BEAVERCREEK — One gets the sense that the newly opened Russ Nature Reserve is just what Fritz and Dolores Russ would have wanted for their property. The reserve, which opened at a special ceremony on Thursday, sits on 90 acres of property donated to Greene County Parks and Trails by the late couple. The reserve is located at 2380 Kemp Road in Beavercreek.
“Dolores and Fritz really focused on nature,” said Chrisbell Bednar, director of Greene County Parks and Trails. “This is a beautiful site, from the woodlands to the prairies, and the trails really highlight that.”
Bob Glaser, president of the Greene County Board of County Commissioners, said that the Russes were very giving people. “The land was important to the Russes, not necessarily the structures that were on it,” he said.
Looking at their home, he said, “When Fritz and Dolores passed, their assets were approaching on or above $100 million dollars. This is where they chose to live. They could have had any structure here that they wanted, but this is what they built. What they were interested in is the land. So for this to stay a nature preserve is … staying with the wishes of Fritz and Dolores Russ.”
The 4,000-square-foot Russ home will gradually be transformed into a nature education center. But even now, it has the feel of a place dedicated to nature. The most striking feature in the house is a large Mockernut Hickory tree that cuts up through the center of the home and out through its roof.
The center is still under development as funds are raised for its transformation from home to classroom center. Recently the reserve received a $150,000 grant as part of the state capital budget through the Dayton Region Arts and Culture Project. Bednar said $500,000 is needed in total for the house and other renovation efforts and that the initial grant money will go toward fixing some of the infrastructure issues at the house. The center will open once the funds are raised and the renovations are completed.
The park also currently has hiking trails, a bee apiary, a tree nursery and a nature playscape. While parks and trails staff have contributed work preparing the reserve for public use, Bednar said most of the work has been volunteered.
One of the central features of the reserve is the Jeremy Lovely PlayScape, a 4-acre area of the park dedicated to allowing children to play free in a natural setting. The playscape is named after Jeremy Lovely, a parks and trails employee who was killed in an equipment accident earlier this year.
“Jeremy was a big kid at heart,” Bednar said. “He was very much focused on science and engineering.” Bednar said that previously Lovely and the rest of the parks and trails staff had been to the reserve and had spent a day creating the features of the playscape. The space, now open, reflects his spirit.
“Typically when you go to a park you’re told, ‘Stay on the trail,’” Bednar said. “In this case, get off the trail. Go play. Go climb the tree. Go build a fort.”