COLUMBUS (AP) — State officials are preparing to invest $88.5 million to upgrade and modernize trails, campgrounds and recreational facilities in Ohio's state parks over the next two years.
The outlay headed to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources through the state capital budget is more than four times larger than average. Details were announced in Grand Lake St. Mary's on Wednesday.
Natural resources department director James Zehringer told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of the event that the money will be shared among Ohio's 74 state parks. Ohio's is one of only seven park systems nationally that charges no entry fees.
He appeared Wednesday with Senate President Keith Faber, a Lima Republican he credited with helping secure the funding along with GOP Gov. John Kasich.
Faber said investing in parks represents sound fiscal management by the state.
"This important investment in Ohio State Parks is about more than providing a great quality of life for our communities, it's about growing Ohio's economy and creating jobs," he said.
Through a website launched Wednesday, parks visitors will help decide which camp sites, cabins, lodges, restrooms, shower houses, trails, roads and wastewater treatment facilities see improvements, said spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle.
She said the money belongs to taxpayers and the state wants to hear their ideas. Many changes may already be planned, but there may be some officials haven't heard of, she said.
Glen Cobb, chief of Ohio State Parks, said many of Ohio's state park facilities were built in the 1960s and 1970s, and now are in need of repair or upgrade. No new facilities are planned with the money.
"While it was fine for that era, we certainly need to modernize," Cobb said. New splash pads for sprinkler-hopping youngsters, expanded camper parking and full-service hookups, and trail and bridge upgrades are all part of the effort, he said.
Cobb said parks funding is typically $15 million to $20 million every two years, recalling a previous high of between $35 million and $40 million.
Zehringer said deteriorating and antiquated facilities prompted U.S. Collegiate Rowing meets to leave East Fork State Park in southwest Ohio's Little Miami basin. He said the event is now scheduled to return to the state in 2015 due to the investments.