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Warren's plan to revitalize city parks has economic development goals, too

“I think especially now with [COVID-19] we hear about so many more families [and] individuals that are finding a new or renewed appreciation for parks and green spaces,” Trici “Trish” Johnston, of the city‘s Community Development Department, said.

[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]

WARREN — As the city’s Park Enhancement Project makes headway, officials said the goals are not only to bring new life to often-ignored city parks.

Trici “Trish” Johnston, of the city‘s Community Development Department, said the project complements the revitalization of economic development in the downtown area. 

“I think especially now with [COVID-19] we hear about so many more families [and] individuals that are finding a new or renewed appreciation for parks and green spaces,” she said. “So this really complements and enhances our downtown and the economic opportunities down there.” 

Warren contracted The Nature Conservancy to implement the project to restore five parks along the Mahoning River: Packard, Perkins, Bullhead, Burbank and Mahoningside Site. 

The objectives are to “improve/restore existing natural habits along the river, provide recommendations for naturalizing additional areas, develop suggestions on how historical park features can enhance the visitor experience, and assess possible connective corridors,” according to the city’s Nature Conservancy presentation. 

“[It’s] the idea of revitalizing and utilizing the resources that we have, which included the parks [on] the Mahoning River. So that was kind of where it stemmed from. Then, the idea of bringing in an expert in the area of restoring, you know, the river is how the Nature Conservancy came into place,” she said. 

Johnston said the city entered into a $35,000 contract with the Nature Conservancy in February. Phase 1 of the project began in March and included park history research and assessments. Phase 2, the physical work, began in July. 

“[The Nature Conservancy] came back out, and that's when they started identifying the invasive plant species and they came up with a management plan, a plan for removal of the invasive species. That is when we ran into the next phase into July is when they came out and they actually started the removal,” she said. 

The Nature Conservancy spent two weeks in Perkins Park doing 4.5 acres of upstream restoration and will begin restoration in Packard Park in October. 

Johnston said the project is on track with the city’s contract with the Nature Conservancy, which is through March 2022. Johnston said the city expects to receive a vegetation management plan from the Nature Conservancy in December that will include suggestions for future projects and may potentially reassess park ownership and easement agreements. 

“[The Nature Conservancy] would provide suggestions on ways to better utilize the green space that we have because we do have large areas, especially in both Packard and Perkins, that are underutilized. So that's where they would suggest perhaps some new trails, some naturalization like meadowing, which would help reduce maintenance costs, but also provide new experiences for visitors,” she said. 

“Then also some potential ideas on connectivity between the parks. So that's where that ‘ownership and easement’ phase comes into place. If the city should decide to try to go forward, you know, with perhaps putting in a trail that connects the parks, then we would have to look at the properties and parcels included in that,” she added. 

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