AEP land purchase to debut in mid-June

The new Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area in Southeast Ohio. (AEP photo)

Officials from the Ohio DNR outlined additional details of the new Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area at the recent conference of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio.

State wildlife chief Mike Miller expects to hold a ceremonial ribbon cutting at the recently journalized park and wildlife area by mid-June. He was careful to note that only Division of Wildlife money was used to purchase wildlife acres, while only GRF and Division of Parks & Watercraft money was used for park land.

The state has signed a memorandum of understanding with AEP to buy about 15,000 acres of the energy company’s 60,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mined land in eastern Ohio over the next three years. The purchase will create Ohio’s largest state park and wildlife area in the process.

The DNR recently paid $1,963 per acre for the first 5,735 acres of which 4,858 is designated as a wildlife area. The remaining 877 acres – essentially four campgrounds, picnic areas, boat ramps and a Miners’ Memorial – fall under the park/watercraft division.

Miller said details of the second-round purchase of about 4,000 additional acres in Morgan and Muskingum counties will be completed by fall. He was aware that a looming change in the governor’s office in 2019 may influence any buys beyond next fall.

“It will be up to future generations to keep it up,” Miller said.

Not all mineral rights went with the initial sale of surface land. The state bought the rights to remaining coal deposits, but oil and gas rights remain with AEP. That was probably a smart move on the part of the energy supplier in this age of Utica shale.

Facilities in the new park and wildlife area are heavily used, although fairly primitive. Miller anticipates making few changes except for additional signage. Wildlife staff already oversee much of the area under an agreement with AEP.

As for co-management of the area between the wildlife and parks/watercraft divisions of the Ohio DNR, Miller said it is nothing new. The two divisions already co-manage Wingfoot Lake SP near Akron and North Bass Island SP on Lake Erie.

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