Permanent closure for Glen?
- Published: May 22, 2020
Glen Helen may not reopen.
Sharen Neuhardt of the Antioch College Board of Trustees said this week that the college has no plans to reopen the 1,000-acre nature preserve it has owned since 1929. Antioch can no longer afford to support the operation of the Glen, Neuhardt, a lawyer who lives in Yellow Springs, explained.
“There’s no plan to reopen the Glen,” she said. “There is simply no money available to do that with.”
However, Antioch is currently in talks with the Glen’s longtime nonprofit friends group, the Glen Helen Association, or GHA, regarding the fate of the preserve. Neuhardt said both parties are exploring some form of transfer of Glen Helen from Antioch to GHA, including a potential sale. Discussions had already been underway for months when the coronavirus crisis hit this spring, intensifying the college’s need to find an alternative to owning and operating the Glen, according to Neuhardt.
Villager Dan Rudolf, a GHA board member and longtime Glen supporter, confirmed that GHA is seeking to purchase the Glen from the college. He declined to publicly disclose a potential purchase price or other transaction details.
“The Glen Helen Association is actively negotiating with Antioch to purchase the Glen. The GHA, however, is having a difficult time balancing the use of their resources, especially at this time, to fund a purchase while also still allowing us to reopen the Glen and restart programs,” he wrote this week in an email to the News.
Neuhardt said the college did not have a specific asking price for the Glen. However, she emphasized that Antioch cannot afford to give the Glen away.
“The college is not in the position to gift the Glen to anyone,” she said.
Recent history of Glen closure
Glen Helen was closed to the public on March 25, when the Glen announced trail closures due to safety concerns related to the coronavirus. The parking lot and other points of entry have been blocked with tape since then. A little over a week later, on April 3, Antioch College furloughed 27 employees, including eight of 11 staff at Glen Helen, and reduced hours and salaries for other college workers. The three remaining employees at the Glen — the Raptor Center director, the ranger and the property manager — were reduced to half-time to cover essential operations of the preserve.
Regarding the furloughs, Antioch College President Tom Manley said in April that the college could not afford to keep Glen staff on the payroll without any revenue coming in from Glen programming, which was also canceled amid widespread COVID-related shutdowns. The Glen’s Outdoor Education Center, or OEC, hosted its last school program on March 13.
Subsequent negotiations between GHA and Antioch resulted in a partial restoration of hours for five furloughed staff, including director Nick Boutis, finance director Tom Clevenger and OEC director Michael Blackwell. GHA is paying the college to cover very limited hours for these and two other Glen staff members through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
However, if no deal is struck with GHA by June 30, the furloughs of Glen staff could become permanent layoffs, according to Neuhardt.
The Glen furloughs and hour reductions could become “indefinite furloughs or terminations,” she said.
And absent a deal, Glen Helen itself would be shut down more completely than it currently is, Neuhardt said. In addition to trail closures, the Outdoor Education Center and Raptor Center would be shuttered, and the college would no longer employ a ranger to patrol the preserve.
In operation since 1956, the OEC is one of the country’s oldest residential environmental learning centers. The OEC has hosted an estimated 1,100 college-aged naturalist interns from around the country since its founding, and annually draws thousands of area children for residential and day programs. The Raptor Center was founded in 1970 for the rehabilitation of injured birds of prey for release into the wild or as educational ambassadors; a planned event for its 50th anniversary earlier this month was canceled.
Regarding protecting the Glen from vandalism and other activities under a total shutdown scenario, Neuhardt said security could be covered by a combination of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, the Yellow Springs Police Department and Antioch campus security.
In fact, the local police department has been regularly patrolling the Glen for the past two years at the request of Glen leaders, according to Chief Brian Carlson this week. In recent weeks, local officers have helped remove multiple parties of people from the Glen, including some campers, who were violating the COVID-related closure.
Several local leaders contacted this week regarding coordination between the college and village around the Glen’s reopening seemed unaware of the potential for it to remain permanently closed. Karen Wintrow, director of the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has fielded numerous calls from people outside of Yellow Springs inquiring whether “the trails” are open yet, a general reference to Glen Helen. She has responded that the Glen, like the village as a whole, is taking its time in reopening to ensure the safety of visitors and residents.
