Public groups push to keep Lake Snowden open to all

Athens, Ohio – The campground at Lake Snowden in Athens County
is targeted to reopen April 1 under a new plan designed to maintain
the lake as a public recreational resource.

A group of federal, state and local agencies is reviewing the
plan drafted by Hocking College, which owns the Lake Snowden
Education and Recreation Park but closed the campground within the
park earlier this year, citing safety concerns and a lack of
revenue for maintaining it.

“Our biggest expense, and also our biggest moneymaker, at Lake
Snowden was the campground, but expenses had multiplied due to the
need for additional security forces to patrol the area since more
people were using it, and due to the high costs of maintaining a
deteriorating infrastructure,” said Hocking College President John
Light. “We had to raise fees for camping and cut back on
maintenance and mowing.”

According to the Hocking College Web site, the Lake Snowden
Education and Recreation Park contains 651 acres, including the
136-acre lake.

In October 2006, Light reported that the college’s state subsidy
had been cut each of the past six years and that it had one of the
lowest tuition rates in Ohio, which meant it was receiving less
income while facing higher maintenance costs for the park.

Light said the college’s total budget deficit for maintaining
Lake Snowden in 2005 was $160,000 and had been escalating every
year – a deficit he claimed the college could not maintain.

The college board of trustees held discussions in 2006 with a
private group called Moondance Development LLC that wanted to build
a resort community around part of Lake Snowden pending a possible
land sale or lease agreement with the college (Ohio Outdoor News,
Oct. 27, 2006).

The sale, which would have involved about 200 acres, reportedly
would have generated revenue to help the college maintain the rest
of the park and make capital improvements on its main campus. It
also would have eliminated the campground.

Light said the resort plan “fell through” after meeting strong
opposition from area residents and state officials who were
concerned about loss of public access to parts of the lake
property. Opponents said the entire park should remain open to all,
since private land was taken to create the lake and since federal
and state money has supported it.

The lake was created in 1968 for the Margaret Creek Conservancy
District with federal funds through the Farmer’s Home
Administration and the Soil Conservation Service. It opened to the
public in 1972, and Hocking College purchased it in 1998 to
complement its natural resources programs.

Among opponents to the resort proposal was the DNR.

“Public dollars were used to acquire the land, and some of it
was taken by eminent domain,” said DNR Deputy Director Tony
Celebrezze. “So, we oppose any type of move away from public access
and use.”

The college’s subsequent decision several months ago to close
the campground aroused further concern.

“Hocking College has the responsibility for keeping it open,”
Celebrezze said. “When it closed the campground, that triggered the
concern of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since federal money was used to
create the lake, and since the DNR has also invested money into the
park, we couldn’t allow it to close the campground.”

Celebrezze said the NRCS, the DNR, and three other entities –
the Athens County Soil and Water Conservation District, Athens
County commissioners, and the village of Albany – came forward to
work with Hocking College as sponsors of the Margaret Creek
Watershed Work Plan.

Celebrezze said the sponsor group, which has met several times
since last May, is working toward an agreement to maintain all of
Lake Snowden’s facilities as safe and viable for public use.

“The plan includes some cost-cutting ideas and some possible
ways to generate more revenue for the park,” Celebrezze said,
noting that Larry Coon, dean of the college’s Department of Natural
Resources, met with the sponsors on Nov. 6 and is refining the
draft plan based on their additional input.

Light said ideas for efficient management of the park include
creation of large sections of controlled natural prairie grass that
don’t need to be mowed, and an initiative to increase hands-on
student use of the park for educational purposes.

After the draft plan has been finalized, the public will be
invited to review it and provide input at an open house scheduled
for Wednesday, Jan. 9, in the Sauber Environmental Center at Lake
Snowden.

“The college has been very open to suggestions from the sponsors
about the future of Lake Snowden, and the sponsors have provided
valuable input,” Celebrezze said, adding that he is confident the
campground will reopen by April 1.

“Everyone involved is seeking a solution for keeping this
recreational asset open to the public,” he said. “It’s a cool
place.”

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