Like an optimistic Johnny Appleseed, Erie MetroParks is learning that when one hunk of land won't sprout apples, you move on to the next best hunk of land.
The park system was recently denied a $9 million federal grant it planned to use to purchase 80 to 100 acres at Griffing Sandusky Airport.
The administrator of the sought-after grant -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- handed out $167 million to 50 applicants, only three of which were in the Great Lakes region. The rest were along ocean shorelines, said MetroParks deputy director Amy Bowman-Moore.
"I was afraid it would be skewed toward the salt water areas and not the Great Lakes," she said.
While news of the rejection effectively ends any discussion on property sales between the folks at Erie MetroParks and Griffing Airport, MetroParks executive director Steve Dice said all is not lost.
The park system is teaming up again with Western Reserve Land Conservancy to seek another NOAA grant, this one a Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program grant, to acquire 18.5 acres of land on Kelleys Island for $700,000, plus $42,000 for other project costs. The grant amount would be $371,000, while the land conservancy would provide the local match -- $371,000.
The land is on the southeast corner of the island and untouched by development. It's adjacent to the 677-acre Kelleys Island State Park and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's 23-acre Woodford Woods Preserve.
According to the grant application, MetroParks would acquire the land title and then grant a conservation easement to Western Reserve Land Conservancy's Firelands office. The MetroParks would then be preserved in its current state, though some hiking and bird-watching trails may be added and connected to the adjacent parks.
The property is currently owned by Kelleys Island Land Co., and valued at less than $200,000, according to the county auditor's Web site.
Kelleys Island Mayor Robert Quinn is listed as the contact person for Kelleys Island Land Co., according to Ohio Secretary of State records.
The MetroParks grant application submitted to NOAA said the owner of the property "is actively seeking a buyer and has signed a letter of intent to sell, but Erie MetroParks does not have the cash on hand to purchase the property immediately."
The grant calls for Western Reserve Land Conservancy to acquire the property and hold it until MetroParks secures the grant funding. Ultimately, the park system wouldn't pay any money out of its pocket for the property.
"It's one of those cases where the property came looking for us," Dice said. "We weren't looking for it."
Kelleys Island resident Cathe Wise said she's all for the MetroParks acquiring the land as long as no one develops the property.
"If it would keep it in a natural state, I think it sounds like a very good idea," she said.
Dice said he was uncertain why the property was valued at less than $200,000 on the auditor's Web site, but said the land conservancy is brokering the deal and negotiating the price with Quinn and another partner at Kelleys Island Land Co.