Oak Harbor’s dream of creating a walkable riverfront, an idea that dates back more than two decades, just became infinitely more feasible with the passing of the 2021-2022 Ohio Capital Budget, which included a generous $500,000 line item for Oak Harbor’s waterfront improvements.
The biannual capital budget, which funds permanent improvements throughout the state, recognizes community projects with high impact and strong public support.
The funding is the direct result of the coordinated efforts and determination of the Oak Harbor Development Group (OHDG) and the Village of Oak Harbor to incorporate a proposed river walk along the Portage River.
“What an incredible feeling to see our community get noticed at the state level and to know beautification improvements are coming our way in the future,” said OHDG Chairman Mike Shadoan. He is the owner of Radiant Windows in Oak Harbor and instrumental in planning the development and keeping the dream alive.
“Our citizens have had these dreams and visions for many years. It’s awesome to see our goals coming to fruition. The volunteers and supporters of the Oak Harbor Development Group have been dedicated . . . working tirelessly to get to this point. We can now finally see light at the end of the tunnel.”
To prove the worth of the project to legislators, Village and OHDG leadership garnered the backing of the Ottawa County Commissioners, both the Ottawa County Republican and Democrat parties and The Ability Center of Greater Toledo. In addition, they gathered more than 1,000 letters of support from various elected officials, business owners, area individuals and members of community organizations that included the Oak Harbor Knights of Columbus, Ottawa County Parks District, Ottawa County Improvement Corporation, Ottawa County Republican Women’s Club, and Oak Harbor’s Lions and Rotary Clubs.
The announcement of state funding comes 25 years after the first 1995 drawings for the potential river walk were rendered, but the most recent push to improve Oak Harbor’s riverfront came from the OHDG Community Master Plan in 2019. This plan, endorsed by the Village of Oak Harbor and Benton-Carroll-Salem School District, outlined a list of high priority improvement projects in the Village. A community area along the Portage River—to eventually include an ADA accessible river walk with an amphitheater, a shelter house and floating docks—was high on that list. The Village of Oak Harbor, Croghan Colonial Bank, Radiant Windows and Oak Harbor Hardware’s owner Todd Hablitzel each submitted letters of intent in 2019 that indicated their willingness to grant the use of their property for the path.
Oak Harbor Mayor Quinton Babcock noted that $500,000 is more than the entire county has received in the capital budget in at least 10 years. Oak Harbor’s waterfront project was the only Ottawa County community project included in the budget.
The first phase of the project, a concrete walkway including shoreline protection for the riverfront, is anticipated to begin construction in 2023.
“A big ‘thank you’ to our public supporters and our state legislative delegation for making this happen,” said Babcock. “Senator Theresa Gavarone and Representative DJ Swearingen saw the importance of this project to our community, and our Oak Harbor residents and Northwest Ohio neighbors got fully behind it and helped us communicate that importance to the entire legislature.
“What a fantastic addition to our area.”
The bill was passed by the Ohio General Assembly on Friday, Dec. 18. It currently awaits the governor’s signature. Additional funding may be sought from state and federal agencies.
Questions about the Oak Harbor waterfront improvement project may be directed to Babcock, 419-341-3169, firstname.lastname@example.org.