LIMA — Kevin Haver, long-time director of the Johnny Appleseed Metropolitan Park District, presided over his final park district commission meeting on Wednesday as the 42-year parks veteran prepares for retirement in July.
It’s a bittersweet moment for Haver, who first joined the park district as a park manager in April 1978.
There were just two parks at the time: Heritage Park and part of what is today the McLean Teddy Bear Park. Haver took over as the park district’s director four years later and spent the next four decades acquiring land and raising funds to expand the county’s park system, which now spans 1,500 acres across 16 parks and trail networks.
“Allen County sorely lacked open-space recreation (areas) at that time,” Haver said.
An essential element of that growth, Haver said, was the creation of the Park District Foundation of Allen County, which combined with an aggressive grant application strategy allowed the park district to stretch its budget.
That model was integral to the formation of Hermon Woodlands Metro Park in American Township, which was funded almost entirely through the foundation, Haver said.
The non-profit foundation has taken on a more prominent role over the last decade, so much so that Haver intends to continue working with the Park District Foundation part-time after his retirement.
“From a financial standpoint,” Haver said, “we’re still in pretty decent shape. We will not be laying off employees like so many other people, like so many other agencies, because of our conservative budgeting.”
A lifelong resident of Allen County, Haver always considered himself an outdoorsman, studying environmental science at The Ohio State University before starting his career with the park district.
Haver believes people “need the outdoor experience,” evidenced by the rise in attendance to public parks and nature preserves since the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
The park district will continue expanding under new leadership when incoming director Tyler Black takes over July 2, with several projects already in the works, including a new staging area for hikers and bikers along the Miami and Erie Canal.