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Toledo upholds decision to close Kemp Olson Park

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The Toledo City Council has upheld a decision to close Kemp Olson Memorial Park in light of dangerous trees and is intending to apply for a grant to help correct the problem long-term.

Discussed during the council's Nov. 17 meeting, they reviewed a recommendation from the Park Board, who had been asked to review the council's previous decision to close the park as of Nov. 8 due to trees and limbs likely to fall during heavy wind or rain.

A letter from the board recommended the park be closed only during inclement weather, however council members said they felt it would be best to close the park at all times because of the unpredictability of winter storms.

"If it's a safety issue, then we need to treat it as a safety issue 24-7 until it's done," said Council Member Mike Thomas, who noted all it would take for a rotting tree to fall would be a sustained gust of wind on an otherwise-clear day.

The council voted unanimously to continue closing the park to all traffic until such time as the problem trees are addressed and the park can be considered safe again. The closure affects all uses of the park, including camp areas, the kitchen, the Veterans Wall of Honor and the playground, which will remain off limits until further notice because of the potential hazards.

Concerns over the safety of the park had first been put before the council on Nov. 3 when Public Works Superintendent Craig McCown reported two different arborists had examined trees growing on city property and said several at the park were likely to fall during adverse weather conditions. McCown has said he expects to begin addressing the problem in January when funding will be available in his budget, and will begin with contacting local contractors for estimates.

In addition to city funds, the council is seeking an Urban Forestry Technical Assistance Grant from the Department of Natural Resources specific to assessing, correcting and replacing problem trees. City Clerk Michelle Whitten reported the application for the grant would be due by Dec. 15 and the city would learn if they were awarded the grant by this coming April.

"We could do it for all of our rights-of-way if we so choose or our other parks, too," she said of the grant. "It doesn't just have to be for the Kemp Olson Memorial Park."

The council is expected to consider approving an official application for the grant at an upcoming meeting after city staff have had an opportunity to review their needs and what the grant would allow for. It was noted the more serious trees in the park would be addressed with or without grant approval as the city's priority remains making the park safe enough to re-open.

Whitten also reported, in regard to Park Caretaker Ric Kindle, Kindle would be allowed to keep his trailer at the park during the closure, as the city's insurance provider said they would allow him to sign a liability waiver in the event the trailer suffered damage from the hazardous trees. The council had been concerned over the potential need to move Kindle's trailer as he would not be able to remain in the park during the closure and had instructed city staff to explore their potential options.

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