By Lisa Esquivel Long
FORT WAYNE — At a time when plastic is going out of style for environmental reasons, it’s going to be welcomed – in the form of credit cards – at Allen County Parks later this year.
Superintendent Jeff Baxter prepared his 2018 annual report that includes new programs and the first deficit in a long time because of a truck purchase. Baxter planned to present his report to the parks board at its regular meeting March 21.
The county has a new vendor for the credit card service, and logistics are currently being worked out. The parks department’s operating expenses come from entry, rental and program fees, which currently can only be paid for by cash and check.
Allen County Parks oversees the 605-acre Fox Island County Park in southwest Fort Wayne, 250-acre Metea County Park near Leo-Cedarville, 38-acre Payton County Park near Huntertown, 4.5-acre Cooks Landing County Park northeast of Huntertown, and 107-acre Deer Run Wilderness Area near Spencerville.
Nearly 46,000 people visited Allen County parks last year. Fox Island got an estimated 26,064 and Metea had 12,268. The parks saw 3,581 children and adults visit during school field trips. Another 3,870 visitors came for public programs and other special events.
The Allen County General Operating Fund allocated $544,508 to the department in 2018. The parks saw a deficit in net income – $13,253.62 – because it used park funds to buy a new 1-ton pickup for about $48,000. Staff salaries are the only expense covered by Allen County taxpayers.
Among the 2018 highlights:
• Metea and Fox Island’s summer camps were filled.
• It added new programs such as Yoga with a View.
• It has started a phenology project at Fox Island to collect long-term date on the park’s habitats and wildlife through the National Phenology Network. Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle event and how factors such as climate can affect them.
• Its Nature’s Christmas saw record numbers of attendees again.
• It’s at 50 percent funding for a new solar energy project at Metea. It has completed grants to provide money for the rest of the project.
Goals for this year include a new roof on Fox Island’s nature center, working with New Haven Parks and Recreation to develop and use the Haskamp property on Hartzell Road, adding programs for amateur photographers and an open-air classroom at Fox Island for children possibly near Fox Island’s main gate, completing a feasibility study for a new rental facility at Fox Island and creating a regular schedule for hikes.
As of press time, Baxter has yet to announce a replacement for Fox Island Park and Education Manager Ron Zartman, who retired in January after 33 years with the parks department.