Pictured is a sign that used to say “Welcome to Hiestand Woods Nature Preserve.” New signage will be part of the rehabilitation of the park. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
Pictured is a sign that used to say “Welcome to Hiestand Woods Nature Preserve.” New signage will be part of the rehabilitation of the park. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – Hiestand Woods Park has been one of Van Wert’s hidden treasures since 1945. Over the years, however, it has seen some wear. The Van Wert County Foundation, owners of the park, will be holding a community event on Nov. 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to get feedback on future updates to Hiestand Woods Park.

Located at 1519 Hospital Drive, the property was established as a way to preserve the wooded portion of the Hiestand family farm and to facilitate recreation access for the boy and girl scouts. The back two-thirds of the wooded area serves as a nature preserve.

With the help of The Edge Group, the VWCF has generated design ideas for a major rehabilitation of the park. On Thursday, The Times Bulletin announced that a group of organizations and citizens were focusing on rehabilitating the Van Wert County Reservoir Trails, which connect to Hiestand Woods Park. The group, known as Van Wert Trails and Recreation, aims to update and upgrade the trails and facilities and are working with designers from Poggemeyer.

In collaboration, VWCF is coordinating efforts with the group and both design firms to facilitate a successful community project that will help spark a county-wide trail system. Both groups will work together to create cohesive signage for both locations.

One focus on Hiestand Woods will be on preservation. Currently, the preservation area is overrun with invasive species.

“It’s an important asset to the community; it’s really the only native woodland park in our county,” said Seth Baker, VWCF Executive Secretary. “Our efforts to preserve it as a nature preserve maybe have not have been as successful as they should be. We have a lot of work to do. It’s to the point now where, both in the back nature preserve area and in the front park area, we have the opportunity to really rethink it, to really rework it, reintroduce it as a nature area, and make it an active, usable space that people still love but new people can enjoy.”

There has been work to remove the invasive honeysuckle that is growing, but it’s an intensive process and a thankless job for volunteers who are undertaking the project, said Baker.

Work will be done to the pathways in the nature preserve to resurface existing trails and possibly create new trails. Baker said he envisions Hiestand Woods Park serving as a trailhead, especially in connection with the Van Wert Reservoir trails.

Another focus will be on updating amenities to the park area.

Some proposed amenities to help update the park include benches, water fountains, trash cans, restrooms, enhanced parking, updated playground equipment, integrated and naturalized play areas, water access, an elevated boardwalk pathway, a larger shelter area, an enhanced picnic area, and more.

No ideas are set in stone and the Nov. 16 feedback event will serve as a way for the VWCF to hear from the community on what they would like to see. One of the overall ideas, however, is to create a space that encourages a love for nature and an area where children can learn about nature while having fun.

“We want to keep the intrinsic nature and purpose of the park intact, but we want to activate the park, so it is more engaging and usable for all,” said Baker. “Many area residents enjoy Hiestand Woods as it is today, but the amenities are tired and need refreshing. We want to lend an ear to those who are passionate about the park through a public input process.”

The VWCF event on Nov. 16 will be held at the Hiestand Woods Park shelter house in conjunction with the Van Wert Trails and Recreation group. Both groups are seeking community input on how to move forward with their projects. The discussion for the Hiestand Woods project will focus on park updates, uses, and preservation, while the discussion for the reservoir will focus on input on the planned renovations.

Participants will be able to tour both areas to see areas of concern first-hand and locations for future enhancements.

Donuts, coffee, and hot chocolate will be provided.