City OKs Land-use Agreement for Riverside Property

The original story can be found here in the Athens News

The city of Athens will soon claim responsibility for a large parcel of land owned by Ohio University that skirts the Hocking River on the East Side of the city.

Athens City Council members approved the agreement during a special session on Monday after a brief discussion of the city’s plan for the land.

Mayor Steve Patterson said he has received “several letters” from concerned community members who want to know how the land will be used and managed.

He said he met with Ohio Department of Natural Resources Region 2 Urban Forester Ann Bonner to develop a plan for the property. The plan, Patterson explained, is first “to tackle the invasives (vegetation) that are growing in that area,” which will be gradually accomplished in stages. Invasive plant species are those that are not native to this region, and many of the species growing on the property in question are not native to the state of Ohio, Patterson said.

“We would not do 16 acres all at one time; we would likely phase it,” Patterson said, explaining that the plan is to start with about five to six acres on the western edge of the property, the portion directly behind the Athens Community Center, and then “put together a plan” to deal with the rest of the land over time.

“It’s going to be a long process to do that,” Patterson acknowledged. He added that he’s been in touch with local experts, including Athens Conservancy member Phil Cantino, who can help develop the plan for removing invasive plant species.

At-large City Council member Pat McGee said Monday that he’s confident “that we all have good intentions” but reminded everyone at the meeting that some species of wildlife use certain invasive species of plants for nesting and habitat purposes.

City Council Member Chris Fahl, representing the city’s Fourth Ward (mainly the East Side), said that “people have stepped forward” to address environmental concerns. The Athens Conservancy, of which she’s also a member, has had a lot of experience with removal of invasives, along with other partners on the project, she said.

“It’s an opportunity, also, for some really good partnerships between the Athens Birders, the Sierra Club, Rural Action… and Athens Conservancy,” Fahl said. “I think it could be a really great experience to go in and see how we can restore what needs to be restored.”

Patterson on Monday also addressed concerns raised by some residents that trees on the land will be removed.

“The intent was never to clear-cut that area,” Patterson said, promising that there will be “no tree removal.” He did note that the land has a lot of dead wood, due to the invasive species, which will be removed.

Patterson said the wooded areas along the riverbank beyond the property, past city limits, “looks very different than this particular parcel of land” due to the excessive growth of invasives in the area. “In a lot of places you’ll see the stand of trees and you can look through and there’s the river flowing behind it because you don’t have the same type of ground cover farther east,” he said.

Some ideas for use of the property, which were suggested at previous City Council meetings, are to put park benches or picnic tables on the land, create an area for dog-walking or, if feasible, even a disk golf course. The city is still exploring passive recreation options for the area, once it is cleared of invasive vegetation and clutter, Patterson said.