Alex Palmer's Natural History Notes and Thoughts

Thoughts and reflections on various social and environmental issues, as well as naturalist observations from the great outdoors.

Similar places with striking differences: A tale of two park systems

Lake County is a somewhat troubled county.  There is a high unemployment rate.  The former industry is nearly gone, leaving its towns in shambles.  At the same time that there are very poor people, there are also very rich people who lock themselves up into tightly knit gated communities and upscale residential areas.   There is much urban sprawl, with dozens of shopping malls and overcrowded parking lots filling up former farmland.

And I am talking about Lake County, Indiana (Figure 1A) and Lake County, Ohio (Figure 1B).

Figure 1: Lake County, Indiana (A) and Lake County, Ohio (B)

Yet there is once huge difference between the two counties – and Lake County, Ohio (LCO) has a tremendous advantage over Lake County, Indiana (LCI):  its park system.

LCI’s park system is struggling to overcome harsh budget shortfalls that much of the county has been experiencing.  Staff has been reduced by more than half, park facilities are reducing their hours, and fishing ponds are being stocked with less and less fish.  A few years ago, LCI had to sell its one and only lake front park to the City of Whiting, Indiana.  This natural lake shore area is now being developed into storefronts and restaurants by the Whiting community, potentially exterminating an endangered mammal living in the area: the Franklin’s Ground Squirrel.  Educational programming is now scant, and there are no outreach programs to encourage public support and usage of park district assets.

LCO’s park system, titled as Lake Metroparks, manages thousands of acres of natural land.  Trails and park facilities are well maintained, and their environmental education programs are some of the best in the world (literally).  Annual visitation to the parks is high, and seems to be increasing.  The park district continues to acquire and manage additional acres of land, aiding strongly to the protection of Lake County’s diverse natural resources.

Perhaps a look at each park district’s website provides one more way to illustrate differences in these two systems.  Click Here for LCI’s website.  And look at this more decked-out website of Lake Metroparks.

So what then accounts for the stark differences in their park system in two economically similar counties?

Well, I don’t have the answers.  but I can at least speculate and  tell you one thing for sure:  there is more than purely economic reasons for this sort of contrast.

For one thing, Lake Metroparks (Ohio) is a special district of the county that receives tax dollars via direct citizen vote and approval.  In other words, citizens of LCO, from all walks of life, choose to support the park system.  In LCI, which has poorly educated and fiscally conservative residents, the idea of choosing to pay more taxes (or any taxes at all) to create parks is revolting.  The county has a long history of ‘not having enough money’ and so the local culture is resistant to spending money towards economic and environmental improvements.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, LCI resident’s are less educated than their LCO counterparts, and are therefore less aware of the need to protect the environment and promote sustainability.

So kudos to LCO.  But this is not to imply that LCI cannot change.  Remember, the two counties have many similarities.  It is not too late for LCI to learn a few lessons from LCO.  It would require an open mind and an active role in their local communities and workplaces…and yes..a willingness to pay at least a little bit of tax money.

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