MWCD: honoring the past, planning for the future


(From left to right) Matt Thomas, Chief of Conservation; Dave Lautenschleger, Chief of Engineering; Craig Butler, Executive Director, and Pete Novotny, Chief of Recreation review blueprints at the Atwood Lake Park activity center. The activity center renovation is scheduled to be complete early this summer.
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Submitted by Craig Butler, MWCD Executive Director

Last year was a landmark year for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) as we honored our past by celebrating 90 years of providing unparalleled flood prevention, recreation, and conservation benefits to Ohio.

As 2024 begins, we will build upon the accomplishments from 2023 and work towards our 5-year strategic plan titled, “Honoring our Past, Planning our Future.” Provide is a sample of the achievements of 2023 and initiatives planned for the year.

One very significant achievement from 2023 was the reduction of the assessment for property owners within the watershed by 66 percent, or $4 million. This change was made because a stable financial future was built through careful resource management. Even with this reduction, over $2.3 million was invested in improvements to the network of dams and lakes in 2023. Additionally, these investments are part of the $221 million park improvements and upgrades made since 2014 which have supported 2,606 jobs paying nearly $300 million in wages and benefits. Through these improvements and upgrades, MWCD has contributed an estimated $1 billion to the region’s economy, according to 2023 Cleveland State University study.

Careful thought goes into how MWCD invests in improvements and upgrades to their facilities that support the mission of flood prevention and control, recreation, and conservation. The system of dams and other flood mitigation assets is well established and carefully managed in close partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. MWCD is proud of the continued high marks they receive from the Corps for their work, ranging from fiscal support of fixing the Zoar levee and other dam improvements, to restoring and protecting shorelines, strategic dredging operations, and invasive species control. Last year alone MWCD spent more than $4.4 million to maintain and improve this system of reservoirs, dams, and levees to ensure that it is in top shape to preserve life and property. This is the first and primary mission and MWCD will continue to give this full attention and priority.

Additional investments in our lakes and parks help ensure they are desirable places for families to gather and enjoy Ohio’s natural resources. Projects such as Pleasant Hill Lake Park’s new pickleball and basketball courts, cornhole boards, and shaded seating area are perfect examples of such additions. Similarly, at Tappan Lake Park, MWCD has improved the beach experience with a new restroom and changing area and upgraded the concession building and shelter. Atwood and Piedmont Lakes received new basketball courts, as well. MWCD also completed the 1.3-mile Tappan Beall Farm Connector Trail, which enhances off-lake opportunities and showcases the collaborative partnership with regional conservation groups.

MWCD has ambitious plans for 2024. Proposals are being evaluated for new developments at Atwood Lake. Important infrastructure upgrades are coming to Clendening Lake, including a new wastewater treatment plant, pump stations, and rehabilitation efforts. Tappan Lake Park will see a new welcome center to better serve guests. Additional amenities, including ADA kayak launches, concrete cornhole boards, and playgrounds at various parks demonstrates the dedication to recreation for all. Plans for Seneca Lake Park include a splashpad, playground, sport courts, and additional facilities for a more enjoyable beach experience. The investment back into MWCD facilities at Tappan and Seneca alone exceeds $6 million.

In 2024, MWCD is striving for more sustainable energy solutions and making a groundbreaking leap with a $2.3 million investment in renewable energy and is currently evaluating proposals for 15 solar projects that will produce approximately 1.1 million kilowatt hours.

This year will also see an expanded focus on their conservation mission. This work is essential to offer healthy and beautiful lakes, parks, and waterways for both wildlife and visitors. A groundbreaking new partnership with the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio has been formed with MWCD’s $5 million endowment, which aims to support $200,000 worth of conservation projects, scholarships, and fellowships annually. This aligns with an expansion of water quality monitoring efforts and collaboration with agency partners to develop a regional plan to support healthy wildlife populations. Water quality starts with land use and to maintain high standards of water quality and reduce impairments in the region, MWCD is increasing support for best agricultural management practices, sustainable forestry, and wetland conservation. From clean water flows opportunity for recreation, economy, and public health.

Moving forward, MWCD remains dedicated to the core mission of flood prevention and control. Other parts of the program naturally dovetail today to strengthen recreation and conservation efforts. By working together, core programs provide protection from flooding and enrich our lives. Eastern Ohio is one of the most beautiful natural areas in the Ohio River Watershed. Preserving this legacy of natural beauty is our shared responsibility and our shared joy. To ensure that MWCD is here for at least another 90 years, they are developing a plan to secure long-term financial stability through the creation of a legacy fund that will live in perpetuity. This fund will benefit future MWCD projects, operations, and potentially lend financial support to other like-minded organizations within the Muskingum Watershed.

MWCD is honored to be part of the communities across the watershed. As was the vision from its founders, they seek to build a conservancy that not only protects millions from devastating floods, but ensures the waters are clean, and provide unparalleled recreation, educational, and economic development opportunities. This is a responsibility that they fully embrace.

Together, with communities and partners, MWCD will forge a path toward a sustainable and thriving future for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and the communities they serve. MWCD looks forward to a year filled with exciting developments and more shared successes in stewardship of this beautiful place we are lucky enough to call home.