Volunteers lament closing of environmental site

There was a dinner at TAMPEEL at which volunteers were told the site has been abandoned.
WARREN -- Jim Sherwood remembers a time when the county's environmental education lab operated out of a garage on its Lordstown property.
Over the years, the 40-acre site has been developed gradually to include trails, a nature center and other buildings -- progress that volunteers assumed would naturally continue.
But the site, which has served students since 1973, remains closed because of what has been described as a minimal risk of contamination that poses no threat to human health.
Volunteers say they want to know why the site was abandoned.
"We have no idea why this happened because no one told us anything," said Audrey Hudak, a former volunteer.
"We just saw this natural evolution to a better and better place for outdoor education," Sherwood said. He and his wife, Barbara, helped out at the site for a number of years.
"I know that we, as volunteers, hate to lose all that was put into that. I certainly feel very bad about the situation."
Trumbull Area Multi-Purpose Environmental Education Laboratory is on land owned by Lordstown schools. It's been run by volunteers for 27 years on behalf of the county's educational service center.
TAMPEEL programs were offered to Trumbull County students up to 2000.
Decision: The service center governing board agreed in May to seek a new location for the hands-on environmental program, based on ground tests that reveal a minimal risk of contamination.
"The decision to abandon means they are abandoning years of volunteer hours and work," said Richard Ellers, a former volunteer.
"It is my opinion that area politicians and citizens can and should campaign and appeal to the governor, the Ohio Legislature and to members of Congress to save TAMPEEL."
Contaminants: Brice Harris, supervisor of environmental education at the service center, said heavy metals were detected in the area near the parking lot.
Neither he nor Carlotta Raymond-Sheets, spokeswoman for TCESC, had a copy of the report listing the contaminants.
Harris said he only had drafts of the report and that remediation is set for 2004.
He sent a letter to area principals in June, saying all activities would be suspended at TAMPEEL, even though a press release from TCESC says it's been determined that the contaminants are "not a problem to human health."
"I'm certainly not happy," said Norman Downing, TAMPEEL director for more than 20 years.
He said he feels TCESC is abandoning the site that he and countless other volunteers put their hearts and souls into.
The land contains a lake, trails, a nature center and other buildings.
Sheets said people would be more at risk spending a day in a big city, where air pollution is a problem, than to spend a day at TAMPEEL.
Still, she said, abandoning the site was the right thing to do.
Dinner: Despite the suspension of all programing, there was a dinner at TAMPEEL on June 7 to honor volunteers. Harris said in the letter that those who attended would be welcome to walk the trails and enjoy TAMPEEL's natural areas.
Sherwood said many volunteers didn't know the site was closing until the dinner.
He understands the concern over possible contamination, but said the decision to close TAMPEEL came as a shock to many volunteers.
Harris said officials are considering a few pieces of land for a new land lab but would not reveal locations.
The hope is that a property is offered as a gift or at a low cost, with the owner agreeing to be a partner and collaborator.
sinkovich@vindy.com; davis@vindy.com

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