Fairfield gets funding to buy property for park expansion

Fairfield officials have secured a grant to buy a piece of property that will add to the curb appeal of Marsh Lake Park.

The city has signed an agreement with the Ohio Public Works Commission for a $250,000 grant to purchase a 3.3-acre parcel known as the Muskopf property at the corner of Gray and River roads. City Engineer Ben Mann said the closing won’t happen just yet.

“We need to get a notice to proceed from the OPWC before we can close on the property, which we’d like to do before the end of the year,” he said.

The grant will be about 75 percent of the total project cost, which is expected to be a little more than $335,000. Mann said that includes the acquisition of the property that includes a barn and brick farm house and some of additional services, like the appraisal and survey of the property.

The property will help the city leverage what is set to become a 170-acre park once gravel and sand mining company Martin Marietta turns over the property to the city of Fairfield.

“Martin Marietta would likely turn it over to us sometime in 2017,” said Mann. “That’s what we’re shooting for and, hopefully, we can start developing some projects there in 2018.”

Parks and Recreation Director Jim Bell said the city can’t move forward with grant requests until the property has been deeded over to the city. That timing will dictate when the city could actually move forward on developing the park.

“If it’s too late in 2017 or in early 2018, then that may push us to the 2019 (grant cycle).”

Bell said the corner property “gives us connectivity from the neighborhoods and it gives us some options as we push the Great Miami Path southward. Now we have a couple of crossing options (across River Road).”

The plan for Marsh Lake Park is to make it a destination location, where multiple agencies, including the Butler county Visitors Bureau, will partner to develop it into a regional draw.

"It is literally a blank canvas," county Visitors Bureau Executive Director Mark Hecquet told the Journal-News in April.

Currently Marsh Lake Park is a large pay fishing lake with a partial walking trail. The adjacent property, which was a gravel and sand quarry for Martin Marietta, has two additional large lakes, all of which sit on top of the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer. That aquifer fills up the now three lakes at Marsh, the largest of which is the current fishing lake at 70-to-80 feet at its deepest. The other two lakes range from 10-to-30 feet deep.

The Muskopf property will not only provide additional frontage to the park, extending it a few hundred feet to the corner of Gray and River roads, but can accommodate a small parking lot and connect to the bike path that will eventually circle Marsh’s main lake.

The grant does not include demolition or improvements of the existing buildings.

“Once we get (the property), we’ll go through them and make an assessment of what they need, and if they need to be upgraded or demolished,” Mann said. “There are limits (because of the grant) of what we can use the buildings for as part of the property.”

Before Marsh Lake Park can be expanded, city officials need to decide on a pile of sand that remains on the Martin Marietta property. Mann said it could remain and used as a buffer but that would require grading the pile and covering it with topsoil so grass can grow.

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