A half-mile from Xenia sits little-known James Ranch Park, a gem of a Greene County Parks & Trails site across from the Greene County Fairgrounds. Its creation and continuance are gifts stemming from a love of nature and community.
Roughly four acres in size, the park land and its 1883 house once served as the retreat for J. Byford and Millie James from the bustle of Xenia city life and their family’s longtime grocery store business.
A 2000 Xenia Daily Gazette article by Greene County Historical Society’s Joan Baxter noted that J. Byford (whose family dates back to 1801 in Greene County) returned from his many travels with plant species that he replanted at what they called James Ranch. He experimented with new varieties of plants, the article said, and was instrumental in repopulating many areas of Greene County with game birds he bred. In 1979 the James family donated James Ranch to the county in J. Byford’s memory for the community’s enjoyment.
The park is just off the Creekside Bike Trail and on Fairgrounds Road. It includes not only the 1883 home and spring house, but also a good-sized fishing pond, picnic tables, a bridge connecting to the bike trail through woods with trails and an acre of gardens.
But it is the gardens that drew me to James Ranch Park. Visible from the road, they offer hundreds of flowering plants along winding paths dotted with a gazebo, a small pond and the occasional bench. They proffer many styles of gardens, including raised beds for people with disabilities, a children’s garden, a butterfly and native plant garden, a vegetable garden, and a water garden,
each currently planted and tended by one or more of five Master Gardeners and six other park volunteers. These volunteers give their time and talents to design and maintain something of
beauty and refreshment for anyone who happens—as I did—on this pearl of a place.
According to Cris Barnett, naturalist for Greene County Parks & Trails, a couple of decades ago Greene County Master Gardeners volunteered to plant and maintain a demonstration garden on the ranch. Since that time Greene County Parks & Trails has resumed management of the gardens with support of volunteers.
For Master Gardener volunteers Sharon Manley and Susie Lentz of Beavercreek, the community garden is a labor of love. As for park visitors, “They tell us, ‘Thanks so much!’ You see the lunch crowd here, moms and dads with their kids,bicyclists, kids fishing, people taking wedding and graduation pictures,” Lentz says.
Manley finds working in nature there healing. “And we have a really good time. I love flowers, so for me it’s a fun place to work. I can try out things I don’t have room for in my home garden—and we learn from each other.”
Adds Lentz, “Gardening gives me a sense of peace and happiness. Nature’s important to me, to our community and to our children, teaching children about how things grow, about resting places for butterflies and other wildlife.” She hopes people will see “that there’s a beautiful community garden right in their backyard!”
Since 1970, Carol Siyahi Hicks has lived and worked in Greater Dayton as a journalist, national literary magazine editor, communications and marketing professional, author and most recently at The Dayton Foundation as the vice president of public relations and marketing. Her book, Gifts from the Garden, has a local setting and is a philosophical and joyful look at gardening, nature and life.
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