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Trails Forever Legacy Fund

Park ranger walks with teens along trail
The Trails Forever Legacy Fund will support the park's trails in perpetuity. 

During his 21 years as superintendent, John Debo had a looming frustration about the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It wasn't the staff; they were top notch. And it wasn't the numbers; the park attracted millions every year.

Ironically, the common element that lured residents young and old, rich and poor to experience the natural wonder of the valley was at the root of his distress. 

And it was right under his feet.

"The trails," he explained, "are really the iconic resource of the valley, one of the most important features of the national park. But, when it comes time to make hard decisions about where money is spent, there are other things that take precedence."

The federal government and foundations couldn't adequately meet the need. So, he and the Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park partnered with Akron Community Foundation to create a substantial and perpetual source of operational support: the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park Trails Forever Legacy Fund.

The Trails Forever Legacy Fund will generate approximately $500,000 per year specifically slated for trail upkeep. It's a permanent endowment, meaning it will provide a predictable and perpetual stream of income, thanks to the community foundation's prudent investment policy and spending rule.

"Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as established by Congress, is intended to be maintained and operated in perpetuity … there's no end of the project," Debo said. "Foundations have a limited appetite for funding ongoing operational expenses, and therefore, endowment funds play an invaluable role in providing us a continuing, stable source of funding."

The partnership with Akron Community Foundation only enhanced that role, he said: "It makes our fund much more accessible to the public. It gives our fund more visibility."

One example came from a familiar place: one of the park's longtime volunteers, a $45-a-year Conservancy member. After hearing about the new fund, he and his wife, both "great hikers," took a significant and permanent step:

"Unbeknownst to us, he met with (Akron Community Foundation) staff and entered into a specific planned gift commitment of well over $100,000," he said. "That's just one example of what we anticipate will be many."

It's part of the knowledge and credibility Akron Community Foundation brings to the relationship, Debo explained. "We don't have in-house expertise in all the individual areas of gift acceptance," he said. "When we have people (who) do approach us and talk about wanting to give a gift, unless it's a very simple circumstance such as a bequest in a will, we will often refer them back to the foundation."

When it comes to trails, it's a partnership made in heaven, you could say. 

"For many people, (trails are) the key to their physical health, to remaining active," Debo said. "And it clearly, for many, many people has an emotional and kind of spiritual value." 

Thanks to the Trails Forever Legacy Fund, it's a value that will be extended to thousands of generations of northeast Ohioans – today, tomorrow and forever.

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