GREENVILLE — Canadian author Lucy Maude Montgomery, best known for writing Anne of Green Gables, speaks about the nature of lasting friendship through her spirited young heroine, Anne (with an ‘E’), “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think… It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
No truer words could be spoken of the devoted band of brothers and sisters best known to the Greenville community as the Friends of Darke County Parks.
This week marks the nonprofit organization’s 25th Anniversary, and it is, indeed, something to celebrate. The group’s unwavering support of the Darke County Park District’s mission — to acquire, preserve and maintain land areas of special natural and historical value – serves as a testament to what people can accomplish through their lasting love of nature and sheer determination to see it thrive for future generations.
Current Board President and founding member, Steve Shaltry, remembers the Friends’ from its earliest beginnings.
“Dr. Dave Cox, Dan Schipfer, and Susan Gray were the original board members who saw the support role a Friends group could provide for the Park District,” he said. “They saw a group like ours could provide the Community the opportunity to assist the mission of the Park District… and organized Park supporters into the Circle of Friends first, then later organized, formally, The Friends of Darke County Parks with by-laws.”
Secretary Sandy Hoying, a retired history teacher and longtime member of the Friends, recalls the moment she decided to join the group.
“Back in the late 1990s, I saw a notice in the newspaper about the Friends’ monthly meeting. I had led a Girl Scout troop through to their senior year of high school and we had done a of lot outdoor camping, hiking, and a big ‘before graduation’ trip to Virginia Beach. I thought the Friends sounded like a group of similar-minded people that it might be good to get to know. Back then, we met in the old farmhouse at the top of the hill here at Shawnee Prairie.”
Since those early days, the Friends of the Parks have focused on inviting community residents to explore the historical heritage and natural beauty of Darke County’s 13 parks, which encompass almost 1,200 acres of land and prairie, open and staffed year-round for the general public to enjoy.
One very special project pioneered by the Friends that has gained momentum over the years is the Endowment Foundation of the Darke County Parks, established in 1998, which helps generate funding for conservation initiatives, land and wildlife stewardship, and outdoor education programs for all ages, including summer camps, Park PALS, free outdoor concerts, and preschool programs. As many as 50,000 to 75,000 visitors pass through Darke County Parks, with 5,000 children benefiting from these park district educational programs each year.
“During our organization’s 25-year history, we have seen the Nature Center built, and we have supported the work and the programs that the staff offers to the public,” said Hoying, noting that the Endowment has also provided funding for the Parks staff to go for supplemental training, and acquire materials needed to keep programs up-to-date, and much more.
Currently, the Darke County Park District is asking citizens to pass a half-mill levy in November which will allow it to fund community health and safety improvements, as well as to acquire (at no expense to taxpayers) the historic 1849 Bear’s Mill, one of only three operating water-powered mills in Ohio. If the levy passes, Bear’s Mill, and the 35 acres upon which it sits, will be given to the park district by the Friends of Bears Mill, and become a Darke County Park. For many members of the Friends, this is a welcomed prospect for the future of Darke County’s landscape.
Over its 25-year history, the Friends have sponsored many cherished annual fundraising opportunities such as selling items in the Nature Center’s gift shop, and promoting Prairie Days (September), the Waffle-and-Maple-Syrup Breakfast (March), and the Woodlands Luminary Walk (December). However, due to the onset of COVID-19, many of this year’s events have been postponed until 2021, causing the organization to get creative in approaching their fundraising goals.
The Friends will participate in Main Street Greenville’s First Friday Artisan Stroll on September 4, from 6 to 9 p.m., offering delicious items such as breads, apple butter, and maple syrup fondly made famous and enjoyed by many at Prairie Days. The Friends will also be selling its goods at the Greenville Farmer’s Market each Saturday morning throughout the month of September, selling tickets for their BBQ chicken dinner, and promoting the team’s participation in the Darke County Foundation’s 5K Sunshine Walk/Run, set for Saturday, September 19.
“We are always looking for new members, and new volunteers to join us,” said Hoying. The Friends meet the first Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Shawnee Prairie Preserve Nature Center, 4267 State Route 502, Greenville, Ohio. Many focal groups have also formed to increase interaction with parks, including the Darke County Photography Club, the Darke County Birders, The Darke County Canoe and Kayak Club, and the Olde Thyme Gardeners.
Indeed, there are many “kindred spirits” among us. We just need to have the faith to find them.
Carol Marsh covers community interest stories and handles obituaries for Darke County Media. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 937-569-4314.