Ralph Starkey had a dream that one day there would be a city park at the corner of Pontius Road and State Route #188. The park would encourage physical activity and enjoyment of the natural world by people of all ages and abilities. He shared his dream with the community, gained the support of civic organizations, recruited hundreds of volunteers and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Mike Harrison Park Fund, a fund in the Pickaway County Community Foundation. He sought and hired a professional park designer and construction began.

Unfortunately, Ralph did not live to complete his dream and, upon his death, Dannie Fouts led the effort to finish what Ralph had envisioned. To do this, Dannie organized over one hundred volunteers in what became known as The Friends Of The Circleville Parks. The goal of the Friends was to oversee completion and the number of people who daily run, walk, play or stop to take respite in the park would please Ralph to no end.

Organizations, individuals and professionals were recruited to plant the prairies, the butterfly gardens, set memorial stones, plant and water trees, build a wetland, break trails through the woods, build shelter houses and bird watching stations, lay over a mile of accessible trail, construct a dog park and provide an accessible water fountain for both people and dogs. A fund was established with the Pickaway County Community Fund to maintain the accessible playground and that fund was tapped to repair and refurbish the playground in 2019. The Mike Harrison Park fund is used for park maintenance, other than the playground, and Ralph assumed that the park would be so loved by the community that volunteers would come forward to do the hands- on work needed to keep the park a beautiful and welcoming space.

With the help of the City, much has been done but maintaining a 72 acre park is a challenge and, in particular, the areas designated as prairie have been a conundrum. Initially, native flowers and grasses were planted and flourished, animals found refuge and birds found nesting sites but that quickly changed as the areas were taken over by invasive grasses, noxious weeds, smothering vines and volunteer trees. Without equipment, personnel and expertise, the Friends could not maintain the areas designated as prairie.

Then, as all hope seemed lost, signs were posted this year informing visitors that the prairie was under new management. The city of Circleville and the Pickaway County Park District had reached an agreement whereby the Park District, in consultation with the Ohio Department Of Natural Resources, would manage the prairie and the woods at Mary Virginia Crites Hannan Park. A plan was developed and Park District employees and volunteers cut trees in the prairie this summer and the area across the walking path from the pavilion has been mowed. Mowing the remaining prairie areas will continue this fall and the Friends welcome this collaboration between the City and the County. It is a major step in preserving the dream Ralph had for the new city park at the corner of Pontius Road and State Route #188.

email scollins@circlevilleherald.com follow on twitter @Collins_Herald

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