Keeping Warder wild: Springfield Township welcomes new preserve
Springfield Township will cut the ribbon Saturday on Warder Nature Preserve in Finneytown. The former tree nursery was the subject of a public campaign to "Keep Warder Wild" after township trustees planned to transform the property into a mixed-use development.
"It gives me chills just even talking about it," says Tracy Fryburger, one of the founding members of Keep Warder Wild. "When I went back there a month ago to see what they've done, it is astonishing. It's welcoming. It's still a community park. ... I'm astonished at the amount of time and money they've put into it to do it absolutely up-right, professionally, for the community and everybody in the surrounding area that wants to use the preserve."
Township trustees unveiled the preserve about a year ago, outlining improvement plans for the property. Since then a lot has been done to cleanup the park, including removing heavy brush, invasive species like Amur honeysuckle, thinning the tree canopy, and installing a half-mile paved walking trail.
"This is just phase one," says Springfield Township Trustee Kristie Dukes Davis. "In future phases the township will cut in natural trails, plant new trees and plant wildflowers. It's going to be just an area that residents can enjoy, and just maintain the green infrastructure of our township."
The 54-acre preserve is tucked away between Winton and North Bend roads in Finneytown, surrounded by neighborhoods. It can be difficult for people to spot, but that didn't stop avid walkers and hikers from wearing walking paths through the overgrowth over the years. It gives off the feel of a gem hidden amongst a stand of old, tall trees.
The township used $400,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to clear the brush, prune trees, install the walking path, and dredge and combine what were two small ponds into one large one.
"We've installed electricity, and hopefully we can have future events (like) our Arts Connect program — they hold classes and so hopefully we can bring some of those classes down to water — and have new classes, birdwatching classes, things of that sort," says Dukes Davis.
Fryburger says humans and animals appear to approve of the preserve.
"The wildlife that's come back after all the transition ... There's actually very friendly deer back there that have found their way back. Turtles are back; fish are back in the lake that they consolidated from two ponds into one. Geese — it used to be that you'd have a couple of geese — and now other ones are migrating through there now. It's a wonderful little pocket park that has preserved the history of over 100 years."
What was Warder?
Formerly farmland, the Cincinnati Park Board acquired it in 1929. According to park records, it was named for Rueben Warder, a former Cincinnati Parks superintendent and the son of John Warder, founder of the American Forestry Service.
The city used the Warder Nursery to raise trees for Cincinnati parks. Eventually that became too costly and the city cut back to just using the greenhouses for flowers. The land grew wild and the city of Cincinnati sold the property to Springfield Township in March 2000. The city still owns a greenhouse adjacent to the park which it uses to grow plants for Krohn Conservatory.
The township's original plan called for keeping it a park, which is how neighbors had been using it for years. That idea was eventually rejected because the township couldn't come up with the funds.
A master developer hired by Springfield Township proposed the multi-use development plan in 2015. Members of Keep Warder Wild immediately opposed the plan. Ultimately, township trustees say, they didn't like the developer's piecemeal plan so they let the contract run out and the property remained as it was for several years.
Around 2021, trustees returned to the idea of turning the property into a park. The decision was made to create a nature preserve.
The ribbon cutting is 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 21. Parking is available at the former Whitaker Elementary School on Winton Road. Fryburger, a horticulturalist by trade, has offered to host a small tour afterward.