Glen Helen reopens with new owner
- Published: September 16, 2020
The tape came down and the trail signs went up this week at Glen Helen. After being closed since March, the Glen reopened to the public on Wednesday, Sept. 9, with limited hours for the first few days and new COVID-related safety measures in place, including one-way trails and masking requirements in the parking lot and when in proximity to other visitors.
Six months of closure resulted in more plants growing in and near the trails, tamer wildlife and a subtly calmer feel to the Glen, regular visitors observed. Volunteer ranger Bill McCuddy said the closure, while necessitated by COVID-19 and difficult for people who enjoy the Glen, was good for the preserve.
“The Glen has had a chance to restore this year,” he said.
Another major shift was less visible — a change in ownership. Glen Helen is now owned and operated by the Glen Helen Association, or GHA, a local nonprofit organization that has helped support the Glen since 1960. The GHA finalized a purchase agreement with Antioch College on Sept. 4, concluding months of discussion, negotiation and community concern over the fate of the 1,000-acre nature preserve adjacent to Yellow Springs.
Prior to the sale, Antioch College had owned the Glen since 1929, when the land was gifted to the college by Hugh Taylor Birch as a preserve. (The restarted college bought back the Glen as part of its repurcase of the campus from Antioch University in 2009.) In recent years, operating Glen Helen has been a strain for the financially challenged college, and Antioch trustees worked to negotiate a sale of the Glen to the GHA. That sale is now complete.
The purchase price was $2.5 million, payable over 10 years. The GHA made an initial payment of $500,000, which will be followed by annual payments of $50,000 and a balloon payment in the tenth year.
Reopening the Glen was a priority for the new owners, according to GHA President Bethany Gray this week. The GHA staffed an information table in downtown Yellow Springs this summer, and received many questions about when public access to Glen trails would be restored.
“We were bombarded with inquiries,” she said.
Open from just 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 9 through Sept. 11, trails, parking and the Raptor Center resume dawn-to-dusk hours beginning on Saturday, Sept. 12. The partial days allow the GHA to make sure new safety measures are working before the big bump in visitation expected over the weekend, Gray said.
Visitors to the Glen will need to follow new trail signs, which specify routes for one-way travel. Maps are available in the Glen Helen parking lot and at glenhelen.org. Public and school programs have not been restarted, and Glen buildings, including restrooms, remain closed to the public.
People came from Troy, Dayton, Virginia, Florida and elsewhere to visit the Glen on Wednesday afternoon. Some were there because they knew the Glen was reopening, while others just got lucky. One couple, Donald Breiter and Deborah Gurman, were visiting Yellow Springs for the third time this summer — Breiter grew up here and graduated from Yellow Springs High School in 1967. The couple was thrilled to find that the Glen had reopened after being disappointed during their earlier visits.
“I’ve been hundreds of times,” Breiter, who now lives in Florida, said.
Glen Helen Associate Director of Finance Tom Clevenger, who was staffing the welcome tent in the parking lot on Wednesday, estimated that about 40 people had visited in the first hour of reopening, a mix of locals and tourists. The big crowds would come on the weekend, he said, echoing Gray.
Visitors will surely return — but Glen Helen and the GHA also need substantial financial support from those who visit and love the Glen.
“This is an extraordinarily exciting time for the Glen,” Executive Director Nick Boutis said last week. “We’ll be leaning on visitors and the community to help us ensure that we’re here for the future — that the Glen is able to be the gem we know it to be.”
To that end, the GHA in June announced the first phase of a five-year capital campaign to secure the future of the Glen. The GHA hopes to raise $3.5 million by early 2021, Gray said, with other phases of the campaign to follow. The initial $3.5 million will help fund the purchase expense, address urgent needs in the preserve and help restart the Glen’s educational programs.
The GHA is still a ways from that goal, however. A bit over 10%, or $350,000, has been raised so far, according to Boutis. He added that he’s been heartened by the hundreds of donations from Yellow Springs and beyond, some with stories and memories attached. One Antioch alumnus recalled that he and his now-wife courted and were married in the Glen 40 years ago, Boutis said.
“Our job is to connect with people who care about the Glen — and there are many of them,” he added.
Many donations have come through a locally based fundraising effort called “Save the Glen,” initiated this spring through the Yellow Springs Community Foundation by an anonymous supporter. Money donated to Save the Glen is being used toward the Glen’s purchase and for its future operation, according to fund information.
At least 465 people have donated to Save the Glen so far, some of whom have donated multiple times, according to figures provided by the GHA. About 20% of donors are from Yellow Springs, and about 75% are from Ohio. Donations have come in from all over the country, and even internationally, with 32 different states and three countries represented.
All of the GHA’s board members have pledged to the capital campaign, amounting collectively to a six-figure donation, according to Gray. She added that the GHA is just getting started with outreach to current and former Glen members, after a summer of finalizing the preserve’s purchase and preparing to take over its operation.
