Ohio has the opportunity of a lifetime to impact outdoor recreation for generations to come. At stake are 60,000 acres of land that have been managed for wildlife and recreation for the last few decades. The AEP ReCreation Land, which is a vast stretch in eastern Ohio, comprising reclaimed strip-mined land, is up for sale, and the state gets first dibs on it.
Picture this: 40 miles of horse trails, 10 miles of mountain bike trails, 28 miles of hiking trails, 380 campsites, and over 600 lakes and ponds – that’s what already exists within the AEP ReCreation Land. People hike, fish, kayak, camp and hunt there. The Buckeye Trail (the United States’ longest loop trail) passes through it.
AEP and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources already have been managing the land for wildlife and recreational activities, investing in the critical infrastructure needed for a park and wildlife area. Think of what could be done to make the space even better, to make it one of the premier parks and recreational destinations in Ohio and the Midwest.
The state of Ohio and the Department of Natural Resources have committed to acquiring approximately 13,000 acres of the property over the next few years, but that leaves 47,000 acres that are still available. The first part of the state’s acquisition already has happened, with the dedication of the Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area in July 2018, at just shy of 6,000 acres. Over the next few years, the rest of ODNR’s committed land purchases will occur. Beyond that, there is even more to be done, and this unique opportunity presents Ohioans with a chance to secure a recreational haven for our future.
Ohio ranks nearly last when compared to the rest of the country regarding its public lands per capita. If the state were to acquire the entire AEP Land, it would be around a 10 percent increase in state-owned public lands, and could be the largest recreation area in the state. If the state does not acquire this land, there is a chance that it would be sold off to the highest bidders, taking away the chance for the general public to use it at a low cost.
The Outdoor Industry Association has found that 58 percent of Ohioans participate in some form of outdoor recreation. This activity generates $24.3 billion in spending, which then supports 215,000 jobs, which pay out $7 billion in wages, and result in $1.5 billion in state and local taxes. This is the sort of economic driver that we need to be encouraging and facilitating, and the AEP ReCreation Land presents itself as an ideal investment to do so.
What would this area look like if we grew the state park and wildlife area? It would result in new businesses, more tourism, and a degree of economic revitalization that would benefit the area. It would mean we get to keep places to hike, to explore. If we don’t get to keep it as public land, it likely would mean a few people get to spend time there, simply because they have the money to be able to afford it and the general public doesn’t. That’s why this opportunity is not one that we should let slip by.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has declared that he will do everything he can do acquire this land. Ohioans need him to follow through on this promise. We must do what we can do make sure that our newest state park lives up to its potential. The state of Ohio should purchase the entirety of the AEP ReCreation Land, and develop it into 60,000 acres of publicly held recreational land.
Editor’s note: Carol Davey of Tuppers Plains in Meigs County is a former Appalachian transition fellow for ACEnet, UpgradeAthens and Rural Action, and current southeast Ohio regional director for the Ohio Environmental Council.