with communities in which facilities are built.

A nature center or other larger facility would also entail grant funds or other major sources of financing.

“We haven’t had anyone step up to donate land and have money ready,” Ziemnik said.

Hulbert said he has talked with individuals who said they would donate funds for a center.

“If Avon Lake wants us to study a large-scale project, we can certainly do that,” Ziemnik said while adding that the park district could also conduct separate discussions on a nature center and public restroom.

Parks meeting

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.