Ashland County Park District moves into 2024 with planned park improvements

For a moment, let’s revisit the past before venturing into the future. Stepping back to 2001 provides us a view of just how far our park district has progressed in the last 23 years. Where did it all begin? There are special people who have a heart for the land and nature, always with a desire for preservation and conservation.

Our “parks’ pioneers” included farmers, teachers, politicians, and professionals who were deeply rooted in Ashland County.

At that time, there were several existing park districts in counties surrounding Ashland County and throughout the state. So why didn’t Ashland County have established parks? Better to ask why not? The idea was put on the table with questions of how to get started.

To begin, it was necessary to present the idea to the public and garner their approval and participation. The end goal being every resident of the county would benefit from the creation of a park district.

Pictured is the interior view of Tupelo Bottoms in Sullivan.
Pictured is the interior view of Tupelo Bottoms in Sullivan.

A public meeting, organized by the county commissioners and led by one of the “parks’ pioneers”, Tom Kruse (mayor of Savannah and retired Career Center teacher), was held March 5, 2001 in the County Office Building, and attended by about 40 residents. Pros and cons were discussed, as well as, how this group would be structured and organized.

At that meeting, the Ashland County Park Study Committee was formed. The committee established the mission statement for the proposed park district. That mission being “to promote the wise use of Ashland County’s natural resources for outdoor recreational activities.”

Fine-tuning the agenda, getting public opinion

As monthly meetings continued, committee members fine-tuned their agenda, focusing on getting more public opinion regarding the proposed park district. They also held events to generate public support. July, 2001, a bird watching event was held at Byers Woods, assisted by the Greater Mohican Audubon Society and Pheasants Forever.

In addition to committee chair, Tom Kruse, this event involved the work of two more “parks’ pioneers”, Robert DeSanto (attorney and former prosecutor) and Louise Conn Fleming – Dufala (retired AU professor and former president of Friends of the Ashland County Park District). Periodic update reports were given to the county commissioners.

Pictured is the gazebo and fishing pier at Tom Kruse Wildlife Conservation Park.
Pictured is the gazebo and fishing pier at Tom Kruse Wildlife Conservation Park.

The following months were consumed with more research and meetings with continued reporting to the county commissioners. In October, 2001, the commissioners, having been presented sufficient research records and data, petitioned the probate juvenile judge to begin the process of establishing a park district. Ashland City Council gave their blessing. Public hearings were scheduled by the probate juvenile judge during December.

The Ashland County Park Study Committee was given until January, 2002, to complete its investigative study and present their findings. Based on the research and positive public hearing results, Probate Juvenile Judge Damian Vercillo ordered the creation of the Ashland County Park District in late January, 2002.

Tuesday, April 2, 2002, Tom Kruse, Ron Dickerhoof and Sam Weyrick were sworn in as the park district’s first commissioners.

Park pioneers made it all happen

After months of exhausting, intense research, meetings, and events, our “parks’ pioneers” did not quit. Thanks to the passion and vision of a few extraordinary Ashland County residents, we now enjoy the resplendent beauty of 20 parks.

So many more dedicated visionary men and women were a great part of this process. Many are still involved with our park district to this day. Some have run their race and gone on. I dare not begin to list them for fear of leaving even one out.

Our park district is ever evolving all for the enjoyment of your families.

You are invited to visit for a complete list of Ashland County Park District parks, their locations and amenities. The website is presently being updated and revised. You may also call the park office at 419-289-3524 or email

The office is located at 1301 Park Street, Ashland,.

2024 Improvements:

Fire Cabin

1498 State Route 511 S., Ashland

Remodel including ADA restrooms

Construction to start in April

Freer Field1264 S. Center St. AshlandInstallation of restrooms

The Davy (outdoor education center to be located at Tom Kruse Wildlife Conservation Park)

Intersection of state Route 60 and County Road 1754

Funds are still being raised by the Friends of Ashland County Park District.

Design is completed and construction will begin spring 2024

All ParksTrail maintenance and improvement and improved park amenities continue

Leadership Ashland

Fundraising to assist Park District in trail wayfinding signage throughout park system


Art in the Park with Steve Huber: Thursdays, March-May

Scheduling Listening Sessions for the late Spring for community engagement and inputs.

Easter Egg Hunt March 11-March 25

Sponsored by The Friends of the Ashland County Park District

The egg hunt will be at five parks: Crall Woods, Sauers Farm Park, Hurdle Waterfowl, Byers Woods, and Freer Field.

There will be a nest hidden at each park.

Participants will need to hike the trails to find the hidden egg.

There will be an informational poster at each egg with a secret code on it. Participants will need to submit ALL 5 secret codes to the Park office to win a prize.

Karen Leonetti is an event coordinator for Ashland County Park District. She can be reached at 330-590-0720.

This article originally appeared on Ashland Times Gazette: Ashland Park District gears up for park improvements in 2024