Erie MetroParks and the Steinen family have buried the hatchet on a long-running dispute over land the family shifted to the park system for hunting and other activities.
"I'm very happy we've been able to reach this agreement," said Steve Dice, Erie MetroParks' executive director. "Everyone involved worked very hard over the last couple of days to reach compromises and move forward on the plan for the future."
Gil Steinen filed the lawsuit against the park system in September 2008 in Erie County Common Pleas Court. Visiting judge Richard Knepper was assigned the case.
Steinen and Dice, along with attorneys from both sides, reached new agreements this week with help from Knepper.
Steinen long argued that the park district's leaders weren't following terms of an agreement governing the Joseph Steinen Wildlife Area, the 370-acre preserve Steinen partially sold and partially donated to Erie MetroParks.
Joseph Steinen, Gil Steinen's great-grandfather, owned the land and passed it down to family over the years.
Gil Steinen said he donated the land years ago to the park system to ensure its preservation and perpetual care.
Soon after the deal, however, he grew concerned over rules the park system placed on the land regarding youth hunting, farming, educational activities and the like. The property is between Lake Erie and Cleveland Road, west of Rye Beach Road.
Steinen first transferred the land to the Trust for Public Land, which in turn donated the property to Erie MetroParks.
As part of the original agreement, Steinen received $2.25 million from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and a federal grant.
The money covered any potential income Steinen would have made from the property in his lifetime.
Steinen said the property was valued at $20 million; he essentially donated millions of dollars worth of land to the park system.
Some areas of the wildlife area are open to the public, though some sections are exclusively available to members of the West Huron Youth Club, the club the Steinen family created to educate youth about hunting and outdoor skills.
The Steinens and the park system disagreed on rules governing youth hunting in various spots in the wildlife area, as well as requirements for training programs for younger hunters.
"There was a dispute over the use of the land for various purposes," said Gary Gross, the park system's attorney. "There was a conflict between what the MetroParks wanted to do with the land and what Mr. Steinen wanted to do with the land."
Ultimately, Steinen and Dice reached agreements on the West Huron Youth Club's involvement in youth activities in the wildlife area.
"It gives the West Huron Youth Club some security for having a youth training area," Steinen said.
They also sorted out particulars on future conservation and land management, addressing minutia like when and how animals on the land will be fed.
Bottom line: Someone will now provide food for animals on the land.
"It's a place they can go to get groceries," Dice said of the animals.
In addition, a portion of the wildlife area will eventually include a museum and demonstration area where youngsters can develop outdoor skills.
Erie MetroParks and the Steinen family have also agreed to meet on a regular basis to determine events and activities on the property.