Ohio buying Wingfoot Lake from Goodyear

June 2009 News

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s Wingfoot Lake is getting a new owner.

The 540-acre lake and 150 acres of the surrounding recreational park will be acquired by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife. It will become the Wingfoot Lake Wildlife Area.

The purchase price for the tract in Portage County's Suffield Township is $3.2 million.

The land is being purchased in two phases and involves a third party: the Ohio office of the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation group with an office in Cleveland.

The plan is to have the entire area open to the public by late spring or early summer 2010 for fishing, boating, hunting and wildlife watching.

The sale excludes land on the southeast end of the lake, where Goodyear's blimp hangar is located.

The State Controlling Board approved the initial agreement Monday. It released $991,300 to purchase 147.88 acres.

The state is seeking a partner that might be interested in operating and maintaining the recreation facilities at Wingfoot Lake, said Division of Wildlife Chief Dave Graham.

If a partner cannot be found, the state probably will dismantle the recreational facilities in the future because recreation is not part of the division's mission, he said.

Bob Schilling, president of the local Goodyear Hunting and Fishing Club, greeted news of the sale with enthusiasm.

''This was the best way for it all to work out,'' he said of the sale. His club - independent although it once had ties to the company - probably will be able to maintain its clubhouse at the site under a lease arrangement with the state, he said.

''Goodyear is pleased to finalize the sale of the Wingfoot Lake Park property to the Trust for Public Land,'' Stuart Rickman, Goodyear's director of headquarters facilities and services, said in a statement.

''Our goal was to find a new owner whose interest would be to protect the open space, which fits well with their goal to conserve land and water for people to enjoy.''

ODNR Director Sean Logan said Wingfoot Lake ''will be a welcome addition to public fishing opportunities in Northeast Ohio.''

''Anglers will be able to experience great bass and bluegill fishing from the shoreline or on the water, thanks to the planned first-class boat launch,'' Logan said.

In the first phase, 147.5 acres will be purchased using money from the state's Wildlife Fund - money derived from the sales of hunting and fishing licenses.

The remaining 543 acres, including the lake, will be purchased in the second phase using federal funds obtained from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant.

The Trust for Public Land provided a $1.8 million loan from its Ohio Land Protection Fund to facilitate the sale.

Under the agreement, the trust will lease 543 acres of the property to the state for $1 until the second phase of the purchase is complete.

This will allow Wingfoot Lake to be controlled, managed and developed for wildlife-related public recreation.

''The Division of Wildlife will seek to partner with other public agencies that may have an interest in operating and maintaining the park parcel,'' said Graham.

''If this is not possible, the park portion will be converted into a bird-watching area, a first-class boat launch facility and a shoreline-fishing access area. The pond will be managed for youth fishing opportunities and the remainder of the property will be managed for hunting, fishing, boating, wildlife observation and outdoor education,'' he said.

At present, there is no boat launch on the lake, said Goodyear spokesman Scott Baughman.

In the past, a gasoline-powered pontoon boat offered cruises on the Goodyear-owned lake, and foot-powered pedal boats were available, he said.

The state thanked the Trust for Public Land and Goodyear for their ''cooperation and good intentions'' in completing the sale.

''We are thrilled to partner with Ohio and Goodyear to conserve the Wingfoot Lake properties,'' said Bill Carroll, Ohio state director for the trust. ''Wingfoot Lake is an historic Ohio gem, and making it permanently available to the public is a gift for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts.''

Goodyear purchased the lake, which drains into the Little Cuyahoga River, in 1916 to be assured of a water supply for its rubber-making operations in Akron. At that time, it was known as Fritsch's Lake.

Goodyear had closed Wingfoot Lake in 2006, a move that angered many company retirees who had used the recreational facilities.

In 1968, the recreational facilities were restricted to Goodyear workers and retirees. It was the place where Goodyear played host to its picnics and reunions and where generations of Goodyear children grew up on summer weekends.

The complex off Waterloo Road near state Route 43 includes picnic shelters; playgrounds; softball fields; tennis, basketball, bocci and shuffleboard courts; a miniature golf course; a golf driving range; docks; a pontoon boat cruise; pedal boats; and a canteen.

Goodyear said it was not worth the cost to maintain and operate the recreational complex because of declining use.

It had announced its intention of selling the property in early 2007. It said it wanted the property to be used for outdoor recreation and not developed.

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