The Glen has historically been supported by a combination of donations, endowment distributions, program revenue, visitor fees, grants and other revenue sources. As part of the agreement with Antioch, the GHA tapped a term endowment formerly owned by Antioch for the Glen’s benefit to fund the initial $500,000 of the purchase. The GHA also has other endowment funds set up to specifically benefit the Glen.
However, at least one Glen Helen endowment owned by Antioch won’t be part of the preserve’s revenue stream for the present. The Birch endowment, funded with an initial gift from Hugh Taylor Birch to benefit the Glen and with a principal totaling about $1 million, will continue to be held by Antioch. The Glen won’t see distributions from that permanent endowment until the end of the 10 years of the agreement, according to Gray.
“We have a lot of work ahead, but we’re excited about the possibilities,” she said.
With the GHA in charge, the staff leadership of the Glen looks much the same. Seven Glen staff members have been kept on or rehired. Formerly employees of Antioch College, Glen staff were furloughed in April along with other Antioch workers in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The GHA paid for several staff to come back this spring, and a “small but mighty” staff is now in place, according to Boutis.
In addition to Boutis and Clevenger, returned leadership staff include Sarah Cline, who was promoted to director of the Outdoor Education Center, or OEC, replacing former director Michael Blackwell, who was not returned to the Glen under the ownership change. Boutis did not specify a reason for Blackwell’s replacement.
The Glen has additionally brought back the OEC’s business manager on a part-time basis. The Glen ranger, the Raptor Center director and the maintenance manager also remain on staff. Three staff members have not been rehired due in part to lighter staffing needs with the continued closure of the Outdoor Education Center and the shuttering of its school programs.
In at least one key area, the Glen will be rebuilding staff, however.
“[W]e’re starting from scratch to rebuild a land management team,” Boutis wrote in an email this week.
The GHA hopes to hire two land management staff members, Boutis added. The Glen has been without a land manager since February, and the position is badly needed to oversee habitat restoration, invasive species removal, trail maintenance and other crucial functions, he said.
The Glen’s total annual budget is “fluid,” according to Gray, with several different budget scenarios that depend in part on how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out. She declined to specify figures. In the past, the Glen’s operating budget has been around $1 million annually.
As new stewards of the Glen, the GHA has several urgent priorities related to the preserve’s physical infrastructure, Gray added. Improvements to the buildings of the Outdoor Education Center is one priority, as maintenance on the structures has been long-deferred, she said. Another priority is the removal of the old Antioch power plant, no longer in use and sited on land in the North Glen. The power plant is adjacent to a wetland, and needs to be taken down carefully to ensure that the wetland is protected and enhanced, according to Gray.
“We’re looking at handling that sooner than later,” she said.
Regarding restarting programs, Boutis predicted that outdoor public programs such as full moon hikes could reopen “before long,” while other programming would require a slower build. The GHA hopes to roll out plans for next summer’s Ecocamps this fall, and is eyeing the spring for a restart of environmental learning programs geared to school-aged children.
Collaboration with Antioch
While the Glen and Antioch are no longer legally joined, the GHA and the college share a “use agreement” that specifies some forms of ongoing collaboration. For example, Antioch students may have opportunities to work at the Glen under the college’s evolving Antioch College Works program. Internship, research and grant collaborations with the college are also possible, according to Gray. And the GHA has some rights to engage Antioch alumni as volunteers and donors to the Glen.
GHA board member Kim Landsbergen, a forest ecologist who teaches at Antioch, said this week that she regularly takes her students to the Glen for exploration and research related to invasive plant biology and other topics.
“Before the Glen closed due to COVID, every class I taught used the Glen,” she said.
Written into the agreement between the GHA and Antioch is a provision that allows Antioch to retain the rights to the name “Glen Helen Ecology Institute,” as the overall operations of the Glen were formerly known.
According to Antioch College President Tom Manley last week, the rights to that name lay the groundwork for a possible future research center at the college based around environmental science and sustainability. Landsbergen added that she sees “enormous potential” in a center that makes use of Antioch’s expertise in the field of sustainability.
“We’ll be building a vision of what an ecology institute would look like,” she said.
Meanwhile, under a hot September sun on Wednesday filtered by oaks, walnuts, sycamores and smaller understory trees, Glen Helen was building its own ecology institute — the delicate and complex ecosystem of the forest, now supplemented by human visitors.
Reflecting on the Glen’s reopening to the public, Gray revealed that she personally had not been inside the preserve for six months.
“I’ve waited like the rest of Yellow Springs to go inside the Glen,” she said.
Asked which part of the Glen she planned to visit first, Gray replied that she was looking forward to seeing the Yellow Spring again, both for its beauty and its significance as the namesake of the village.
“We’re very privileged to be the stewards of the land that holds the Yellow Spring,” she said.