Possum Creek MetroPark
History of the Park
Possum Creek is one of Five Rivers MetroParks’ earliest parks. Its scenic land was outlined in the Montgomery-Greene County Open Space Study Report of 1959 as a stream-side park that would serve Dayton’s southwestern metropolitan area. In early 1967, a master plan was finalized for a 550 acre tract of land in the area calling for a manmade lake, fishing ponds, nature trails a children’s farm, nature center, picnicking and day camping facilities on this rich bottom land traversed by the Possum Creek. At the time, the site already included about 6 miles of bridle and hiking trails as well as three fishing ponds and the remnants of an old amusement park called Argonne Forest Park. It also included rolling meadows, ponds and woodland. A nightclub, formerly known as the Chi Chi, also sat on the property. It was converted into Sycamore Lodge, to be used for social and educational functions, holding up to 300 people.
The lands acquired in the original purchase included a 150-year-old farm. District staff saw this farm as an opportunity to educate the public on the agricultural heritage of our region and began to make improvements the grounds to turn it into a rural life center, depicting an authentic and working farm of the 1880s. The buildings were stabilized, farm pond and orchards were added, and new roads were paved. In 1968, an open house was held on the farm. In the years that followed, Summertime and Wintertime on the Farm programs were added, as well as demonstrations of barn building and grain threshing. Schools began to send their students out for tours and demonstrations in the early 70s, and a partnership with 4H grew strong. The farm increased in popularity as a great place for children. Gardening programs were also offered, including community garden plots for those that did not have space of their own to garden and specialty programs for seniors.
The campsites in the park became very popular with scouts and local churches. The fishing lakes, however, were the most significant draw in the park – bringing in nearly 45,000 people in the first 5 years. In 1974, a community advisory committee was formed to help the district in planning and development in order to make the park more meaningful to the community. Sycamore Lodge was used regularly by groups like the 4H, local schools, even Miami University.
In 1977, an update was made to the original 1967 master plan. It called for further renovation of the farm, including the construction of picnic shelter, a bird blind, and to finally construct the man-made lake called for in the original plan. Other ideas included playgrounds, a man-made ice skating rink and a motorized minibike trail.
A new 15-acre lake, named Argonne Lake after the historic Argonne Park on the land, was dug in the late 1970s to meet the growing demand for recreational activities. It was intended to provide additional opportunities for fishing, as well as non-motorized boating, ice skating, picnicking or simply a place to relax. The new lake opened, along with a new shelter and restrooms in 1984.
In the 1990s, new innovative programming was added to the park’s offerings. Polly Possum’s Math Farm featured 15 stations, each offering information about one aspect of farm life. Stations included farm-related math problems with varying levels of difficulty. The math farm provided a hands-on learning environment for young people from kindergarten through high school. The staff also partnered with a local homeless shelter to offer camps for the children they served.
Possum Creek MetroPark’s significant natural features today include bottomland hardwood forests along Possum Creek, two mature beech woodlots, and numerous created ponds and wetlands. Over 100 acres of degraded farmland and dumps have been cleared and planted into native Ohio prairie. The prairie took years to establish, but now thrives on the poor ground. It is currently one of the largest and most diverse planted prairies in Ohio. The farm operations continue, although less emphasis is placed on historic farming and more on sustainable techniques in food production. It remains a popular place for fishing, camping and picnics.
Although the land that is now Possum Creek MetroPark has been dramatically changed by past land use, it stands today as a splendid example of what can be achieved with proper stewardship and restoration, and is a delightful place for the naturalist, hiker, or family.
Before it was a MetroPark
Argonne Forest Park was founded in 1930 by Daytonian Null Hodapp, who returned from WWI and had a successful career as a judge in the area. Null purchased nearly 400 acres of wooded land along Germantown Pike and named the property Argonne Forest Park in honor of the Unit he served in during the war. Development of the park began with the construction of a veteran’s clubhouse. Behind the clubhouse, to the south, was a carnival-like midway. Development of the clubhouse area was followed by other additions. These included a swimming hole and diving platform, baseball diamond, shooting range, dance hall, pony and horse tracks, and a figure-eight auto race track.
It was not until World War II and gas rationing that crowds began to dwindle and the demise of Argonne Forest Park soon followed. After Hodapp’s death in 1945, some small parcels of land were sold off. In 1966, the park district bought the remaining land.
A part of the area today, still called Argonne Forest, is located in the northwest portion of the park. Dominated by tall beech trees, it is not unusual to hear the hoot of a great horned owl or see deer while walking the trails here. The close observer can still find hints of the original park. A low L-shaped wall, once part of the swimming pool, can still be seen and remains of three street cars are hidden on the forest floor. A large cement square, which may have been part of the dance floor, also remains. Most of the figure-eight auto track is now under a lake built by the Park District in 1979, but a hiking trail still follows portions of the old track. The building that was once the veterans’ clubhouse still stands on the southeast corner of Germantown Pike and Frytown Road. Behind it, some of the buildings that were part of the carnival midway remain.