Sunday, December 24, 2000

West Chester's giving green

Parks create 'emerald bracelet'

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — Officials here are fitting this expanding community with an “emerald bracelet” of parks to better meet its growing recreational needs.

        West Chester Township leaders have been trying to mirror the southeastern Butler County community's booming business and residential expansion with an equally aggressive policy of parkland purchases of more than $7 million in two years.

        Dubbed the emerald bracelet, seven current and proposed parks are being strung together by township officials.

        Nearly 500 acres of parkland have been created since early 1999, and more recreational areas are planned.

        Bill Zerkle, the township's director of parks, said the bracelet concept is modeled after the city of Boston's “emerald necklace” of parks laid out at the end of the 19th century.

        He said the alignment of the parks, draped from the northeast to northwest corner of the township and curving south through its middle, assures access by the township's exploding residential population, which now is estimated to exceed 60,000.

        Many of the parks — such as the Voice of America Park and Port Union Wetlands Park — will include historical highlights and features to educate and entertain park-goers, Mr. Zerkle said.

        “We're trying to incorporate our history into our whole park system,” he said.

        The 330-acre Voice of America Park will include a $42 million development celebrating the role of the former Bethany Station that broadcast Voice of America radio programming around the world and helped end the Cold War.

        But the comprehensive park system, which will eventually be linked by bike and pedestrian walkways spanning the township, also provides modern-day advan tages in helping lure businesses to the area.

        West Chester Township Administrator David Gully said that while the residents are drawn to the township by the green space, businesses too seek the West Chester community in part because of its emphasis on preservation of natural areas.

        “No business wants to locate its corporate headquarters in the middle of an industrial desert. They want to be near green space,” said Mr. Gully.

        Scott Campbell, finance director for the township, said community officials have increased the average amount spent by the township on leisure activities per resident from $9.31 in 1999 to $13.60 in 2000. The goal, he said, is to raise the per-resident expenditure to roughly equivalent to what small cities spend, which is about $37 per citizen.

        Beth Thomas has lived in West Chester for more than a decade and has witnessed first-hand its explosive growth. She appreciates the greening efforts of township planners.

        “You see a lot of land around here being developed, but it's nice to see a lot of land being saved,” Ms. Thomas said.


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