In a ceremony Monday, ownership of the 339-acre former Camp Crowell Hilaka was formally transferred from the nonprofit Western Reserve Land Conservancy to the Richfield Joint Recreation District.
At the same time, the RJRD announced it would open the property for public tours on Aug. 9.
After the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio closed the camp in 2011, the property, located mostly in Richfield Township, was in danger of being developed or timbered. The Land Conservancy struck a deal to purchase the property, then worked with the Village of Richfield, Richfield Township and a host of community groups to find a long-term owner. In November 2014, voters in the village and township approved the purchase of Crowell Hilaka by the newly formed RJRD.
On Monday, the Land Conservancy turned over to the RJRD all of the 85 keys to the property, which is located between Broadview and Oviatt roads, north of state Route 303. The keys are for the property’s gates and buildings, including Gund Hall, historic homes once owned by the Oviatt and Neal families and inventor James Kirby and a millhouse with the first-ever ball-bearing mill wheel. The wheel, invented by Kirby, was so sensitive that a trickle of water was enough to generate power for his buildings. The mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in 1978.
Earlier this year, the Land Conservancy applied for an approximately $1.1 million Clean Ohio grant on behalf of RJRD, and the funding was approved by the Ohio Public Works Commission. The Land Conservancy will hold a conservation easement on the Crowell Hilaka property; a conservation easement is a legal document that permanently restricts development on a parcel.
The RJRD, which is now exploring possible future uses of the property, will offer Community Appreciation Tours of the property during the Aug. 9 Richfield Community Day at Richfield Woods Park, 4100 Broadview Road. A shuttle bus will be available to transport attendees to and from the property.
RJRD and Land Conservancy representatives thanked a number of groups for supporting the project, including voters in the village and township, Richfield Township Trustees, Richfield Village Council, the Friends of Crowell Hilaka, the Coalition for Greater Richfield and the Richfield Historical Society.
Other key supporters of the project included Melissa Haslinger, Bill and Laura Hlavin, State Sen. Frank LaRose, Sharon and Mike Hargrove, former board members Donna Skoda and Bob Lucas, the Ohio Public Works Commission and Natural Resources Advisory Council District 8.
“I am so proud to be part of this community and a member of this board, which has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time,” said RJRD Board Chair Floyd Ostrowski. “Our mission to preserve, conserve and recreate will not just be for this generation but for future generations.”
Richfield Mayor Bobbie Beshara said, “Today is a celebration of hard work, perseverance and the love of a historic piece of property that our residents and visitors will enjoy for many, many years to come. The purchase of the Crowell Hilaka property is a testament to our community’s values and willingness to sustain those values. Thank you to all who contributed to this incredible goal including Richfield Village Council, the Richfield Township Board of Trustees, the Friends of Crowell Hilaka, the Richfield Joint Recreation District Board of Trustees, Western Reserve Land Conservancy and most importantly the people of Richfield.”
“Our goal was always to conserve this beautiful property, and the people of Richfield should be congratulated for making it happen,” said Joe Leslie, director of acquisitions for the Land Conservancy. “Future generations will benefit from the steps this community has taken to acquire this land.”
Richfield Township Trustee Janet Jankura said, “We are encouraged by the strategy of preserving the park to be an active recreation destination for residents and visitors for years to come.”
Western Reserve Land Conservancy preserves natural areas and farmland in northern and eastern Ohio and helps revitalize cities statewide through its Thriving Communities Institute. To date, the Land Conservancy has permanently preserved more than 560 properties and more than 42,000 acres. The Land Conservancy is headquartered in Moreland Hills and has field offices in Cleveland, Akron, Medina, Oberlin, Chardon and Orrville.
The RJRD was formed one year ago by the Village of Richfield and Richfield Township. Its mission is “to safeguard, support and maintain the natural properties of Richfield while encouraging recreational and educational opportunities in our community.” RJRD board members are Ostrowski, Bob Becker, Kelly Clark, Rich Fleming, Ralph McNerney, Pat Norris and Bill Taylor.