ASHLAND — On a cold, gray day in December, Andy McClure came by the Ashland County Parks District office and spoke to a reporter on the significance of an outdoor education center to be built at Tom Kruse Park as soon as spring 2023.

Andy McClure is David “Davy” McClure’s dad. Davy, a former parks commissioner and beloved Ashland City Schools bus driver, died at 46 in September 2020 from complications following cardiac arrest.

Davy was also a coordinator and teacher with the park district’s outdoor education program.

In July, the Ashland County Parks District announced plans to raise $500,000 to build the Davy McClure Outdoor Education Center. In half a year, the Ashland County Parks District has managed to raise 70% of its target.

His dad said his son earned the legacy that led to an outdoor recreation center being named after him.

“The thing is to get the little kids involved because that’s where they get imprinted on the outdoors, is when they’re little,” McClure said. “Once they’re bigger there’s too much phone and Internet.

“So if we get the little kids they’ll remember it forever — the bigger kids, sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. There’s too many directions they’re pulled.”

He remembered a picture his son drew when he was little. It had something to do with being outside, his dad remembered. He began to describe it in greater detail, but a tear that fell out of his left eye stopped him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, sniffling and wiping away the tear. “So yeah, I think it’s gonna be a good thing.”

Bob DeSanto, a parks commissioner, said the district hopes to wrap up fundraising in the next six months.

“We want to start it this spring, if we can, but that all depends on us getting the funding … it would be wonderful to have this ready for the school kids in September (2023) if possible,” he said.

So far, the parks district has raised around $170,000, about $80,000 short of reaching $250,000 — an amount philanthropists Jan and Bob Archer have pledged to match.

Outdoor Education Center Fundraising Thermometer

Sponsors for the park include businesses in the area such as Charles River Laboratories, banks and the Ashland County Community Foundation, as well as several individual donors.

“We have one individual who’s pledged the parking,” DeSanto said.

The education center will feature a pavilion with retractable walls on three sides, a fireplace, and a large meeting room set up with audio and visual equipment. The building will also have Wi-Fi capabilities.

The 88-acre property, DeSanto said, is a “beauty” because — apart from its remote nature — it displays Ashland County’s agrarian nature “as it was in the 50s.”

“It’s really a beautiful view,” he said. “It’s a place that has access to about every environment that a teacher or someone would want to teach a kid about in our area.”

The property has woodlands, a creek, wetlands, pollinator plants, a handicap-accessible pond and agriculture that DeSanto hopes allows for soil conversation education.

Eventually, the outdoor education center will have paved walking trails connecting each topographical attribute, DeSanto said.

“And incidentally, there will be a parking lot that school buses will be able to turn around in,” DeSanto said.

To learn more about the project, visit the district’s website or call 419-289-3524.

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