Thanks to advocates and voters who passed the Portage Park District's first-ever levy in May, it is a new era with a much brighter future for Portage County. The positive vote was a welcome vote of confidence and a testament to the work of so many over the years who kept the vision alive.

The citizens of Portage County demonstrated their enthusiastic support by coming out to vote, a turnout that greatly exceeded projections due to the park levy.

And as people learned about the financial fragility of the Portage Park District on the one hand and the value parks bring to our community of the other, they voted "yes" to a bright future by assuring a stable income for the next 10 years.

While funds from the half-mill levy won't come in until the spring of 2015, we can now confidently plan for park maintenance and improvement and for public programs for all ages. We hope you'll join us as we make the vision a reality.

The Portage Park District Board and the Portage Park District Foundation will be meeting during the next few months to lay out a long-term strategy and identify priorities. Initial plans include repairing shelters and buildings, improving signage, resurfacing trails and providing additional security.

We will bring back nature education and resource stewardship programs. We will start master planning for opening properties that have been waiting for years to be developed, including the Breakneck Creek Preserve, Chagrin Headwaters Preserve, Walter Preserve and Morgan Preserve.

And we will continue our pursuit of additional conservation and trail projects in partnership with local communities, including extension of bike and hike trails, conserving water resources and providing new opportunities to enjoy the park resources.

There's already plenty to enjoy, though. A great way to get to know your Portage Parks is by taking the Wild Hikes Challenge.

This program is a self-directed hiking series which requires participants to hike eight of the Park District's trails before Dec. 31 and keeping track on the provided form. Once complete, the form is exchanged for a hiking stick (the first year) and a different commemorative brass tag to add to the stick each year.

This year's tag recognizes the Year of the Salamander, and if you hike with your dog, he can earn a dog tag, too.

Forms are available on the Portage Park District website at, where you can also sign up for the e-newsletter to learn about news, programs, guided hikes, special events, and ways that you can get involved with planning and volunteering.

We are excited about the future of the parks and look forward to delivering more opportunities for recreational enjoyment to the people of Portage County.

Craycroft is executive director of the Portage Park District. Green Portage is a feature of the Record ublishing Co. in cooperation with the Portage Park District Foundation.