Portage County – There are heroes amongst us.

Five heroes of environmental conservation will be honored during the 16th Annual Portage County Environmental Conservation Awards Benefit Dinner on April 5. Recipients of the 2014 awards have been chosen for making a significant contribution to improving quality of life in Portage County through natural resource conservation and environmental awareness and protection.

Environmental Conservation Heroes were selected through a nomination process, in five categories:

portage-parks-honor-herosGreen Business ~ Lucky Penny Creamery in Kent (owned by Abbe Turner of Lucky Penny Farm in Garrettsville), for providing farm-to-table local cheeses according to sustainable agricultural practices;

Environmental Education ~ Crestwood Outdoor Education Committee in Mantua, for educational programming and outreach;

Environmental Activism and Advocacy ~ Friends of the Crooked River, which meets monthly in Peninsula, for education, activism and watershed health;

Lifetime Achievement and Stewardship ~ Rick Strebler of Ravenna Auto Body, for community leadership, volunteerism and beautification;

Honor Roll for Land Conservation ~ Fred and Carol Maier of Randolph.

Sponsored by the Portage Park District Foundation, the Annual Portage County Environmental Conservation Awards Dinner is held each April as an opportunity to honor and thank local environmental heroes, enjoy good fellowship, and raise funds to support park district initiatives, fulfilling its mission to conserve Portage County’s natural and cultural heritage. This year’s emphasis will be to support park and trail maintenance and to promote the 2014 levy campaign, which is hoped to initiate a new era for the park district.

The Portage County Park District budget has undergone severe cuts in recent years. Its operating budget for 2014 is less than $100,000 and donations now make up almost half the budget, according to Allan Orashan, Chair of the Park Commission. ”It’s just not sustainable and now we’re in a do-or-die situation— We need adequate, reliable funding, or we can’t keep going.”

Consequently, the park board has placed the issue of a 1/2 mill levy on the May 6th ballot.

The 10-year operating and improvement levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 property $17.50 annually or $1.50 per month.

If the ballot measure passes, the funds will be used to maintain and repair existing parks and trails, to open up more than 800 acres of parkland that the district already owns but cannot afford to improve and operate, and to partner with local communities on parks and trails across the county.

Executive Director Christine Craycroft says the park district is in urgent need, and is asking for a very small local investment so it can continue to provide tremendous value to the community by creating places for healthy recreation, protecting critical natural areas to protect water quality and wildlife, and improving quality of life. “Parks yield priceless returns on our investments for generations to come,” she said.

An independent, all-volunteer Citizens for the Portage Park District committee has been formed to advocate for the passage of the levy in May. To learn more about the issue and how to help, visit www.citizensforportageparks.com.

The dinner, live music, silent auction and raffle will be held 6-9pm on April 5 at the Kent American Legion, 1945 Mogadore Road. Call the Portage County Park District at (330) 297-7728 for more information or visit www.portageparkdistrict.org to register online. For additional information, contact Chris Craycroft at (330) 297-7728 or via email at ccraycroft@portageparkdistrict.org.