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Governor Bebb MetroPark Proposal Gets Pushback From Neighbors

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Tana Weingartner
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WVXU

Situated on the western edge of Butler County almost on the Indiana state line, Governor Bebb MetroPark is 262 acres of woods and meadow. Last fall, MetroParks of Butler County released a draft master plan. The announcement took neighbors and others by surprise, and they began pushing back.

It's quiet and fairly isolated at Governor Bebb outside Okeana in Morgan Township. It takes a while to get there from most anywhere... and there's not much besides a camping area, a handful of hiking trails, and a whole lot of forest and prairie.

Neighbors like Michelle Webster like it that way. "The beauty, the quiet, the uniqueness, that's a lot of why we moved here."

Webster's house sits along Bebb Park Lane, leading into the park. Just across the street is Theresa Fraley, who's lived here for almost 30 years. They were surprised to learn MetroParks was considering a draft plan to renovate the park.

"All of a sudden my grandson comes back from Baker Hardware and said there's a big thing up at Baker Hardware showing where they're going to redo the whole park," Fraley remembers. "I said well nobody called us, nobody sent us a letter, nothing."

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Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
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WVXU
Yellow "Save Gov Bebb" signs line the Bebb Park Lane and dot other Butler County roadways.

MetroParks of Butler County released the first draft plan in September. After initial feedback, a second proposal is now on the table.

Community and Enterprise Initiatives Supervisor Kelly Barkley says MetroParks' goal is to create a 10-year master plan for each of its parks. Some currently have master plans, others are in the works or are scheduled.

"I think the biggest misconception is that it's a done deal," she says. "Everybody seems very upset that there is a plan all together. I would think that it would be comforting to know that there is a plan and that they have the ability to provide input to the plan."

The current proposal shows a remodeled RV campground, a yurt campground and new tent camping areas, a shower house, a pond or lake large enough for fishing and boating, a nature amphitheater, multiple parking lots, picnic shelters, restrooms, playgrounds, a sledding hill, a creekside boat launch, and additional trails. But Barkley says none of that is set in stone.

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Credit MetroParks of Butler County
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"We're not going to put a plan on paper for the sake of putting a plan on paper," says Barkley. "We're going to put a plan on paper that's appropriate to reach the largest number of our park customer-owners in the county, the highest percentage of that 380,000 people. Who is it going to serve? How many people are we going to serve? We will bring it down to that level of detail, and what are the things that that majority of people are saying that they want."

Barkley says the most requested amenities at Governor Bebb are parking lots, flush restrooms, and more trails.

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Credit MetroParks of Butler County
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Whatever is approved would be built literally around the home Theresa Fraley shares with her granddaughter's family. Brittany Detzel doesn't like the idea of turning Governor Bebb into a destination park. There's nowhere nearby to grab a cheeseburger, she points out, and Brookville Lake is just 20 minutes down the road.

"We're not against them fixing the park up, but we don't want it turned into Voice of America or Winton Woods or Hueston Woods," says Detzel. "We don't want that. We want it to be Governor Bebb."

Fraley is frustrated with the whole situation. She points to broken steps, a washed out bridge she says it took a couple years to repair, and fences in need of mending.

"They don't maintain what they have so why would you invest more if you can't maintain what you already have?," she asks.

Governor Bebb includes a pioneer village of log cabins. The park used to program the village with school visits, pioneer days and other events but it hasn't been used in several years.

Neighbors say they would like to see the village utilized. Barkley says a lack of paved parking is a big detractor.

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Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
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WVXU
The pioneer village includes the log cabin where Ohio's 19th governor, William Bebb, was born. It was moved to the park from its original location several miles away.

Some members of a Friends of Governor Bebb Facebook group say they support the changes being proposed. Others say they don't feel they're being heard by park leaders. They complain about cancelled MetroParks Board of Park Commissioners meetings and delayed listening sessions.

Barkley says those sessions are scheduled for May, but MetroParks wants to hold them in-person, and COVID may postpone that.

Neighbor Michelle Webster understands change is inevitable and can be good, but she says she isn't convinced that's the case here. 

"For me, it's not an issue of change," she explains. "It's an issue of the types of changes that are being proposed. The types of changes being proposed will change the whole feel of this park... and again, there's no past evidence saying that those changes will be done well."

Meanwhile, Barkley is adamant the draft is more like a dream for the park.

The district is trying to figure out what improvements and amenities people want, then it will figure out what's feasible. Only then, she says, will park commissioners adopt a plan, and since it's a 10 year plan, it may change over time. Finally, changes wouldn't take place all at once because funding must be found for each item.

"This has to go through many iterations of preliminary plans, so these two plans that you see now are not going to be the last two plans that people will see," she says.

MetroParks recently sold off a piece of land known as the Stander Preserve - another move that upset some in Butler County who argued the land was sold to MetroParks with the understanding it would become a park. The Oxford Observer reports the Board of Park Commissioners determined the 2003 sale agreement did not guarantee future use as a park.

In a November release, the park district says funding from the sale will be used to make changes at Governor Bebb — starting with upgrading some trails — and other west side parks.

MetroParks is accepting comments online about the proposed Governor Bebb master plan through May 21. You can view the proposal here.

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