Deal keeps lands in 4 nearby Ohio counties available for public use

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTAP) - The Ohio Department of Natural Resources and American Electric Power have reached an agreement that will keep more than 31,000 acres of public land in available for conservation and recreation.

The land in Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, and Guernsey counties will be acquired in parcels over the next two years.

"This is an historic addition to Ohio's public lands," Gov. Mike DeWine said. "With this acquisition, we ensure that all of our citizens and future generations will continue to enjoy this scenic area and its resources."

The area adjoining Jesse Owens State Park has long been a popular destination for hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking. It includes 24 continuous miles of the Buckeye Trail and has 350 lakes and ponds and six campgrounds.

The ODNR completed the purchase of 4,213 acres on Sept. 27. An additional 31,443 acres will be acquired in six installments starting in March 2020.

Combined with the ODNR’s initial purchase of 5,713 acres in June 2018, a total of 41,369 acres of the land will be in public possession within two years.

The state of Ohio also has the option to buy 18,500 more nearby acres by June 2023, which could bring the total to nearly 60,000 acres.

Funding for the project comes from $47 million in capital -improvement funds appropriated in July by the Ohio General Assembly through House Bill 166. In addition, more than 180 local conservation and sportsmen clubs have pledged money and support toward the purchase.

The Division of Wildlife has had a management agreement on the land since 1962, providing law enforcement and fish-and-wildlife management on the property.