Ricardo Granados, Public Lands Coordinator, March 1, 2019
Coal mines have dotted eastern Ohio for decades. For a long time, there was little to no regulation on how to restore coal mines back into usable land, and many have produced lasting environmental damage. Then, in 1977, the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) was signed into law, providing a framework for many facets of the mining industry, including reclamation.
One of the success stories of surface mine reclamation is the AEP ReCreation Land in eastern Ohio. Dug up by the dragline excavator known as “Big Muskie,” the ReCreation Land was mined for coal over the course of several decades. Big Muskie was one of the largest land machines ever built, and dominated the landscape while it was in use.
This form of excavation on the AEP ReCreation Land resulted in a barren landscape, as the surface land was removed in the search for coal deposits.
At one point constituting over 80,000 acres, the ReCreation Land was reclaimed using a variety of methods, including the construction of 350 ponds and lakes, and the planting of over 63 million trees, resulting in grassland and forest regeneration, and hundreds of ponds and lakes, that now support abundant wildlife.
Through this reclamation, AEP has been able to transform a barren industrial site into a recreation haven, providing multigenerational outdoor opportunities.
Because of this reclamation, this land is well poised to be integrated into Ohio’s public lands portfolio. AEP has decided to sell the 60,000 acres that remain of the parcel, and has given Ohio first rights of refusal on most of it. Ohio has the opportunity to increase its state-owned public lands by 10 percent if the land were acquired in full.
The Kasich administration got the ball rolling on purchasing the AEP ReCreation Land with the acquisition and dedication of the 5,735-acre Jesse Owens State Park and Wildlife Area, and the commitment to grow the park into 13,000 acres. However, there is more that can be done.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Ohioans and the future of our recreational opportunities. We need the DeWine administration to continue the history of recreation that the AEP ReCreation Land has held by acquiring the entirety of the land.