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State says island plan about ready
Creating 'Disneyland North' isn't intent, says park official
By Rick Neale
The Port Clinton News Herald

PORT CLINTON -- The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will likely release a master plan for development of Middle Bass Island State Park within the next month or two, a high-ranking official said Thursday.

Since the July 2000 Lonz Winery terrace collapse, ODNR has invested $6.75 million buying about 128 acres of island property from winery owner Paramount Distillers Inc. Architects envision campgrounds, expanded marina facilities, a swimming beach, hiking trails and re-opening of the winery as a convention center.

Two consulting firms have almost finished refining the "rough draft" layout plans for the park, ODNR Deputy Director Scott Zody said.

"We're just about ready to move forward with the unveiling of the master plan," Zody told the Ottawa County commissioners during an hour-long meeting Thursday.

He said the master plan will likely highlight a high-cost, "Cadillac style" version of what Middle Bass Island State Park might look like. Work will begin soon on a cost feasibility study to determine what can and can't be built, he said.

Regardless of how those financial projections turn out, Zody said ODNR does not want to create "Disneyland North on the island."

Zody said the marina will likely be developed ahead of the land-based attractions because federal funding has already been secured. He said ODNR is interested in entering into a partnership with Put-in-Bay Township or Ottawa County for installation of water and sewer utilities.

Lonz Winery was the scene of a tragic accident during the Fourth of July weekend in 2000. About 100 people tumbled about 20 feet into a wine cellar when a terrace collapsed at the historic building.

A Columbus man was killed and 75 people were injured. The winery never re-opened to the public.

Commissioner Carl Koebel asked if ODNR plans to improve public access to Middle Bass Island.

"I'm not sure the demand is going to be there if the transportation isn't," he said.

Zody said state officials are willing to work with Miller Boat Line, Sonny-S Boat Line and other private entities to upgrade ferry service to the island.

By next season, ODNR plans to install a modular restroom-shower building near the marina and possibly create primitive camping sites, he said.

Regarding North Bass Island, Zody said his agency is still pursuing the purchase of 677 acres of undeveloped land -- the bulk of the entire island. That property is also owned by Paramount Distillers Inc.

Zody said The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit nature preservation organization, may become involved in the land buy. He said North Bass Island would not become a typical Ohio state park or wildlife area.

"It's an opportunity to conserve one of the last great places, if you will, in Lake Erie," he said. "It's the largest island remaining in the lake that's virtually undeveloped."

The county commissioners were nonplused. Commissioner John Papcun asked if the state will reimburse Put-in-Bay Schools and other public services that would lose property tax revenues after the land buy.

Commissioner Steve Arndt and Koebel said ODNR should first worry about improvements at heavily traveled East Harbor State Park before monkeying around on isolated North Bass Island. Arndt said the state would get "the biggest bang for the buck" by investing at East Harbor instead.

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