While trails at nearby John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge, both operated by the state, have remained open, electronic sign boards into Yellow Springs currently inform visitors that Glen Helen is closed.
Other options for the Glen
While Neuhardt called GHA the “logical” partner to take over the Glen, she said the college would consider other potential buyers — should they exist.
“We’re not foreclosing any possibilities,” she said.
Yet other options seem elusive. Permanently protected with conservation easements on the whole property, Glen Helen would have to be purchased as a single entity, encompassing all buildings and land. The buyer would have to be conservation-minded. County or state parks departments don’t have the money or desire to acquire new preserves, according to Neuhardt, who did not confirm or deny whether Antioch has explored the sale of the Glen with entities other than GHA.
While a single individual in theory could step forward to purchase the property, Neuhardt called such a scenario unlikely.
Asked whether Antioch had considered fundraising to protect its ownership of the Glen or aid the sale of the preserve, Neuhardt said the college was not in a position to raise funds for anything but its core operations. This was true prior to the coronavirus crisis, and is more true now, she stressed.
“The college has to fundraise for the college,” Neuhardt said.
She called the potential shutdown of the Glen “heartbreaking.” But she emphasized that the Antioch College Board of Trustees has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the survival of the college.
“We can’t spend money on the Glen if that means we can’t operate the college,” she said.
For its part, GHA board members have said that they are committed to doing anything within their means to protect and reopen the Glen. The 60-year-old nonprofit has 1,000 members and solid, yet not unlimited, financial resources, public financial documents show.
GHA’s most recently available Form 990, for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2018, reports net assets of just under $3 million and total revenue for that year of around $412,000. Revenue comes from a combination of charitable contributions and grants, program services and investment income. As is true for most nonprofits amid the coronavirus crisis, however, those revenue sources are hampered or threatened by COVID-related restrictions and the wider economic downturn.
Board member Rudolf emphasized that GHA, like any potential purchaser of the Glen, has to make sure it can pay for the Glen’s upkeep, not just afford the upfront purchase price.
“We’re working on several scenarios,” he said.
Limited endowment support
According to Neuhardt, Antioch currently holds one permanent endowment in the amount of just under $1 million for the support of Glen Helen. Earnings from that endowment, sometimes referred to as the Birch endowment because it derives from Hugh Taylor Birch’s original gift to the college, provide limited support for the operations of the Glen, she said.
While the principal of the Birch endowment remains intact, the college currently holds “very few accumulated earnings” from it, Neuhardt said. The college can decide whether to offset its expenses related to the Glen from those earnings or let them accumulate, she added.
Whether the Birch endowment would be transferred with a potential sale or continue to be held by the college would depend on the terms of an agreement with an interested buyer, Neuhardt said.
Recent Glen Helen annual reports suggest that distributions from the Birch endowment earnings have varied in recent years. The 2018–2019 annual report shows a distribution of $30,613 for that fiscal year, representing just 3% of the Glen’s total revenues for the year. In another recent year, 2014–2015, distributions totaled $177,933, or about 16% of the Glen’s revenues for that year.
Until the COVID-related closure, the Glen was also supported by program fees, gifts, grants, facility rentals, parking fees, sales and events, as well as earnings from other endowments held by various area foundations. GHA provides direct and indirect support through cash grants, fundraising activities and volunteer service. For example, GHA contributed a cash grant of $165,347 to the Glen during the 2017–2018 fiscal year, the nonprofit’s Form 990 from that year shows.
In pursuing a sale or some other arrangement with GHA or another partner, Neuhardt said Antioch aims to ensure “the long-term stability and viability of the Glen.” But unless or until an arrangement is complete, the Glen will remain closed.
Reached for comment this week, Glen director Boutis, working four hours a week with GHA support through the end of June, said he hopes the college can find a way to ensure the Glen’s future.
“It’s a nervous time for everybody who cares about Antioch, Glen Helen and Yellow Springs,” he said. “Ultimately, Antioch has owned Glen Helen since 1929 and is trying to navigate a way forward. I appreciate the challenge of that.”