Seismic surge in giving hits Mill Creek MetroParks


Those looking to quantify the level of passion many in the Mahoning Valley feel for Mill Creek MetroParks need only look at the incredibly robust size of monetary contributions to the Mahoning County park district so far this year.

On Monday night, MetroParks Development Director Chris Litton reported the district has raked in more than $2.4 million in private donations since January. That impressive figure gains even more luster when comparing it to the annual total of $17,334 in private giving in 2016 – a mind-blowing 13,745 percent increase.

So how explain this seismic surge in generous giving? Certainly, this region’s admiration of and pride in the majestic natural park have not just awakened from a decades-long nap. To be sure, Mill Creek has garnered rave reviews from its hundreds of thousands of users since its founding by Volney Rogers some 127 years ago.

What has changed, however, has been the strategies and approaches used by the Mill Creek MetroParks Foundation to galvanize private philanthropic giving to the park system.

Over the past year, the foundation has been transformed from an organization that primarily distributes funding into one that also places a strong accent on raising funds.

That strategy proved an instant hit. Within the first three months of the establishment of a capital campaign and several park-related endowments, more than $500,000 had been raised, which was more than double the goal that had been ambitiously set for the entire year of 2018.

Today, those amounts continue to rise to heretofore unseen heights.

DONORS GET CHOICES

Clearly, a large segment of the public that considers the park a community treasure was just waiting for an open and aggressive invitation to chip in. Making the invitation all the more appealing is the control wielded by contributors over how their donations are spent. They can be targeted to their favorite perk of the park.

Specific endowments include those for Fellows Riverside Gardens, the Golf Course, the Lily Pond, Nature Trails, the Nature Center, the Collier MetroParks Bikeway and numerous others.

Collectively, those donations translate into major capital improvements that preserve and protect the five-star legacy of the park for generations to come. Among major projects undertaken this year have been improvements to Lanterman’s Mill iconic waterwheel, refurbishing of the Lake Newport Boat Launch, several resurfacing and road improvement projects, plus renovations to tennis and basketball courts and the newest addition to the park, a dek hockey rink at the James L. Wick Recreation Area.

Park officials are understandably elated. Litton, the parks’ development director, has said, “I think people have been waiting for opportunities like this to help the park.”

At Monday’s meeting, MCMP Executive Director Aaron Young echoed that optimism: “I think the numbers speak for themselves. We’re going to hope to end the year on a high note.”

The new focus on private fundraising also assists the park in its effort to rely less heavily on public tax dollars to fund critical park operations.

Given that cornucopia of success, we hope the focus on private giving at MCMP will light a fire underneath other community agencies, particularly those relying in part on public tax dollars to operate. Who knows? They, too, may be floored by the size and scope of heretofore untapped community support.

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