With county help, The Plains takes action to improve itself

Click here for the original story in the Athens News

By Fred Kight



Last year the Athens County Commissioners made the offer to communities in the county – initiate an effort to make your town a better place to live and work and we’ll help, including with a little funding.

The Plains, an unincorporated village in Athens Township, accepted and has started taking action.

The Plains was one of the first to sign on to the 2017 Community Improvement Challenge, a program to promote civic involvement and enhancement. The Challenge is for areas outside the cities of Athens and Nelsonville, including the eight villages and other unincorporated communities such as The Plains.

 The work in The Plains is being done through The Plains Improvement Committee, which includes Athens High School teacher Brian Dearing. He helped recruit students for the committee.

“I like to say that we are slowly ‘bringing pride back to The Plains,’” said Dearing, who grew up in the town.

Three students have signed on. The committee roster – which totals 19 – also has representatives from county and township government, professionals, senior citizens and local civic organizations.

The group has $500 to work with and the possibility of obtaining more.

“The Athens County Commissioners are looking to continue funding in 2018,” said Athens Township Trustee and committee member Steve Pierson. “However, even without that funding the hope is that these groups will continue so that local interests and needs can be identified and addressed by local residents, even without the involvement of government. It’s almost like a local ‘boot strap’ effort to improve a community.”

 The Plains Improvement Committee has held several meetings and agreed to a list of a dozen projects.

“Design and building of a dedicated Facebook page,” is one of the projects implemented so far, according to a summary document. “Three AHS students have set up and are administering a site called The Plains Community Improvement Project. This will serve as a source of information for members of the committee and the general public as well.”

Dearing is particularly interested in another project – making better use of 29 acres of school property on Lemaster Road, a county road just a block from the school.

“My personal project is making a legitimate hiking trail in The Plains Elementary land lab,” he said. “There is an existing trail from years back but ever since the tornado of 2010, the land lab has been mostly inaccessible by students and the public.”

Pierson offered more information about the improvement effort.

 “Brian and I actually met with (officials of the Athens City-County Health Department recently) to work on a grant application to help with… restoration of the school land lab,” said Pierson. The grant application also asks for funds to plan a sidewalk to connect the land lab to the elementary school, to allow students to safely reach the area, he said.

Pierson said he hopes the committee will “create a forum where community members can bring ideas, interests and expertise to the most active individuals and entities in The Plains…,” as well as to “bring focus to The Plains as an attractive place to live, educate children and conduct business.”

Pierson and his fellow Athens Township Trustees have submitted a “letter of interest” to the Ohio Department of Transportation for a grant to construct sidewalks on Elm, Oak and North McDonald Streets and to install a pedestrian crosswalk across Oho Rt. 682 to “accommodate students and residents walking to and from the area of the high school to the Plains Plaza.”

Another project on the committee’s implementation list is retention of the Hopewell Health Center. The committee is asking the medical clinic to remain in The Plains “since this is the only health-care facility in The Plains and because this area is increasing in population… and many of the current residents rely on this facility for their own health care…”

That effort appears to have failed, however. Hopewell has announced plans to relocate in Nelsonville.

At a meeting last month, The Plains Improvement Committee voted to approve $100 to be spent on a rain and butterfly garden to be built next to the shelter house at The Plains Community Park, according to Dearing. The Garden Club will be planning the design and working with volunteers to construct the garden.

The Athens County Commissioners meet periodically to review the Community Challenge program, which has four other participating teams – from New Marshfield, Trimble Township, Chauncey and Stewart.

Athens County Planner Jessie Powers has been involved in the program.

“At this point we’re working on how to better structure another challenge (or) community engagement program to support the efforts for community improvement and achieve goals outlined in the Athens County Comprehensive Plan,” Powers said. “We would like to partner with other departments, agencies and area stakeholders to build… and improve upon the 2017 program. All our teams have done great things and increased their knowledge of existing resources.”