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  • Writer's pictureJoe Lyons

Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District: Honoring our Past, Planning our Future



Last year was a landmark year for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) as we honored our past by celebrating 90 years of providing unparalleled flood prevention, recreation, and conservation benefits to Ohio. 

 

As 2024 begins, we will build upon the accomplishments from 2023 and work towards our 5-year strategic plan titled, “Honoring our Past, Planning our Future.” I am excited to provide a sample of the achievements of 2023 and initiatives we have planned for the year.

 

One very significant achievement from 2023 was the reduction of the assessment for property owners within the watershed by 66%, or $4 million. We made this change because we built a stable financial future through careful resource management. Even with this reduction, we invested over $2.3 million in improvements to our network of dams and lakes in 2023. Additionally, these investments are part of the $221 million park improvements and upgrades made since 2014 which have supported 2,606 jobs paying nearly $300 million in wages and benefits. Through these improvements and upgrades, MWCD has contributed an estimated $1 billion to our region’s economy, according to 2023 Cleveland State University study.

 

Careful thought goes into how MWCD invests in improvements and upgrades to our facilities that support our mission of flood prevention and control, recreation, and conservation. Our system of dams and other flood mitigation assets is well established and carefully managed in close partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We are proud of the continued high marks we receive from the Corps for our work, ranging from our fiscal support of fixing the Zoar levee and other dam improvements, to our own work restoring and protecting shorelines, strategic dredging operations, and invasive species control. Last year alone we spent more than $4.4 million to maintain and improve this system of reservoirs, dams, and levees to ensure that it is in top shape to preserve life and property. This is our first and primary mission and we will continue to give this our full attention and priority.

 

Additional investments in our lakes and parks help ensure they are desirable places for families to gather and enjoy Ohio’s natural resources. Projects such as Pleasant Hill Lake Park’s new pickleball and basketball courts, cornhole boards, and shaded seating area are perfect examples of such additions. Similarly, at Tappan Lake Park, we have improved the beach experience with a new restroom and changing area and upgraded the concession building and shelter. Atwood and Piedmont Lakes received new basketball courts, as well. We also completed the 1.3-mile Tappan Beall Farm Connector Trail, which enhances off-lake opportunities and showcases our collaborative partnership with regional conservation groups.

 

We have ambitious plans for 2024. Proposals are being evaluated for new developments at Atwood Lake. Important infrastructure upgrades are coming to Clendening Lake, including a new wastewater treatment plant, pump stations, and rehabilitation efforts. Tappan Lake Park will see a new welcome center to better serve guests. Additional amenities, including ADA kayak launches, concrete cornhole boards, and playgrounds at various parks demonstrates our dedication to recreation for all. Plans for Seneca Lake Park include a splashpad, playground, sport courts, and additional facilities for a more enjoyable beach experience. The investment back into MWCD facilities at Tappan and Seneca alone exceeds $6 million.

 

In 2024, MWCD is striving for more sustainable energy solutions and making a groundbreaking leap with a $2.3 million investment in renewable energy and is currently evaluating proposals for 15 solar projects that will produce approximately 1.1 million kilowatt hours. 

 

This year will also see an expanded focus on our conservation mission. This work is essential for us to offer healthy and beautiful lakes, parks, and waterways for both wildlife and visitors. A groundbreaking new partnership with the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio has been formed with our $5 million endowment, which aims to support $200,000 worth of conservation projects, scholarships, and fellowships annually. This aligns with an expansion of our water quality monitoring efforts and collaboration with agency partners to develop a regional plan to support healthy wildlife populations. Water quality starts with land use and to maintain our high standards of water quality and reduce impairments in our region, we are increasing our support for best agricultural management practices, sustainable forestry, and wetland conservation. From clean water flows opportunity for recreation, economy, and public health.  

 

As we move forward, MWCD remains dedicated to the core mission of flood prevention and control. Other parts of our program naturally dovetail today to strengthen our recreation and conservation efforts. By working together, our core programs provide protection from flooding and enrich our lives. Eastern Ohio is one of the most beautiful natural areas in the Ohio River Watershed. Preserving this legacy of natural beauty is our shared responsibility and our shared joy. To ensure that MWCD is here for at least another 90 years, we are developing a plan to secure long-term financial stability through the creation of a legacy fund that will live in perpetuity. This fund will benefit future MWCD projects, operations, and potentially lend financial support to other like-minded organizations within the Muskingum Watershed.  

 

MWCD is honored to be part of the communities across the watershed.  As was the vision from our founders, we seek to build a conservancy that not only protects millions from devastating floods, but ensures the waters are clean, and we provide unparalleled recreation, educational, and economic development opportunities.  This is a responsibility that we fully embrace.

 

Together, with our communities and partners, we will forge a path toward a sustainable and thriving future for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and the communities we serve. We look forward to a year filled with exciting developments and more shared successes in stewardship of this beautiful place we are lucky enough to call home.

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